By Noora Ahmad, Islamic Post Staff Writer
Drugs are “not the answer,” Silver Star Medal recipient Staff Sergeant Omar Hernandez told the Army News Service, they “just makes things worse.” Like the official 17.9% of troops who report acute anxiety or depression, Sgt. Hernandez has undergone treatment for what is known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Talking really helps,” he told reporter Virginia Reza.
In the quest for a soldier free from debilitating stress, anxiety, and even the need for natural bodily functions like sleep, vast medical and technological research has been undertaken. Unaware that mental disorders are spiritual, not physical in nature, and are the direct result of the misdeeds of a person, the military is prescribing medications based on the commonly held misconception that mental illnesses result from chemical imbalances. The use of psychiatric drugs, however, masks the underlying problem affecting the inner being of the person.
A similitude of this is a person who has a raging fever and flu being prescribed cough drops. The feverish effects of ill deeds can continue to undermine a person’s spiritual health unabated until, in extreme cases, the person is consumed. The extreme mental imbalance that leads to suicide is a problem that neither drugs nor counseling have reduced, resulting in an alarmingly high figure for soldiers taking their own lives: 17 victims per day, and 6500 each year.
Drug-free Hernandez is more fortunate than other soldiers suffering from PTSD. This disorder affects approximately one out of every seven troops. The majority are taking drugs ranging from sleep inducers (to counteract the effects of nightmares) to daily doses of psychotropic (or mood-altering) drugs, such as antidepressants and antipsychotics. Unlike Hernandez, being able to talk to a counselor about their experiences has not harnessed the problem for the majority of veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. A recorded twenty-two thousand veterans called the military suicide hotline last year. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs noted that 6,250 American veterans took their own lives in 2005. The number slightly increased last year to per annum.
Ethical questions have risen on the intent of this mass drugging, with specific regard to the privatized pharmaceutical industry. Leon Kass, former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, objects to the military’s use of the psychotropic drugs such as “Propranolol” on the grounds that it medicates away one’s conscience. “It’s the ‘morning-after pill’ for just about anything that produces regret, remorse, pain or guilt,” said Kass.
Drugs like Propranolol are prescribed to dampen guilt, allowing the soldier to continue his daily activities. Guilt is not a chemical imbalance; it is a condition that signals to a person that they have wronged themselves or others, so that they may desist from that behavior, and seek forgiveness.
Military training is designed to bypass the natural warning called guilt. “Modern combat training conditions soldiers to act reflexively to stimuli,” says Lt. Col. Peter Kilner, a professor of philosophy and ethics at West Point, “and this maximizes soldiers’ lethality, but it does so by bypassing their moral autonomy. Soldiers are conditioned to act without considering the moral repercussions of their actions; they are enabled to kill without making the conscious decision to do so.”
Author Chris Floyd points out in his work, The Pentagon Plan to Create Remorseless War Fighters, that there has long been an attempt to lower stress levels and produce a more efficient solder. ¨Since World War II [when the firing rate stood between 15 and 20%], our military has sought and found any number of ways to override the values and belief systems recruits have absorbed from their families, schools, communities and religions. Using the principles of operant conditioning, the military has found ways to reprogram … human software.¨
The CIA MK-Ultra Project also began operating during this time period, initiating training programs designed to habituate soldiers to the idea of killing automatically, by reflex, “at the bell-clap of command.”
Despite veteran casualties in this spiritual war on those who volunteered in the service of their country, the project has met with a great deal of success on the actual battlefield. The dehumanization process led to a steady rise in firing rates for U.S. soldiers after WWII. In the Korean War the rate rose to 55 percent, and by Vietnam, the rate had climbed with 95 percent of combat troops shooting to kill.
In the aftermath of this increased firing rate, the life expectancy of soldiers not killed in combat, but by their own hands, has dropped accordingly.
And so, more dramatic, new technologies are in the wings, in the quest for the perfect soldier.
Omar Hernandez joked with reporter Katherine Reza about his childhood preference for Rambo movies. Some decades ago, the killing machine Rambo character played by actor Sylvester Stallone, was a soldier’s ideal. Today, the Pentagon is in pursuit of Rambo-like soldiers; not just through drugs, but also with advanced technology.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, http://www.darpa.mil), the research arm of the Pentagon which develops the technology to “push the limits of human input/output,” advance the “symbiotic relationship between man and machine,” and customize “pharmaceutical technology” to “embolden the warfighter and his superiors.” As such, did military scientists state their case at a Pentagon-sponsored conference on future warfare.
Chris Floyd mentioned that DARPA research involves ¨injecting young men and women with hormonal, neurological and genetic concoctions; implanting microchips and electrodes in their bodies to control their internal organs and brain functions; and plying them with drugs that deaden some of their normal human tendencies: the need for sleep, the fear of death, the reluctance to kill their fellow human beings.
“Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, it’s like, it pounds in my brain,” a U.S. soldier serving in Iraq told the Los Angeles Times last December. Another commented, “We talk about killing all the time. I never used to be this way…but it’s like, I can’t stop. I’m worried what I’ll be like when I get home.”
Yet the spiritual sacrifices of these soldiers, victims of mental conditioning, and psychotropic drug and mutant technology research, has still not produced the kind of lasting victories won by the reluctant World War II troops of yore. There was a stalemate in Korea, defeat in Vietnam, soldiers were chased out of Somalia, and are now bogged down in the bloody quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan.
This, however, has not dampened the spirits of Mr. Omar Hernandez, who served in a Military Intelligence battalion, doing security detail for interrogators. “I want to go back to help the Iraqi people acquire the same rights we have in the U.S.,” he said, while relating to the Army News Service reporter how the “sadness and fear in Iraqis’ faces” replays in his head.
“People who want to pull out from Iraq should walk a mile in my shoes and see the things I saw. I’m sure they would change their minds immediately,” he said.
Addendum: Disposable Troops
Last year, James Elliott officially submitted this evidence and information to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans Affairs regarding his experience with drug research on veterans: “The Hippocratic Oath is not alive and well in the Washington VA Psychiatric Department. We hereby ask for a criminal investigation in any death, suicide, attempted suicide, violent act or act suffered at the hands of any veteran or military personnel, civilian dependents, or spouses that were enrolled in research programs conducted by the Veterans Administration to ensure that these situations were not caused by the same lapses in ethical medical conduct that were experienced by Mr. James Elliott. James Elliott was asked twice in closed offices ‘what it would take to make him happy.’ Each time he was asked this question he said that he wanted the testing to stop. Elliot said that he wanted them to quit killing his friends…. Mr. Elliot alleged in his testimony that “screening of novel anti-psychotic medications” was being done “under the cover of smoking cessation” by the pharmaceutical company “Pfizer, in collusion with the Veterans Health Administration.”
The army sniper also referred to military drug research as “Nazi-like and said the process made him feel like a “lab rat, guinea pig, [and] disposable hero.”
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