Clean Cut Kid (and They Made a Killer Out of Him is What They Did)

Gary G. Kohls, MD

It wasn’t a very good month for U.S. soldiers and veterans and the Pentagon, what with the ongoing revelations out of the Veterans Administration that 18 military veterans commit suicide every day and that there are more active-duty soldiers killing themselves than are being killed in combat. This war isn’t very glorious.
It also hasn’t been a very good half-century for the honor of the U.S. military machine. Massively neglected Vietnam vets who are still suffering with incurable PTSD remain disproportionately homeless, unemployable, hungry, isolated, suicidal, and intermittently homicidal. And that war has been officially “over” since 1975, at least for our nation, although you can’t say the same for the veteran. For psychologically traumatized and spiritually deadened combat vets, their wars are never ending.
The U.S. military machine hasn’t fared too well either over the past 12 years, at least ethically, what with the illegality of the last two undeclared wars, the torture chambers at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, the extrajudicial assassinations, and the secret CIA “rendition” sites in assorted foreign lands. There are lots of reasons for veterans to feel depressed, guilty, angry, suicidal, and homicidal.
The last two disastrous Middle Eastern wars that were started—clearly based on lies and ulterior motives—have actually been good for a few of the non-combatant war profiteers among the group of One Percenters in the finance and war industries, for they have accrued trillions of dollars of ill-gotten gains in the form of taxpayer money that has been sucked out of our pockets or charged to the installment plan to be paid for later, all the while accruing lots of interest rate fees, by our children and grandchildren.
That giant sucking sound of trillions of scarce dollars going down the Pentagon toilet is the fault of the select group of pro-war political warmongers that are on both sides of the Congressional aisle. These mainly male chickenhawks with their three-piece suits and fat Wall Street portfolios are hiding behind their corporate boardroom walls, far from the flying bullets. Corporate and political warmongers don’t get PTSD or die from poisonous drugs and alcohol.

A little lesson
from 9/10/01

An interesting and very pertinent reality happened on September 10, 2001. On that day, Department of War chief chickenhawk Donald Rumsfeld made the astounding announcement that the Pentagon was unable to account for 2.3 trillion dollars of taxpayer money. Before the press could react and demand Rumsfeld’s resignation, the scandal was conveniently obscured by the controlled demolitions of World Trade Center towers 1, 2, and 7 the very next morning (this sequence of events is often regarded as evidence of foreknowledge and therefore involvement in the events of 9/11/01).
Let me digress some more by saying that among the many corporate entities that foment wars (and then profit from them) are conscienceless ones that supply mercenary soldiers (such as Blackwater), the transnational oil companies (who profit by getting control over oil fields that don’t belong to them and that can only be obtained as spoils of war), the weapons manufacturers (who  also lavish millions of dollars on their main public relations and congressional lobbying group, the NRA, who then does their bidding), the drone-makers, and the CIA spooks who oversee the torture chambers as well as the drones.
Even the giant psychopharmaceutical corporations profit hugely, by happily supplying—at enormous profit—the addicting, zombifying, brain-altering, suicide-inducing, homicide-inducing, and potentially brain-damaging prescription drugs that often create neurological syndromes indistinguishable from what are all too often mislabeled mental illnesses of unknown etiology.

Last week’s Vietnam
veteran hostage-taker

Just this past week the U.S. military machine should have been expressing shame over the latest act of homicidal violence by another tormented (decorated—with a Good Conduct medal) Vietnam veteran hostage-taker in Alabama who obviously has had PTSD (with obvious psychotic features) for the last 40 years. In a probable act of “suicide by cop,” the perpetrator was shot and killed in his bunker yesterday, fortunately without physical harm to the child hostage.
Then, a couple of days ago in Texas, there was the double murder at the hands of a PTSD-afflicted Marine Corps veteran. One of his two well-armed victims was a best-selling author and an acclaimed member of Generation Kill, a Navy Seal sniper “hero” who had chalked up 150 kills during his several tours of duty, shooting, from great distances, Middle Easterners in the invaded and occupied territories of Afghanistan and Iraq. (One wonders if snipers ever walk down to the dead bodies to confirm that their victims were indeed who they were supposed to kill rather than innocent and unarmed civilians. I suspect that in times of war, just like the drone ambushes, no accurate or positive up-close ID is ever done by the snipers. The shooters must just melt away like the LRRPs did in Vietnam, trying to assure themselves that what just happened was a “justified kill” and not a war crime.)
I’m sure the Marine Corps was chagrined to find out that the killer of the Navy Seal and a second person was a psychologically disabled Marine with PTSD. Apparently the three of them were partaking in shooting sports with lethal weapons as a naïve, unproven, and very dangerous (totally theoretical) attempt at treating combat-induced PTSD!
The shooter’s aunt said she had watched him grow up but admitted she hadn’t seen him since his high school graduation in 2006. She was in disbelief that her nephew could be involved in such an incident.
“He had a kind heart. He was someone willing to jump in and help, no matter what it was,” she said.

