By Natalie Crnosija
During a lecture on October 8th, hosted by the Social Justice Alliance, Kristofer Goldsmith, a 23-year-old Iraqi War veteran, said, “I didn’t shoot the kid, not because I’m a good person, but because I knew his family would retaliate and kill me or my friends.”
Goldsmith recounted the details of a night operation, one during which he was covering his commanding officer as an Iraqi squad executed a raid. The child, brandishing a faux AK-47 on a rooftop, was in Goldsmith’s sight, but Goldsmith, having probable cause to shoot, did not. It was the Iraqi children, throwing bricks when their easily shoot-able parents could not, who made Goldsmith’s “miserable experience even more physically painful.” Goldsmith didn’t shoot, knowing the hell that could come his way would be a greater threat than the prevailing one.
Kristofer Goldsmith, a Long Islander who enlisted in the U.S. Marines out of high school, found himself at 18, with “the God-like power to destroy anything.” Acting as the right hand of the U.S.A. in Sadr City, Goldsmith found that his training with heavy artillery was not usable as the Iraqi Conflict became a game of insurgence, and he became recast as a ground intelligence officer. It wasn’t the halo of bombs but the “flash of a camera” which burned indelible images into his memory. These pictures, projected onto a plain wall in Harriman Hall, were a window into the frayed outskirts of Baghdad. The streets were brown and black: it was not sand, pavement, or the River Styx, but raw sewage flowing down the boulevard, loosed by bombs and the crush and roll of Abrams tanks down the streets during the invasion.
Goldsmith was ordered to a sewer, where he had to photo-ID the bodies of twelve men who had been killed and dumped. “I was walking around, totally fucked up, making it less real by looking through the LCD screen and not at their faces,” Goldsmith said as he showed the pictures he took of faces abused and decayed beyond identification. “War porn” was the only thing they could be, he reasoned, as no person could be identified from the pictures he took. “War porn” is a term for pictures taken by soldiers to show off their kills, much like the proto-European practice of beheading one’s enemies after battle and tying the severed head to the victor’s belt. My, haven’t we advanced! Those further up the chain of command would snatch the pictures and claim them as their own and trade them like “Pokemon cards.” Goldsmith stood before the bodies as flies brought the “smell of death” to his face, a smell which he could not scrub, sanitize or boil out.
“I smelled a lot of death in Iraq, lots of dead animals, and there is a big difference between that and the smell of a dead human being,” Goldsmith said. “I smelled it non-stop. Food tasted like death. My dreams smelled like death.”
The death did not stop once Goldsmith left Iraq but followed the soldiers back. One-in-five soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eighteen Iraqi War veterans commit suicide every day. The death has not stopped in Iraq, where there is no accurate number of casualties, only estimates somewhere in the vague sea between 10,000 and 100,000, where millions of people suffer the effects of PTSD from living in Armageddon for over six years. “I encourage you not to just care about the soldiers, but the Iraqis, and do something. Go speak to a representative and tell them why this is wrong,” Goldsmith said, “Stop-loss is wrong.”
The loss has not stopped. Thus, it is wrong.