Lethal Warriors: When the New Band of Brothers Came Home

Article excerpt

Lethal Warriors: When the New Band of Brothers Came Home David Phillips Palgrave Macmillan, 2010

After fighting in the Trojan War and a 10-year odyssey, Odysseus of Ithaca finally returns home and confronts his wife's suitors, all assuming that he had died. Not only does he kill all 100 or so suitors but he also kills individuals who had disparaged him (his rage causing him to mutilate the corpse of one of the latter) and even disloyal maidservants who had connived with the suitors. Interestingly, the name "Odysseus" could be translated from the Greek as "he who causes pain".1 Perhaps not to the same extent as Odysseus, violent rage and social withdrawal in combat veterans has been frequently noted throughout history. The combination of cognitive and affective dysfunction, resulting from exposure to intense, life-threatening violence and death, has had different labels in the past, but is known today as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).2

The cost of war can be measured in tangible ways such as dollars, cultural destruction and body counts. More difficult to measure are the long-term effects on the psyche to prolonged exposure in a war zone. Not all combat veterans suffer from PTSD. However, those who do are not only a significant threat to themselves but also to the civilian population. An example of the deadly consequences of war's imprint on young men is the violent crime wave that occurred in Colorado Springs, Colorado, involving veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom stationed at nearby Fort Carson. The perpetrators were members of one unit in particular, the "Lethal Warriors." Journalist David Phillip lucidly narrates the day-to-day lives of members of the "Lethal Warriors" in Iraq and upon their return to Ft. Carson. Phillips attempts to explains why members of this unit in particular brought back with them the mayhem and death that typified their tour in Iraq. He points out that the violent crime wave is a symptom of a greater problem, the need to address PTSD and other mental health issues, which both military and civilian leaderships have either studiously neglected or downplayed. From a biological viewpoint, the book raises the question of the psychological basis for PTSD and the general innate nature of violence in humans.

Phillips follows the Ft. Carson-based 506th Infantry Regiment, better known as the "Band of Brothers," the unit that parachuted into Normandy, France on D-Day and into the Netherlands in the fall on an ill-fated operation, and valiantly held out against the Germans, despite overwhelming odds, during the winter Ardennes Offensive. That all veterans emerged psychologically unscathed is entirely untrue. Phillips points out that hundreds of thousands of soldiers were released during the war for "combat fatigue". Long after the end of the war, many "Band of Brothers" veterans continued exhibit symptoms of PTSD.3 Due to an Army order in 2005, the unit was re-designated as the 12th Infantry Regiment and the unit's current nickname is "Lethal Warriors. The unit was deployed to the Sunni Triangle in 2004, long after President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech, and re-deployed to Baghdad in 2006. While stationed in Iraq, the unit saw heavy combat and suffered high rates of casualties. Any feeling of empathy towards the Iraqi people the soldiers had quickly evaporated. Dropped into an alien culture, surrounded by invisible enemies, improvised explosive devices and restrictive military rules of engagement, soldiers succumbed to frustration and uncertainty, engaging in indiscriminate targeting of civilians, vandalizing civilian property, abusing detainees and looting. The location, enemy and times may be different, but the corrosive effect of war on the lives of young men is consistent.4

The book gives a number of insights concerning the former soldiers who are charged with and convicted of murder or accessory to murder. They are characterized as having "average" intelligence. …