From Baghdad to Terre Haute: Gulf War Veterans & the American Cycle of Violence

By Matt Dineen

The Upside Down World news

John Allen Mohammed is a veteran of the first Gulf War, and qualified as an "expert" marksman during his time in the Army National guard before being arrested for the 20 shootings and 13 deaths of October, 2002, that earned him the label the DC Sniper. Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, and the rapist and murderer of Tracie Joy McBride, Louis Jones Jr., were both decorated soldiers in the same war; both committed their own atrocities on American soil after leaving the military as well; and both were killed by the same State that trained them to kill in Iraq. These American veterans represent the vicious cycle of violence that is perpetuated by the United States and its addiction to war and power. 

"The fighting man is disinclined to repent his deeds of violence. Men who in private life are scrupulous about conventional justice and right are able to destroy the lives and happiness of others in war without compunction. At least to other eyes they seem to have no regrets. It is understandable, of course, why soldiers in combat would not suffer pangs of conscience when they battle for their lives against others who are trying to kill them...But modern wars are notorious for the destruction of nonparticipants...Add to this the unnumbered acts of injustice so omnipresent in war, which may not result in death but inevitably bring pain and grief, and the impartial observer may wonder how the participants in such deeds could ever smile again and be free of care." -J. Glenn Gray, The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle

When people commit immoral acts such as murder, an explanation is usually demanded. We want to know why they did such a thing, especially when it directly affects us in some way. Such an explanation can be complicated, however, when the perpetrator of the act has had experience as a soldier in war.
Recently, the father of a young woman who was raped and murdered 8 years ago by a man who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War expressed the following: "There were several thousand troops in the same war, and I have yet to hear of any one of them coming home [to the US], kidnapping, raping and violently murdering a young lady," or at least he would hope not. Unfortunately, the atrocious incident that he described is part of a disturbing trend related to the aftermath of that first US war on Iraq.

His daughter, Tracie Joy McBride, was killed by a Gulf War veteran named Louis Jones Jr. who was executed by the federal government on March 18 of this year for this crime he committed. Jones, however, was not the first veteran to commit such a crime following the war and was, in fact, the second ex-soldier in Desert Storm to be federally executed in the past two years.

The first was Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Both were decorated soldiers in the war; both committed atrocities on American soil after leaving the military; both were killed by the same State that trained them to kill in Iraq. They represent the vicious cycle of violence that is perpetuated by the United States and its addiction to war and power.

During the Gulf War, tens of thousands of American soldiers were permanently affected by the psychological intensity of modern warfare and the physical effects of what is known as "Gulf War Syndrome" from exposure to a variety of nerve gases and other toxic elements, namely depleted uranium. This study seeks to examine how the 1991 war on Iraq has contributed to the violence of American society. By looking deeper into, and making connections between, the cases of Timothy McVeigh, Louis Jones Jr. and other Gulf War veterans adversely affected by their experiences in the war it will provide a clearer understanding of this complex phenomenon. It may also give some insight into the implications of the US's most recent invasion and occupation of Iraq and of the so-called war on terrorism in general.

Overview of Gulf War
According to Ramsey Clark in his book The Fire This Time: U.S. War Crimes in the Gulf, it was, "a war of aggression to secure American domination of the Persian Gulf and, through its oil, the world beyond." Of course, the Gulf War was launched under the guise of "liberating Kuwait from Iraqi aggression," after the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait ordered by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But as an advisor to President Bush admitted to Time Magazine in 1990, "Even a dolt understands the principle-we need the oil."

There were many other issues involved, including Iraq's history and complex relationship with neighboring Iran and Saudi Arabia, but the above quotes effectively summarize the primary intention that was behind the war. Less than a week after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the US had deployed 40,000 troops just to defend Saudi Arabia. By early November 1990, President Bush changed from a defensive strategy to an offensive one and stationed 400,000 US troops in the Gulf region. On January 17, 1991 the United States began its air assault on Iraq, which lasted for 42 days. One month later Bush ordered the ground war to begin, deploying American troops in Iraq. Five days after that happened, Iraq and the United States agreed to a ceasefire. However, post-ceasefire battles occurred all over the country between Iraqis and US soldiers.
By May 1992, over 150,000 Iraqi civilians, mostly children had died as a result of the war including the bombing and ongoing economic sanctions. Only 148 US soldiers died during battle. Thousands of American troops remained in the region to protect American interests, and regular bombings of Iraq and the imposition of brutal sanctions continued throughout the Clinton regime.

