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Thoughts occasioned by “American Sniper”: Returned soldiers seriously ill, their problems feared to affect Okinawa’s local communities

  • 2015-03-12 15:00:00
  • , Ryukyu Shimpo
  • Translation

(Ryukyu Shimpo: March 12, 2015—p. 15)

 

 Chota Takamine, translator and journalist

 

 “American Sniper,” the latest film directed by Clint Eastwood, is based on Chris Kyle’s memoir. Kyle was a sniper belonging to the United States Navy’s Sea, Air, Land Teams (SEALs)

 who fought in the Iraq war and became one of the most lethal snipers in American history. The film, on the one hand, is applauded as a production that depicted the realities of a war fought in the Middle East through the eyes of a rank-and-file soldier filled with a spirit of patriotism. On the other hand, however, it’s also criticized as a western-cowboy-like depiction of a war without just cause that depicts the Iraqi people as enemies only.

 

 Setting aside the debate about the film, mirrored in the life of the protagonist Kyle is the dark side of the U.S.-led Iraq and Afghan wars and their lingering aftereffects. This is a matter relevant to Okinawa, which has been burdened with hosting a large number of U.S. military bases and where U.S. servicemembers—Marine Corps troops including those returned from the Middle East, Army Special Forces (Green Berets), Air Force troops, and Naval Forces—are stationed.

 

 As a matter of fact, Kyle called Iraqi people “savage” and he didn’t hesitate to say he’d be willing to continue killing Iraqis in order to defend his homeland. Besides, Kyle reportedly told lies. After his retirement from service, he volunteered to work for the sake of soldiers wounded in a war. After fighting in the Iraq war, Kyle wanted to help out Eddie Routh, a young retired soldier suffering from mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), so one day Kyle took Routh to a firing rage, where Kyle and his friend were shot to death by the young soldier. Routh was tried. All eyes in the United States were on this court trial. Routh’s defense counsel pleaded his innocence, citing his paranoid schizophrenia as a reason. The Texas court, however, sentenced Routh to life without parole.

 

 Soldiers come down with PTSD since they were placed under extreme stress fighting in the lands of Iraq and Afghanistan, and they suffer from such hyperarousal symptoms as flashbacks, fears, and sleeplessness. In the case of traumatic head injury, the brain stem is damaged by blasts from the explosions of improvised explosive devices (IED), showing such symptoms as emotional instability, dysmnesia, and gait disturbance.

 

 According to the United States War Veterans PTSD Foundation’s account, about 30% of men and women who were in a war zone are afflicted with PTSD, and 20% to 25% experience partial PTSD symptoms.

 

 Soldiers sustaining such damage on the battlefield, which can hardly be seen from their appearance, are troubled with psychotic depressions and impulses for killing themselves or others. The suicide rate of returned soldiers and retired soldiers, whose suicide is attributable to these factors, is now higher than ever and has become a matter of serious concern to local communities. At the same time, murder cases involving soldiers back home from the Middle East, allegedly afflicted with PTSD, are also gaining public attention.

 

 In 2014, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs conducted a fact-finding survey of soldiers retired from service. According to the survey results, those suffering from such conditions as PTSD or alcoholism are seven times more likely to commit acts of serious violence than other retired soldiers. According to findings from a survey conducted by the New York Times in 2008, as many as 121 retired servicemembers back home from Iraq and Afghanistan committed murder in the United States. In many cases, they are said to be suffering from such things as PTSD.

 

 In April 2014, a shooting spree occurred on the Fort Hood military base in Texas. In this shooting incident, a servicemember back home from Iraq, who was suspected of suffering from PTSD, killed several people. In December that year, another Iraq war veteran, who was afflicted with PTSD, killed himself after committing a crime of serial killing in Philadelphia. The United States is trying to create a special law for veterans who have committed crimes but is failing to deal with serious violent crimes. In February this year, the U.S Senate and House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill legislating measures to prevent veterans from committing suicide. The bill became law with President Obama’s signature. In the United States, 22 veterans presumably kill themselves every day. This led to a rise in calls for beefing up anti-PTSD efforts for servicemembers.

 

 Meanwhile, Tod Ensign, a lawyer representing “Citizen Soldier,” a nonprofit organization addressing the PTSD issue of U.S. veterans back home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, fears that U.S. servicemembers returned from the Middle East and stationed to U.S. military bases on Okinawa may seriously affect Okinawa and its local communities. In 2012, Ensign visited Camp Hansen in the town of Kin, where he conducted an on-base hearing survey of senior Marine Corps officers over an incident. He says the military authorities then did not seem to have taken measures for soldiers who experienced fighting or for those saddled with mental issues.

 

 The problem of repatriated service members suffering from PTSD or TBI is feared to become another factor that could cause even more incidents and accidents involving Okinawa-based U.S. military personnel.

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