I gave them a good boy,
and they sent me
back a murderer

The aunt’s statement reminded me of the story of the mother of Paul Meadlo, one of the soldiers who participated in the mass murder of 500 innocent, unarmed women and children at My Lai on March 16, 1968. She said to journalist Seymour Hersh, “I gave them a good boy, and they sent me back a murderer.” There is a good chance that the mother of the murdered Navy Seal would say the same about him.
Which reminds me of one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, “Clean Cut Kid,” Dylan’s deep and psychologically accurate insights into the combat trauma that has been so commonly experienced by innocent adolescent American boys who went in sane and came home crazy in every war since the War Between the States. “Clean Cut Kid” is about a suicidal soldier from the war that Dylan only vicariously experienced, the Vietnam War.

“Clean Cut Kid”
By Bob Dylan

Everybody’s asking why he couldn’t adjust
Adjust to what, a dream that bust?

They took a clean-cut kid
And they made a killer out of him is what they did.

They said what’s up is down, they said what isn’t is
They put ideas in his head that he thought were his.

He was on the baseball team, he was in the marching band
When he was ten years old he had a watermelon stand.
He was a clean-cut kid
And they made a killer out of him is what they did.

They said, “Listen boy, you’re just a pup”
They sent him to a napalm health spa to shape up.

They gave him dope to smoke, drinks and pills
A jeep to drive, blood to spill.

They said “Congratulations, you got what it takes”
They sent him back into the race without any brakes.

They took a clean-cut kid
But they made a killer out of him is what they did.

He bought the American dream but it put him in doubt
Only game he could play was Russian roulette.

He drank Coca-Cola, he was eating Wonder Bread
He ate Burger Kings, he was well fed.

He went to Hollywood to see Peter O’Toole
He stole a Rolls Royce and drove it in a swimming pool.

They took a clean-cut kid
But they made a killer out of him is what they did.

He could’ve sold insurance, owned a restaurant or bar
He could’ve been an accountant or a tennis star.

He was wearing boxing gloves, took a dive one day
Off the Golden Gate Bridge into China Bay.

His mama walks the floor, his daddy weeps and moans
They gotta sleep together in a home they don’t own.

Everybody’s asking why he didn’t adjust
All he ever wanted was somebody to trust.

They took his head and turned it inside out
He never did know what it was all about.

He had a steady job, he joined the choir
He never did plan to walk the high wire.

They took a clean-cut kid
And they made a killer out of him is what they did.

Author Kurt Vonnegut was a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany during the 1945 allied terror bombing that incinerated the entire city and tens of thousands of innocent humans near the end of World War II. He barely survived, but the experience inspired his novel Slaughterhouse Five. In previously unpublished papers that were discovered after his death, Vonnegut gave an account of the brutality of his basic training experience, referred to by some veterans as “psychological rape.”

“It was a routine speech we got during our first day of basic training, delivered by a wiry little lieutenant: ‘Men, up to now you’ve been good, clean, American boys with an American’s love for sportsmanship and fair play. We’re here to change that’.

“‘Our job is to make you the meanest, dirtiest bunch of scrappers in the history of the world. From now on, you can forget the Marquess of Queensberry rules and every other set of rules. Anything and everything goes.’

“‘Never hit a man above the belt when you can kick him below it. Make the bastard scream. Kill him any way you can. Kill, kill, kill—do you understand?’

And of course, here are the often quoted words of another American hero, General George Patton, who said to the soldiers under his command:

“My God, I actually pity those poor bastards we’re going up against. My God, I do. We’re not just going to shoot the bastards, we’re going to cut out their living guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We’re going to murder those lousy Hun bastards by the bushel. Now some of you boys, I know, are wondering whether or not you’ll chicken out under fire. Don’t worry about it. I can assure you that you’ll all do your duty. The Nazis are the enemy. Wade into them. Spill their blood, shoot them in the belly. When you put your hand into a bunch of goo, that a moment before was your best friend’s face, you’ll know what to do.”

Thousands of Patton’s men found out that they had no choice but to follow orders, even illegal ones, and they found themselves committing war crimes. Many of them came home with regrets and deep guilt that ate at their withering souls and created demons that permanently invaded their brains. Many of them came home unable to live normal lives ever again, and their families couldn’t understand what had happened to their beloved boys.

These previously clean-cut kids often felt that they had aged 40 years during their one tour of duty, becoming bitter, angry, and often unemployable old men who could no longer take pleasure in the things they had enjoyed before the war.

It’s an old, old story that seems to be reliably drowned out, to the nation’s peril, by flag-worshipping patriots and the propaganda machine that says, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that war is glorious.