Post-War Violence in America
"I have gone to war and now I can issue my complaint.... I am entitled to speak, to say, I belonged to a fucked situation. I am entitled to despair over the likelihood of further atrocities..." -Anthony Swofford, Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles

Over the next few years US soldiers who fought in the Gulf War attempted to put their lives back together. Some remained in the military while many others returned to the United States to start a new life after the trauma of war. A number of these veterans suffered from what soon became known as Gulf War Syndrome.
One such veteran who was exposed to sarin nerve gas which he says gave him brain damage just after the war had ended was Louis Jones Jr. In Iraq he served on the front lines of the ground assault. Soon after his exposure to the nerve gas in March 1991 Jones was honorably discharged from the military, returning to the United States. On February 18, 1995, the Gulf War veteran had been retired from the military for a few years when he broke into Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. Jones proceeded to kidnap 19-year-old Pvt. Tracie Joy McBride, raping her and eventually beating her to death with a tire iron. Jones was tried for murder, prosecuted and eventually placed on death row.

Exactly two months later, another Gulf War veteran committed murder in the United States but on a much larger scale. When the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was blown up on April 19, 1995, the mass media and people across the country immediately accused Islamic terrorists for the act that killed 168 innocent civilians, including children, and that injured hundreds of other people. But it was the patriotic, white American Timothy McVeigh who drove a Ryder truck loaded with 7,000 pounds of explosives to the federal building and walked away, three years after leaving the military.

He referred to the civilians casualties in Oklahoma City as "collateral damage," a term popularized by US officials to refer to civilian casualties in Iraq. McVeigh was a gunner on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and a decorated soldier during the Gulf War. He explained that his terroristic action was, in part, revenge for what the government had done at Ruby Ridge and Waco.

The authors of a recent biography of McVeigh cite four factors in his life that collectively led him to commit the atrocity in Oklahoma City: his relations with his family, his right-wing ideology, the Waco siege, and his military experience in the Gulf War. His biographers recount his first opportunity to kill Iraqi soldiers during the war and the effect it had on him. During the ground war, McVeigh's lieutenant spotted an "enemy machine gun nest:
"It was more than a mile away, but Rodriguez knew McVeigh could hit it. He gave the order to fire...An Iraqi soldier popped up his head for a split second. From his position roughly 19 football fields away, McVeigh fired, hitting the soldier in the chest. The man's upper body exploded. "His head just disappeared...I saw everything above the shoulder's just disappear, like in a red mist," McVeigh recalls.

Two Iraqi soldiers were killed in total and 30 more were forced to surrender. This deed, which awarded McVeigh with the Army Commendation Medal, had a profound effect on him as it was the first time he had killed another human being. Killing did not provide him with any sense of satisfaction. In fact, he disobeyed his lieutenant's orders to continue firing at surrendering Iraqi soldiers. McVeigh just shot a few more rounds into the empty desert instead.

Despite the medal, he was "emotionally torn about what he had done." It made him feel "angry and uncomfortable," and, as the biographers report, "The carnage and sadness he saw in the hundred hour war left him with a feeling of sorrow for the Iraqis." McVeigh, who was becoming skeptical of the United States' ambitions in the Gulf War since Iraq was not directly threatening the US, articulated his feelings towards killing these enemy soldiers:

What made me feel bad was, number one, I didn't kill them in self-defense. When I took a human life, it taught me these were human beings, even though they speak a different language and have different customs. The truth is, we all have the same dreams, the same desires, the same care for our children and our family. These people were humans, like me, at the core.

McVeigh later admitted that the army eventually taught him how to completely suppress his emotions and become a killing machine.

Four months after he bombed the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995 the New York Times ran an article about McVeigh that briefly explored the effect that the war had on shaping who he became:

Perhaps the Gulf War was a turning point for him. "When he came back, he seemed broken," said his aunt, Mrs. Zanghi. "When we talked about it, he said it was terrible there. He was on the front line and had seen death and caused death." She said that young McVeigh, a gunner on a Bradley fighting vehicle, spoke of killing Iraqis and had told her, "After the first time it got easy."

