The unit processed about half a dozen suicides. The suicide notes, she said, almost always cited hazing. Women, she said, were constantly harassed, especially sexually, but it often did not match the systematic punishment and humiliation meted out to men who were deemed to be inadequate Marines. She said that Marines who were overweight or unable to do the physical training were subjected to withering verbal and physical abuse. They were called “fat nasties” and “shit bags.” The harassed Marines would be assigned to other individual Marines and become their slaves. They would be sent on punishing runs in which many of them vomited. They would be forced to bear-crawl—walk on all fours—the length of a football field and back. This would be followed by sets of monkey fuckers—bending down, grabbing the ankles, crouching down like a baseball catcher and then standing up again—followed by a series of other exercises that went on until the Marines collapsed.
“They make these Marines do what they call ‘bitch’ work,” Goodell said. “They are assigned to be someone else’s ‘bitch’ for the day. We had a guy in our platoon, not in Iraq but in California, and he was overweight. He was on remedial PT, which meant he went to extra physical training. When he came to work he was rotated. One day he was with this corporal or this sergeant. One day he was sent to me. I had him for an hour. I remember sending him outside and making him carry things. It was very common for them to dig a hole and fill it back up with sand or carry sand bags up to the top of a hill and then carry them down again.”
The unit was sent to collect the bodies of the Marines who killed themselves, usually by putting rifles under their chins and pulling the trigger.
“We had a Marine who was in a port-a-john when he blew his face off,” she said. “We had another Marine who shot himself through the neck. Often they would do it in the corner of a bunker or an abandoned building. We had a couple that did it in port-a-johns. We had to go in and peel and pull off chunks of flesh and brain tissue that had sprayed the walls. Those were the most frustrating bodies to get. On those bodies we were also on cleanup crew. It was gross. We sent the suicide notes home with the bodies.”
“One of the first convoys we went to was one where the Army had been traveling over a bridge and an IED had exploded,” she said. “It had literally shot a seven-ton truck over the side and down into a ravine. Marines were already going down into the ravine. We were just getting out of our vehicles. We were putting on our gloves and putting coverings over our boots. I was with a Marine named Pineda. I was coming around the Humvee and there was a spot on the ground that was a circle. I looked at it and thought something must have exploded here or near here. I went over to look at it. I looked in and saw a boot. Then I noticed the boot had a foot in it. I almost lost my lunch.”
“In the seven-ton truck the [body of the] assistant driver, who was in the passenger seat, was trapped in the vehicle,” she said. “All of his body was in the vehicle. We had to crawl in there to get it out. It was charred. Pineda and I pulled the burnt upper torso from the truck. Then we removed a leg. Some of the remains had to be scooped up by putting out hands together as though we were cupping water. That was very common. A lot of the deaths were from IEDs or explosions. You might have an upper torso but you need to scoop the rest of the remains into a body bag. It was very common to have body bags that when you picked them up they would sink in the middle because they were filled with flesh. The contents did not resemble a human body.”
The members of the mortuary unit were shunned by the other Marines. The stench of dead flesh clung to their uniforms, hair, skin and fingers. Two members of the mortuary unit began to disintegrate psychologically. One began to take a box of Nyquil tablets every day and drink large quantities of cold medicine. He was eventually medevaced out of Iraq.
“Our cammies would be stained with blood or with brains,” she said. “When you scoop up the meat it often would get on the cuffs of our shirts. You could smell it, even after you took off your gloves. We weren’t washing our cammies everyday. Your cuff comes to your face when you eat. Physically we were stained with remains. We had a constant smell like rotten meat, which I guess is what it was since often the bodies had been in the sun and the heat for a long time. The flesh had gone bad. The skin on a body in the hot sun slides off. The skin detaches itself from the layer beneath and slides around on itself.”
Her unit once had to recover two Marines who had drowned in a lake. It appeared one had leapt in to save the other. The bodies, which were recovered after a couple of days by Navy divers, were grotesquely swollen. One of the Marines was so bloated and misshapened that the body was difficult to carry on a litter.
“His neck was as wide as his bloated head, and his stomach jutted out like a barrel,” she writes in the book. “His testicles were the size of cantaloupes. His face was white and puffy and thick. Not fat, but thick. It was unreal. He looked like a movie prop, with thick, gray, waxy skin and the thick purple lips. We couldn’t stop looking at these bodies because they were so out of proportion and so disfigured and because, still, they looked like us.”
It was hardest to look into the faces of the dead. She and the other members of the mortuary unit swiftly covered the faces when they worked on the bodies. They avoided looking at the eyes of the corpses.
Once, the unit had to process seven Marines killed in an explosion. Seven or eight body bags were delivered to the bunker.
“We had clean body bags set up so we could sort the flesh,” she said. “Sometimes things come in with nametags. Or sometimes one is Hispanic and you could tell who was Hispanic and who was the white guy. We tried separating flesh. It was ridiculous. We would open a body bag and there was nothing but vaporized flesh. There were not four hands or a whole leg in a bag. We tried to distribute the mush evenly throughout the bags. We were trying to do the best we could sorting it out. We had the last body bag come in. We opened up the body bag and it was filled with the heads. I looked at four before looking away. Not only did we have to look at them, we had to pick them up and figure out who it belonged to. The eyes were looking back at us. We got used to a lot of it. But the heads worked the other way. They affected us more strongly as time passed. We saw on the heads the expressions of fright and horror. It made us wonder what we were doing here.”
