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From Draft NOtices, January - February 2003

They Gave Me the Bronze Star for My Efforts

— Sean Bell


"They gave me the bronze star for my efforts," said Joe Queen before he snapped and opened fire onto the spectators at the opening game of the 2027 World Series.

This was the fictitious thought that entered my mind as I read about a Private First Class Joe Queen, whose job during the first Gulf War was to bulldoze and cover up the bodies of the Iraqi dead.

On February 24, 1991, in an area between Saudi Arabia and Iraq known as the Neutral Zone, the 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized) began the ground war to retake Kuwait, breaking through the defensive front lines of Saddam Hussein's army. This ground attack of thousands of M1A2 Abrams tanks and other vehicles followed a bombardment of howitzers and multiple-launch rockets decimating the Iraqi troops.

The media, allowed only to be officially escorted by military personnel, was not able to see the effects of this attack until the next afternoon. There had been about 2,000 who surrendered, but no bodies or bits of bodies could be seen. Months later, it was learned why the battlefield was so "clean." The Iraqi troops were buried by plows mounted on Abrams main battle tanks.

"I came through right after the lead company," said Army Col. Anthony Moreno, who commanded the lead brigade during the 1st Mech's assault. "What you saw was a bunch of buried trenches with people's arms and legs sticking out of them. For all I know, we could have killed thousands."

PFC Joe Queen drove one of the massive earthmovers. His job was to clear the carnage, for which he received the Bronze Star. "A lot of guys were scared," Queen said, "but I enjoyed it."

War and the realities of such brutal horrors are hidden from those who might find it offensive, mainly the majority of the U.S. population. So as the journalists are escorted around to see only what the Pentagon allows them to see, the resulting "news" as seen through your living room TV is hardly anything more shocking than a child's movie or video game. So any potential outcry against the atrocities of war are muted by showing a staged version of the end result of the war. I do not recall seeing a single image or video of a dead human being during all the corporate news coverage. The ready-for-prime-time, sterilized version of the war presented by the Bush Sr. administration made it seem like it was a bloodless war -- a war without consequences. Thanks to the rules developed by Cheney and Powell, journalists were not allowed to move without military escorts. Everything was censored and had to be cleared by the military. So for this new world order type of war, the killers and their top supervisors control the public's perception. Cheney said that it was "the best-covered war ever." Really? Best for whom? Obviously, it was great for Bush Sr., whose ratings were high during that time, in no small part thanks to that so-called great coverage.

For many war veterans, the shock and horrors are hard to grasp and sometimes are not dealt with until decades later. Look at all the vets from the Gulf War who have since snapped. The accused Washington, D.C. sniper, John Allen Muhammed, is a Gulf War veteran. Jeffrey Glenn Hutchinson, also a Gulf vet, murdered his girlfriend and her three children in 1998. And of course, Timothy McVeigh, who murdered hundreds of people in a terrorist attack in Oklahoma City, was a Gulf War vet.

Thousands of Vietnam vets have taken their own lives or have ended up homeless because of their inability to adjust to the twisted reality of rejoining the very society that not only supports the mechanisms of war, but hardly cares to know about such things.

Observers of recent U.S. military attacks in countries such as Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan have noted that technology is making it easier for military personnel to wage war. We are more able to wage war from a safe distance, which is making it psychologically easier to kill. A military chaplain wrote, "As war becomes safer and easier, as soldiers are removed from the horrors of war and see the enemy not as humans but as blips on a screen, there is a very real danger of losing the deterrent that such horrors provide."

According to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, U.S. Army (Ret.), a technique called "operant conditioning" is used to overcome the human aversion to killing. For example, bull's-eye targets have been replaced by human-shaped ones to make soldiers feel comfortable when shooting at people. These types of techniques are what increased the fire rate of soldiers from 55% in Korea to 95% in Vietnam.

War is simply a failure of diplomatic policy, using the military to exercise with brutal force the will of one country against that of another. The method is killing and devastation. The immediate effects of war are hidden by those who control and create the war situations. The only human faces we will see on the corporate media may be those of some of our own veterans who find themselves unable to cope with the nightmare they once participated in.

I think again to former PFC Queen who bulldozed bodies, clearing the pieces of human beings from the desert. I wonder if some day he, too, might snap and attack the society that sent him to war. Could he one day end up conflicted with the twisted reality that he was given a medal for helping to hide the face of war? And, on such a day, will society look to the real cause of such terror, or will we just call him a madman like we did with Timothy McVeigh? Will we feel secure when we administer the death penalty to the very people we taught to kill in our name?

As another war begins under shady circumstances, how will those who come face to face with the bodies and death deal with returning to a society that never knew such atrocities even happened? Maybe we can honor them with a parade and that will make everything all better.

Don't count on it.

Sean Bell is a Gulf War era Marine vet and recently co-founded a local chapter of the Veterans for Peace.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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