By Leah Bolger
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)…increased use of anti-anxiety, and anti-depressant drugs…suicide. These are all issues that are plaguing American combat soldiers, and which the American media has reported on widely.
Yesterday the CODEPINK delegation to Pakistan heard directly from the victims of U.S. combat drones. We listened intently to the stories of these men who describe their lives in terms of “Before Drones” and “After Drones,” in much the same way that Americans refer to their lives “since 9/11.”
Imagine having up to 6 drones circling overhead 24 hours a day, making an incessant, constant buzzing sound that never ceases. The sound the drones make creates a deep-seated psychological fear—a sort of emotional torture. The lives of these people have changed completely, their culture and way of life destroyed.
This is a communal society, whose families of 60 to 70 people live in the same compound. The women cook together, the families eat and sleep together. Weddings and funerals are huge gatherings of friends and family—or at least they used to be. Now, “After Drones (AD)” everything has changed. Children aged 5 to 10 no longer go to school. Men are afraid to gather in groups of more than 2 or 3. Weddings, which used to be joyous affairs with music, dancing, and drumming, are now subdued events with only close family members present. And most sadly, since funerals have been the target of drone attacks, they are now small gatherings as well.
Because of cultural norms, the deaths of women are not reported. It is considered offensive to discuss the names, or take photographs of women, yet one stalwart journalist, Noor Beharam, has risked his life repeatedly to try to document the deaths of women and especially children. He believes that 670 women have been killed by drone strikes, and has taken photos of more than 100 children. Their bodies are often unrecognizable as human after the strikes. He showed us one photo of a man holding torn pieces of a woman’s dress that he found in the trees, in an attempt to document his wife’s death.
The Waziris are now raising a generation of children with psychological and emotional scars without an education. The use of Xanax is startling high, and suicide, which is a societal and religious taboo, is shocking. Seventeen Waziris have killed themselves due to the emotional terror of the U.S. drone program. This is something that is unheard of in this culture. Families are becoming displaced and moving to more urban areas in an attempt to avoid popular “strike areas.” The Pakistani Army has moved in and won’t allow them to cross into Afghanistan to visit their relatives there, though the entire region is Pashtun, and part of their cultural and historical heritage.
The U.S. government has created enemies where there were none. We have been told repeatedly about the concept of revenge, which is a dominant social force in Waziristan. The children of this region will remember what we have done to them, and their children, and their children. We have also been told repeatedly that the only way to possibly stop this spiral is to stop the drones. Just stop. These people will not accept monetary compensation even if it were offered, which it isn’t. They don’t want an apology, which they view as insincere. They just want us to stop the drones, so they can return to their “Before Drones” lives.
Leah Bolger is President of Veterans For Peace.