In his book The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle, J. Glenn Gray narrates this disturbing effect that war has on the psychology and morality of individual soldiers who are taught to obey orders under all circumstances:

It is a crucial moment in a soldier's life when he is ordered to perform a deed that he finds completely at variance with his own notions of right and good.... He feels himself caught in a situation that he is powerless to change yet cannot himself be part of. The past cannot be undone and the present is inescapable. His only choice is to alter himself, since all external features are unchangeable.

It is clear that Timothy McVeigh's experience in the Gulf War contributed to producing the type of person that would commit an atrocity that indiscriminately killed 168 people and wounded 500 more. His war experience desensitized him to death and suffering.

On September 11, 1998, another Gulf War veteran committed murder in the United States. Jeffrey Glenn Hutchinson, a former soldier in the war, killed his girlfriend and her three children. Three months later, on December of that year, the United States launched another intensive bombing campaign on Iraq under the guise of eliminating Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction." Hundreds of civilians were killed by this brief offensive ordered by Clinton and Albright. Their actions were met with international protest.

In November 2000, yet another Gulf War vet, warped by his experience nearly a decade before, killed in America. That month veteran Joseph Ludlam murdered his former manager. Seven months later, Timothy McVeigh was executed by the federal government. On June 11, 2001, McVeigh was administered a lethal injection after being on death row nearly six years in Terre Haute, Indiana for this role in the Oklahoma City attack.

Later that year the United States engaged in its largest and longest military intervention since the Gulf War. In response to the events in New York and Washington DC on September 11, the second Bush administration launched a full-scale war against the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. American troops continue to occupy the country to this day. After a puppet government was installed and rhetoric around capturing Al Qaeda mastermind Osama Bin Laden subsided, the Bush administration-many of whom were key architects of the Gulf War-shifted its focus once again to Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

By Fall of 2002 the US had tens of thousands of troops in the Middle East poised to invade Iraq, as people around the world began mobilizing against this unfounded threat of war. During a two week period in October 2002, as hundreds of thousands of people were protesting Bush's war plans in the US and internationally, John Allen Mohammed and John Lee Malvo went on a killing spree that terrorized the Washington DC-area. Linked to 20 shootings and 13 deaths in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia and DC, Mohammed was labeled the "DC sniper." He had also served as an army combat engineer in the Gulf War. Like Louis Jones Jr. and at least 100,000 others, Mohammed, was exposed to biological and chemical agents during his military service in Iraq.

Born John Allen Williams in Louisiana on December 31, 1960, Muhammad joined the Army National Guard in 1978 and eventually became a sergeant after the Gulf War. According to Pentagon records, he qualified as an "expert" marksman in his engineering unit. In March 2000, Muhammad's second wife placed a restraining order on him after recurring domestic abuse. He proceeded to kidnap their children before returning them to his wife who had custody. That year he met the teenaged Malvo and embraced him as a sort of stepson. The two would go on to commit the murders of October 2002.

Later that month, another Gulf War veteran the same age as Muhammad, went on his own violent rampage in Arizona. On October 28, 2002, Robert Flores Jr., a student at the University of Arizona Nursing School, shot and killed three of his professors and then killed himself. The former US soldier was suffering from depression after a failed marriage, financial problems and increasingly poor health. One fellow nursing student described Flores as seeming "very aggressive and mean and seemed to have a lot of issues with being angry." These characteristics, along with his severe depression, are linked to the experiences he had in the Gulf War and in the military in general.

On the following February 15, 2003, literally millions of people from every single country (and even Antarctica) protested against the Bush administration's new plans to wage war on Iraq and overthrow the same Saddam Hussein government that had endured Bush's father's Gulf War in 1991. Despite this global outpouring of resistance, on March 19, 2003, President Bush announced the beginning of a military campaign that invaded the sovereign, oil-rich nation.

The day before Bush's pseudo-declaration of war, a Gulf War veteran made headlines once again. On Tuesday March 18, 2003, Louis Jones Jr., at 53, was federally executed in Terre Haute, Indiana for his rape and murder of Tracie McBride in 1995. This made Jones the second Gulf War veteran and the third federal execution under George W. Bush who, as governor of Texas in the 1990's, presided over more executions than the number of people that died in the Oklahoma City federal building.

Approximately 24 hours after Jones' execution the United States Air Force began dropping bombs on Baghdad, starting what the Pentagon labeled "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Others simply called it the second Gulf War.

