Q&A with "Mass Casualties" author Michael Anthony.
Q: I really enjoyed your book. I think you have a unique way of telling your story and of exposing the Army’s darker side. What made you share your personnel stories along with other soldier’s stories? For example, popping pills to sleep, of all the affairs that were taking place? Of the Army brushing of the suicide attempt of a fellow soldier?
A: There are two main reasons I decided to write the story. I was home from the war for about two months, and I was on a date with this girl and she starts telling me about an article she read in the newspaper. She tells me the article was about this soldier in Iraq, and how he was the epitome of an American hero, as if the new G.I. Joe film was based on this guy. She then tells me the soldiers name and it ends up being one of my leaders in Iraq. One of the people who spent the whole year cover up crimes, one of the people who threatened to send me to jail, one of the people who covered up my friends suicide so that they wouldn’t look bad. It made me sick to my stomach to think that there are all these real heroes out there, but yet, this man was being lumped in with all the real heroes, I was disgusted by it.
Another big reason is that: “We are all entitled to our opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts.” And the facts are that there is a big suicide and PTSD problem in the military. Everyday 18 veterans kill themselves. For the past five years suicide rates have risen in the Army, making each year, consistently, the highest year for suicide. And on top of this we have 200,000 veterans who sleep on the streets each night. The only way to help these soldiers out is to admit that there are problems in the military. If we go around telling only the good, then people will think everything’s perfect and there’s nothing to change. The only way to help is to say what needs to be changed.
Q: You say, “They aren’t sending provisions to the heroes they think we are. It is going to us doing shit jobs and others who are criminals; people doing drugs, committing crimes, molesters, adulterers; people doing anything they can to only help themselves I don’t want to tell anyone the truth because it will just break their hearts.” I’m pretty sure anyone who has or will read your book will look at the Army differently. Did you want to paint a more realistic picture of yourself and other soldiers?
A: Realistic is definitely the word. The book isn’t pro or anti war, we’ve got endorsements from pro and anti war people, democrats and republicans. It’s simply about giving a full picture, the side that a lot of people don’t want to talk about. The thing that made me saddest about people sending us all these care packages is when we received one from a nursing home. All the box had in it was used crayons, socks, notebooks, and a package of Roman noodles etc. It was knowing that a lot of these people were giving us so much when they had so little, yet, we had more than enough supplies over there. I felt like we should have been sending boxes full of supplies back to them.
Q: You also say, “I wish I could forget everything and go back to thinking that everyone in the military was an American hero.” Did you ever consider not debunking the American hero myth? How let down were you by this realization? Is it hard to accept the Army isn’t full of G.I. Joe’s and Jane’s?
A: I did think about not telling the story. Sometimes it’s easier to go on living the lies. But I realized that there are real heroes out there, and the only way to show them respect was to take away the false heroes, so that the true ones can shine.
Q: Week 3, Day 2, Iraq: You speak of a dog lying on your operating room table and then a nine-year-old Iraqi child, why did you skim over these stories? It seems as though these situations were the ones causing you to pop pills at night to sleep.
A: I don’t know, those were some of the harder parts to convey. Looking down during surgery at a dieing, innocent nine year old girl, sometimes the only thing you come up with is sadness, and that’s all you can say about a situation, it was bad or sad, sometimes it’s so overwhelming that you can’t put it into words.
Q: By the time you had written your book you had cried six times in your life. Have you cried since being home or are you bottling up your emotions? It’s a weird question but I’ve talked to other veterans who have found themselves randomly crying upon returning home.
A: I have actually talked to quite a few veterans too, that have said they randomly cried since returning home. But no, I haven’t cried since then, I’ve done a lot of work on myself, and with fellow veterans themselves, so I like to think I’ve come full circle and have found ways to deal with everything that did and does go on.
Q: “The goddamn Army made me a man.” I always hear this, you’re not a man until you’ve been to war. So what about being in the Army or going to war made you a man?
A: I think the biggest thing that I felt made me a man was when I stood up to the Army, and I was willing to go to jail and/or be shot for something I believed in. Sometimes we don’t know what we’re made of until we’re pushed to the limits, and I think the Army helped me realize what I was made of.
Q: Is home as scary as you thought it would be? How has the transition process been? Are you enjoying being a student again?
A: Coming home isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. During deployment everyone thinks of all the great things to do and how great it will be, but it isn’t always perfect. It’s hard getting back into the flow of life, and reconnecting with people. Since returning home, already two people have killed themselves and another handful are doing drugs and another handful are in PTSD clinics. Some people just have a harder time transitioning then others. But yes, I am enjoying being a student, though I wasn’t when I first got back, because I had the same issues as many, but I am in the flow of things now and am enjoying myself.
Q: Was joining the Army worth it?
A: I think so, definitely. While over there our hospital saw 22,000 patients, and I personally helped save 400 lives, so I can’t look back and say I regret being there and helping those people out. And if I wasn’t there, and hadn’t written the book, who knows how long these stories would have gone untold.
Q: Did you quit smoking?
A: Since returning home I quit drinking, smoking, pills etc. But the only thing I miss is smoking!
*Michael Anthony is the author of Mass Casualties: A Young Medic’s True Story of Death, Deception, and Dishonor in Iraq. His take on the Iraq war is like nothing I’ve read before. He exposes what the Army tries to cover-up. Spend the money and get the book.