The reason for the long delay lies with the VA’s difficulty in navigating the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, and Section 106 of that act, which requires federal agencies to take into account effects on historic properties, and consult with state and other preservation agencies over their proposed actions.
Pua Aiu, administrator for the State Historic Preservation Division, said it’s taken a long time to gain consensus on the project because it’s going in on the “relatively pristine” Tripler grounds, an area that’s eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
“And when that happens, (consultation) normally takes a long time,” Aiu said.
Aiu said it’s not unusual for an agency to come in and “they believe their project is really good, and we believe their project is really good, but they have to accommodate the historic preservation rules. It’s a federal law.”
The VA came in initially with a project “that was simply unacceptable to be put on a property that’s eligible for the (National Register),” she said.
Veterans’ advocates say that the facility is desperately needed and criticize the “bureaucratic impasse” that has delayed the project.
There is no doubt that the epidemic of PTSD America’s wars have unleashed on our communities desperately needs attention. But as the New York Times article “A Beast in the Heart of Every Fighting Man” makes painfully clear, PTSD is merely a symptom of the profound moral, spiritual and social “disease” of war and militarism. Treating symptoms will not cure the disease.
Here is a sample of an excellent article in the New York Times about the Stryker Brigade murders of civilians in Afghanistan:
A Beast in the Heart of Every Fighting Man
By LUKE MOGELSON
Last May, in the small village of Qualaday in western Kandahar Province, a young Army lieutenant and his sergeants met with several elders to discuss the recent killing of a local mullah. The desert heat was fierce, and the elders led the soldiers across their village to sit under the shade of nearby trees. Three days had passed since they were last there; during that interval the place appeared to have been abandoned. When they sat down, some of the soldiers removed their helmets, and a few elders their sandals and turbans. A freelance photographer was permitted to make an audio recording of the discussion. The lieutenant wanted to know where everyone had gone. One elder explained: People left because they were afraid.
“Ask them, ‘Do they understand why we shot this dude?’ ” the lieutenant told his interpreter. During their last patrol to Qualaday, soldiers in the platoon had attacked Mullah Allah Dad with rifles and a fragmentation grenade that blew off the lower halves of his legs and badly disfigured his face. The soldiers claimed that Allah Dad was trying to throw a grenade at them. Two days after the killing, however, a company commander attended a council during which the district leader announced that people believed the incident had been staged and that the Americans had planted the grenade in order to justify a murder.
“Tell them it’s important that not only the people in this village know, but the people in surrounding villages know, that this guy was shot because he took an aggressive action against coalition forces,” the lieutenant told his interpreter. “We didn’t just [expletive] come over and just shoot him randomly. We don’t do that.”
Last month, in a military courtroom at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash., 22-year-old Jeremy Morlock confessed to participating in the premeditated murder of Mullah Allah Dad, as well as the murders of two other Afghan civilians. In exchange for his agreement to testify against four other soldiers charged in the crimes, including the supposed ringleader, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, the government reduced Morlock’s mandatory life sentence to 24 years, with the possibility of parole after approximately 8. The rest of the accused, who are still awaiting trial, contest the allegations against them.
The story that has been told so far — by Morlock in his confession and by various publications that relied heavily on the more sensational accusations from interviews hastily conducted by Army special agents in Afghanistan — is a fairly straightforward one: a sociopath joined the platoon and persuaded a handful of impressionable subordinates to join him in sport killing as opportunities arose. There may indeed be truth to this, though several soldiers in the platoon give a more complicated account. Certainly it’s a useful narrative, strategically and psychologically, for various parties trying to make sense of the murders — parents at a loss to explain their sons’ involvement and lawyers advocating their clients’ innocence and a military invested in a version of events that contains and cauterizes the problem.
On the day of Jeremy Morlock’s confession, I watched as several of his friends and relatives took the stand to vouch movingly for his character and struggle to fathom how the young man they knew could have committed the crimes to which he confessed. I watched, too, as Morlock himself recounted his failed ambition to follow in the footsteps of his father, a former master sergeant who died in a boating accident not long before Morlock deployed. “If he had been alive when I went to Afghanistan,” Morlock told the judge, “I know that would have made a difference. . . . I realize now that I wasn’t fully prepared for the reality of war as it was being fought in Afghanistan.”
Among the witnesses who testified that day was Stjepan Mestrovic, a sociologist who specializes in war crimes. Mestrovic was allowed to study an internal 500-page inquiry into the Fifth Stryker Brigade’s “command climate,” the purpose of which was to assess whether shortcomings in leadership might be partly to blame for the murders, and to identify any officers who should be held to account. In court, Mestrovic said he was shocked by how dysfunctional the brigade appeared to have been, and he added, “In a dysfunctional unit, we cannot predict who will be the deviant — but we can predict deviance.”
I met with Mestrovic later that evening and asked him to elaborate. Before becoming involved in Morlock’s case, he served as an expert witness at trials related to Abu Ghraib, the Baghdad canal killings and Operation Iron Triangle, a case with some similarities to this one, in which American soldiers in Iraq murdered three unarmed noncombatants. He excoriated the tendency of the Army — and the news media — to blame such crimes on “a few bad apples” or a “rogue platoon.” Close examination of these events, Mestrovic argued, invariably reveals that the simplistic bad-actor explanation “doesn’t fit the picture.”
Of course, while the murders in southern Afghanistan reflect most glaringly upon the men who committed them, the need to revisit these crimes goes beyond questions of culpability and motive in one platoon. As with Abu Ghraib and Haditha and My Lai, it’s hard not to consider how such acts also open a window onto the corroding conflicts themselves. This isn’t to suggest that military personnel are behaving similarly throughout Afghanistan as a result of the conditions there; it is only to say that 10 years into an unconventional war whose end does not appear imminent, the murder of civilians by troops that are supposed to be defending them might reveal more than the deviance of a few young soldiers in a combat zone.