She processed one Marine whose face was twisted at the moment of death by rage. The face of this Marine began to haunt her.
“I had this feeling that something awful had occurred,” she said. “The way he had come in and stiffened he had this look to his face that made my stomach curl. It looked angry. Often expressions on bodies would look fearful and hurt. The faces looked as though they had received death. But this face looked like he had given death.”
She and the other members of the unit became convinced they could feel and hear the souls of the dead Marines they had processed and housed in their reefers.
To borrow from the Marine Corps vernacular referenced in the Hedges' piece one could accurately peg the majority of Americans as "shit bags", "fat nasties", "money fuckers" and "slaves" so worthless and pathetic they have been during the rise of the fascist state. More of the lemmings here in God's chosen land of plenty pour our their emotions in acts of lunacy like mourning the death of multi-millionaire movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor, a woman who lived the good life and through her the inhabitants of idiot nation lived vicariously, just as they do when it comes to all of the false idols that they sanctimoniously deify while the wallow in the shame, cowardice and willful ignorance that passes for their pitiful little lives. I remember back in the days after the prior vainglorious Emperor George W. Bush unleashed the full fury of the Military Industrial Congressional Complex on Saddam Hussein's Iraq back in 2003, at that time gas was still cheap, the grand fraud of the Wall Street housing bubble was years from reaching critical mass and piggish and still traumatized by the 'terrorist' attacks on 9/11 were braying for blood. The roads were filled with mega-sizes SUV's and goddammit if there wasn't one of those idiotic fucking yellow ribbon magnets on the ass end of each one. It was futile trying to convince the average American dumbass that their over-consumption of the precious black gold was what our heroic military 'heroes' were being sent into the meat-grinder to kill, be maimed for life or die for. Back in that day those who dared to question were shouted down as "traitors", "terrorist-appeasers", "enemies of the state" and the worst of all pejoratives..."unpatriotic" back when it was scary to dissent against Bush's maniac crusades for neocon doctrine. Those were disturbing times for those of us who were only starting to come to the realization (as with me) that it was all bullshit, before the early internet insurgents....after years of relative 'peace' it was a total war of civilizations. Eventually though the truth became to seep out, the internet gave many of us a place to organize and educate ourselves and the always greed-crazed corporate carnivores latched onto the wars as another marketing tool.
The wars have not only not been televised to Americans but are now shamelessly used by corporations who equate patriotic fervor with profits. The participation of national restaurant chains like Outback Steakhouse in Operation Homefront are cynically used to sell steaks and blooming onions to blooming idiots (I wonder how that meat would taste if Chris Hedges' piece were slipped into the menus), Wal-Marts are festooned in the red-white and blue despite an inventory of poorly constructed garbage made in China and "support the troops" has become a guaranteed money maker to lure consumers. The worst offenders of course is FOX and nothing is more indicative of their cheerleading for murder than the NFL coverage, take for example the use of Veterans Day weekend in 2009 to promote the 'patriotism' of the foreign pig Rupert Murdoch. FOX's pregame show was held on a set in Afghanistan (see Militarist Masturbation) where ex jocks and grinning shit salesmen like Howie Long and Terry Bradshaw immersed the FOX brand in the sort of glorification of the war machine that would do Leni Riefenstahl proud. There is no important football game that doesn't feature a tax dollar wasting flyover and this year's Super Bowl in Jerry Jone's gauche Texas temple of avarice was vomit inducing so soaked in red-meat flag waving and war worshipping hyperbole was it. It goes over real well with those who in the true modern American way love to park their fat asses on their couches in front of their big screen televisions and cheer for others to die just as long as they don't have to do the fighting.
I will close with this excerpt from the classic antiwar book by Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got His Gun:
You can always hear the people who are willing to sacrifice somebody else’s life. They’re plenty loud and they talk all the time. You can find them in churches and schools and newspapers and legislatures and congress. That’s their business. They sound wonderful. Death before dishonor. This ground sanctified by blood. These men who died so gloriously. They shall not have died in vain. Our noble dead.
But what do the dead say?
Did anybody ever come back from the dead any single one of the millions who got killed did any one of them ever come back and say by god I’m glad I’m dead because death is always better than dishonor? Did they say I’m glad I died to make the world safe for democracy? Did they say that I like death better than losing liberty? Did any of them ever say it’s good to think I got my guts blown out for the honor of my country? Did any of them ever say look at me I’m dead but I died for decency and that’s better than being alive? Did any of them ever say here I am I’ve been rotting for two years in a foreign grave but it’s wonderful to die for your native land? Did any of them say hurray I died for womanhood and I’m happy see how I sing even though my mouth is choked with worms?
Nobody but the dead know whether all these things people talk about are worth dying for or not. And the dead can’t talk. So the words about noble deaths and sacred blood and honor and such are all put into dead lips by grave robbers and fakes who have no right to speak for the dead. If a man says death before dishonor he is either a fool or a liar because he doesn’t know what death is. He isn’t able to judge. He only knows about living. He doesn’t know anything about dying. If he is a fool and believes in death before dishonor let him go ahead and die.