Notes From the Margins…

The Death of Daniel Somers

  • July 01, 2013
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The Gawker website has performed an essential service in publishing the utterly tragic last letter from the American Iraq veteran Daniel Somers to his family before he killed himself on 10 June.     Somers was 30 years old and had suffered from traumatic brain injury and PTSD, and his letter is a heartbreaking cry of despair from a soldier haunted by a war that he could not escape from:

All day, every day a screaming agony in every nerve ending in my body. It is nothing short of torture. My mind is a wasteland, filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety, even with all of the medications the doctors dare give. Simple things that everyone else takes for granted are nearly impossible for me. I can not laugh or cry. I can barely leave the house. I derive no pleasure from any activity. Everything simply comes down to passing time until I can sleep again. Now, to sleep forever seems to be the most merciful thing.

These are not the kind of things that the US or British governments like the public to think about when they think about the Iraq war or any of the other wars of the last decade.     We have been inculcated with the sanitized rhetoric of humanitarian warfare and fantasies of clean, surgical violence fought by good soldiers against evil terrorists.   We watch army recruiting campaigns showing men and women living a life of action, adventure and glamour, accumulating leadership skills and getting paid through college.

We hear politicians and newspapers hail the soldier-hero and talk of ‘sacrifice’ and our ‘finest men and women’ and   ‘supporting our troops’.   We watch revamped military spectacles, with marching bands and uniforms and stirring parades.   But there is always another reality of killing, death and destruction, and Somers’ letter hints at events that have never been acknowledged by any of the countries that fought in Iraq:

During my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity. Though I did not participate willingly, and made what I thought was my best effort to stop these events, there are some things that a person simply can not come back from…To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing coverup is more than any government has the right to demand. Then, the same government has turned around and abandoned me. They offer no help, and actively block the pursuit of gaining outside help via their corrupt agents at the DEA. Any blame rests with them.

Somers does not say what these ‘war crimes’ consisted of.   As an intelligence officer in Iraq, he participated in more than 400 combat missions and also participated in interrogations of terrorists and terrorist suspects.     In 2006-2007, he worked with Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in Mosul – the special ops team once run by Stanley McChrystal.   Among other things, the JSOC carried out below-the-radar extrajudicial executions in various countries, including Iraq, and its killing ability was once praised by George Bush, the painter of puppy dogs, who once described the JSCOC as “awesome.”

Somers did not share Bush’s preppy thuggishness.     On the contrary, he sounds like   an intelligent, sensitive and well-intentioned man with a highly-developed moral conscience and a sense of military honour,  whose life was destroyed by a criminal and disgusting war that he could not justify to himself.

In his letter he describes how he returned to Iraq for further tours of duty with the specific intention of “saving lives” in an attempt to make up for those he had not been able to save on his first tour, because:

The fact is that any kind of ordinary life is an insult to those who died at my hand. How can I possibly go around like everyone else while the widows and orphans I created continue to struggle? If they could see me sitting here in suburbia, in my comfortable home working on some music project they would be outraged, and rightfully so.

These efforts to recover his humanity and honour failed, and Somers is now one more of the thousands of traumatized US veterans who have killed themselves since 1999, in an epidemic of military suicides that reached 22 a day last year.

From the point of view of preventing similar wars, it would have been better if he could have lived and told Americans what he had seen and done, and such activism might even have brought him some psychological release.   But Somers had clearly lost faith in his society, as he had in his own government, and didn’t believe that anyone would listen to him or that anything could save him.

His death is a tragedy, and perhaps not surprisingly, the mainstream media in the US has completely ignored his letter.  But it can and should be read, for anyone who wants to get at the truth behind the war that Barack Obama once hailed as an “extraordinary achievement”.

And the next time you see some of the architects of the Iraq war boast about their achievements on a BBC documentary, or when you hear some pundit describe the war as a well-intentioned and even noble effort that mysteriously ‘went wrong’, or when some pampered journalist knocks out another 1,000 words calling for the next ‘intervention’,   remember Daniel Somers and consider that societies interested in ‘supporting our troops’ should not send them to fight in wars that do not have to be fought.

1 Comment

  1. Susan_G1

    8th Jul 2013 - 6:37 am

    I agree with you completely. I wish he could have trusted us enough to tell of his experience. Maybe it would have awoken a nation, as Ronald Ridenhour did when he exposed the My Lai Massacre. Maybe he was afraid to be branded a traitor.

    It is a very well articulated tragedy. I am so sorry. I thought initially that the war in Iraq, based on our intelligence, was a just war. We should have left long ago.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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