BILL MOYERS: Let me ask you as an old warrior and Vietnam veteran, how you come to terms with a cold-blooded massacre committed against civilians by another soldier?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I find it very troubling. But I think I'm-- reluctant to see it as somehow-- emblematic of the values that prevail-- in the ranks. There will be those who will want to excuse the actions of Sergeant Bales-- who will-- cite-- growing evidence of his personal difficulties, who will note that this was his-- fourth-- combat tour-- as a way to-- wave it away. I certainly wouldn't wanna go-- in that direction either. He needs to be held accountable. Those who sent him on this fourth combat tour need to be held accountable. But Sergeant Bales is not somehow a symbol of the larger U.S. military.

BILL MOYERS: On the way to the studio this morning, the taxi driver was lamenting the fact that his niece, who joined and went to Iraq four years ago, I believe it was, has now had two terms. And-- and he was saying, "How can he do this?"

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I-- I think what-- what-- what I find shocking is the profession of people to be shocked, that we have these soldiers going back for repeated tours. It's been reported for years now. It-- it ought to be common knowledge. And it ought to be common knowledge that Americans generally find-- unacceptable, or at least disturbing. I mean, what do we think is going to result-- when we embark upon open-ended wars, to which roughly 1% of the American people are committed in terms of active engagement, and we send them back again and again and again. I mean, in-- in a sense, I think as-- terrible-- as this episode is, it really pales, I think, in comparison to what we already know about the epidemic P.T.S.D. Post-traumatic stress disorder, which is already one of the results of the Iraq and Afghanistan's wars.

BILL MOYERS: I can't recall, were-- were-- were there rotations in Vietnam?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Yes. The-- the average tour of duty, the standard tour of duty in Vietnam was-- was one year. And that war did go on long enough that there were certain numbers of soldiers, not me-- who were-- deployed-- involuntarily for a second or a third tour. But in nowhere near the numbers-- that-- is the case today, because the wars have gone on today twice as long as the Vietnam War. The older I get-- the more I am persuaded that war is not simply evil and therefore to be avoided if at all-- if-- if-- if at all possible. But war is-- destructive of the human spirit. War compromises our humanity. There may be some people who walk away from the experience of combat and are better as a consequence. But I'm persuaded that those people are few in number. And that for the great majority-- there are wounds that may not be visible-- or that may not become visible-- until years-- after the fact. I cannot say that I came away from my Vietnam service particularly traumatized. But as time has gone along, I'm becoming increasingly aware of the extent to which friends of mine, classmates of mine from West Point were traumatized-- whose lives were deeply-- affected. Sometimes in ways that were not immediately evident back when we were in our 20s or in our-- in our 30s. But it's-- it's an evil thing.

Sgt. Robert Bales and the Trauma of Repeat Deployments

March 22, 2012

Does Robert Bales, the army staff sergeant who allegedly killed 17 Afghan civilians on March 11, symbolize a larger problem in our military ranks? Vietnam veteran and military scholar Andrew Bacevich talks with Bill Moyers about Bales’ accountability, the stress of repeated tours on soldiers and how war itself “compromises our humanity.”

Watch the full conversation between Bacevich and Moyers.

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  • Unsanitorial

    Professor Bacevich is 65 years old and left military service in the 1990s. He is out of touch with recruits who were not born when he left. Officers are less traumatized by combat and occupation in any case. The morlochism and nihilism among many of the hopeless video gamers who sign up would shock him, and the acceptance and use of mass murder and torture among those who fashion our counter-terrorism policies would likewise dismay him. Neil Shea and Chris Hedges have a much better understanding of the sadistic military subculture. These two old men may be reluctant to admit our war shames. Drones routinely kill more innocents than Sgt. Bales, and that’s just as cruel and meaningless. Colonel Daniel Davis would be a better guest.

  • R-F-Fisher

     “”Drones routinely kill more innocents than Sgt. Bales, and that’s just as cruel and meaningless.””

    EXACTLY!!!  Why pick on one soldier, when our Government has killed Tens of Thousands of civilians, and their excuse is only; Collateral Damage????

    Punish the ‘real criminals’! The ones that promote and keep our country in these wars for their own – FINANCIAL PROFIT!!

  • Martha Eichler

    I have been reading Bacevich’s “The New American Militarism,” and it is very valuable in the depth and breadth of history it provides as to why we continue to wage the senseless and insane Afghan war.  The “why” can pretty  much be summed up in one word:  OIL. I think Mr. Bacevich is quite well aware of “war shames;” he calls war “evil” and says that it “compromises our humanity.” His son died in Iraq. He himself fought in Vietnam. He has turned from a gung-ho soldier into a rigorous critic, and therefore (with his unquestionable credibility) might be one of the greatest allies for those of us who seek to stop the madness–the death vortex that is Afghanistan.

  • Unsanitorial

    In his 2008 interview with Bill Moyers Professor Bacevich states explicitly that he does not think the Iraq occupation is about oil. His overall caution is that our military (of about 1.5 million personnel) is not invulnerable and that using it for an attempt at world hegemony is insane. He thinks if we take the defensive posture for which our armed forces were designed we need not enlarge them. He feels making the current military carry the unreasonable burden of repeated warzone deployment is a betrayal of our troops. At that time he doubted the American people understood how stressed and overextended our fighting forces are. He deplored the ignorant patriotism of gestures and rhetoric and insisted the people be informed about the truths of these wars. It hasn’t happened yet.

  • Gpeerless

    It is abominable that we expect our young people to even be in a war like this (where there is no sense of laws of battle as before), let alone muliple tours!  Everyone has a breaking point! Has man not evolved in 2,000 years to overcome fighting like little boys on the playground?

  • Melanie Woolfenden

    Time to bring the draft back. If, as Americans, we believe and support our government in military action against another nation or nations, then we all should believe enough to contribute our own flesh and blood. We are basically abusing the poorer parts of our population to do the fighting of our disgusting politicians who rarely have their own children in the military. Time to rethink our whole modus operadi(?)

  • George

    The 1% need to do their share of the fighting

  • Redcatcher

    Killing folks with out clear, easily explained, honest reasons that are shared by the vast majority of Americans amounts to atrocities that will cause combat veteran soldiers to hate themselves leading to PTSD, suicide and worse.

  • Anonymous

    War is an evil thing. War is understandable when a country has to defend itself against invaders. In that fight, soldiers would know they are doing a patriotic and noble duty. In questionable engagements, war does not carry the righteousness to sustain the soul. High numbers of PTSD are no surprise. Our sons were not brought up to fight strangers to the death. Our women serving in the military never thought that they would be attacked by their own comrades in arms. Extended tours are even more destructive on the human spirit.
    We need to have a different look at our place in world leadership. Our place can not be invading other countries. We must first get our whole country strong, where everyone has the opportunity to fulfill their own potential. Everyone equally deserves health, education, nutritious food, decent housing, and respect. Then our place as world leaders should be to bring prosperity to others.
    We should not be looking to cut the cost of food assistance for our poor families to fund wars. Then look at Haiti. That poverty should be not only so close to our shores, but within our own boarders is our shared disgrace.