Deconstructing the Cycle
"War with all its glorification of brute force is essentially a degrading thing. It demoralizes those who are trained for it. It brutalizes men of naturally gentle character.... Self-restraint, unselfishness, patience, gentleness, these are the flowers which spring beneath the feet of those who accept but refuse to impose suffering..." -Gandhi

From Jones to McVeigh to Muhammad to Flores-all of these Gulf War veterans, in a sense, "brought the war home." The violence that they witnessed and participated in during the war against Iraq in 1991 had tragic consequences on all of their lives. The acts of violence they committed after the war in the United States, from rape, murder and suicide to a terrorist bombing and killing spree, were all partly shaped by their traumatic experiences during the war. These experiences left them depressed, desensitized, afraid, angry, and in some cases physically and psychologically damaged.

This is not an unexamined phenomenon. Since the Gulf War and its violent aftermath in America, a number of scholars and activists have articulated the complex dynamics related to this tragic cycle of violence. Unlike the mass media and political elites they have asked critical questions that get to the root of these issues and have attempted to answer them in their own way.

One week after Timothy McVeigh's guilty verdict and death sentence was announced, the independent journal Eat the State! published an editorial entitled, "How Tim Learned to Kill." Cutting threw the fog of stale mainstream discourse on the trial, the June 10, 1997 editorial presented a critical perspective:

The celebration of his guilt and possible execution is a measure of the sick, violent tendencies of the wholecountry-not McVeigh. As with all death penalty cases, a possible execution only compounds the pathology, reinforcing the notion McVeigh embodies: the taking of life is OK if it's done for the proper reason.
When McVeigh was executed four years later, Robert Jensen pointed out that, "Timothy McVeigh killed twice in his life. For one of those acts, he was sentenced to die. For the other he was awarded a Bronze Star." Jensen also made the following connection between the Gulf War and McVeigh's attack in Oklahoma City: "The United States has yet to come to terms with the fact that the Gulf War and Oklahoma City have one thing in common. Whatever justification for each act, the method was the same: Killing civilians."

As Robert Scheer articulated in the Los Angeles Times, the government's execution of McVeigh only served to perpetuate the cycle of violence and avoid its "responsibility for his creation." The day after McVeigh was killed, Scheer argued: "We too, the uninvolved, needed his presence as an open wound to remind us of the pain that political madness, no matter what its source, induces. In this case, the madness was, in effect, condoned when an unshaped youth was taught by his government to kill."

This phenomenon that Scheer describes is recurring, and now more than ever it "cries out for more complex and sustained examination," which must be applied to all of these Gulf War veterans and their individual acts of violence, being rooted in the violent acts of the State.

What does all of this suggest about the potential side effects of the newest Gulf War? In an article entitled "Another Gulf War Vet Opens Fire," written just after Robert Flores' killings, Charles Sheehan-Miles predicts how this cycle of violence is perpetuated by new wars involving American troops. Sheehan-Miles, himself a veteran of the "first" Gulf War warned last October:

Remember, when you go to the gas pump to buy your Middle Eastern oil, secured by the blood of American soldiers, this too is part of the price you pay. Not just being party to killings halfway around the world...but also the lives torn apart back home. You may decide it's okay-your chances of being murdered by a combat veteran are still less than the risk of being killed in a highway accident. But as we send another few hundred thousand young men and women off to war, the odds are about to get worse.

Matt Dineen is an activist and writer currently based in Madison, WI. He can be reached at: This article was previously published at

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Bjerga, Alan, "Student's life is remembered," The Minnesota Daily.
Sheehan-Miles, Charles, "Another Gulf War Vet Opens Fire."
"'Expert' Marksman: John Allen Muhammad Is Gulf War Vet."
"Eerie Letter From University Killer," October 28, 2002.
"Bush, Supreme Court refuses to block Jones execution: Gulf War vet blames Iraqi nerve gas for killing., March 18, 2003.
Jensen, Robert, "U.S., like McVeigh, guilty of terrorist attack."
Garvey, John, "The Life and Death of Timothy McVeigh." Race Traitor.
Scheer, Robert, "Killing Him Lets Us Off the Hook." LA Times, June 12, 2001.
Hughes, William, "Johnny Gulf War Syndrome? Chemical Weapons and Homicidal Mania." CounterPunch.






"If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn't we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?" ---Eduardo Galeano