Jacob George

Jacob David George (1982 – September 17, 2014)

In May 2012, at the NATO Summit in Chicago, I marched with Veterans for Peace holding a rope perimeter around more than 40 veterans of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including Jacob George, who hurled their military medals toward the NATO summit gates in an act of protest against U.S. wars (read more). On September 17, 2014, one week after President Obama unveiled the new U.S. military mission against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Jacob George killed himself. In August 2015 I learned that my brother Bob’s daughter Tara would be enlisting in the Marine Corps in a week. I sent her a link to Jacob George’s IVAW Testimony (read more). Jacob’s powerful message lives on.

Jacob George did three military tours in Afghanistan before age 23, starting in 2001, about a month after September 11th, at age 19. He was a paratrooper and sergeant. In 2011, with fellow veteran Brock McIntosh, Jacob returned to Afghanistan to meet with young peace activists. He bonded with a 15-year-old Afghan boy, who, like Jacob was a farmer. They discussed “the absurdity of poor farmers being sent to kill poor farmers while people are starving.” Jacob found that the most effective way to personally heal from “moral injury”, to heal his soul, was to help other veterans and work toward changing the world so others would not be injured by war. He dedicated his life to anti-war activities, co-founding the Afghan Veterans Against the War Committee within Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and bicycling around the United States playing music for peace and sharing his story. After suffering the trauma of war and the deeper wounds of “moral injury”, and dedicating his life to peace, it was too much for him when Obama announced a new mission in Iraq. At age 32 he killed himself.

At the protest of the NATO summit, I was a few feet from the stage when Jacob George hurled his military medals toward the NATO leaders from 60 countries.

My name is Jacob George. I’m from the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas. I’m a three-tour veteran of the Afghan War, paratrooper and sergeant. And I have one word for this Global War on Terrorism decoration, and that is “shame.”

JACOB GEORGE

Jacob George told his story and played his song “Soldier’s Heart” in the Human Cost of War: IVAW Testimony, in April 2013, at the First Unitarian Church of Dallas. I strongly recommend watching the video, The Human Cost of War: IVAW Testimony ~ Jacob David George. His story is so strong that I have attempted to transcribe it for you.


Human Cost of War: IVAW Testimony ~ Jacob David George, April 2013

I’ve got to set a timer. If y’all heard me yesterday, I’m a hillbilly, from Arkansas. I get carried away sometimes when I get started talking. I can’t help but tell stories.

So I’m a three tour veteran of the war in Afghanistan. I did my first tour when I was 19, my second in 2002, my first was in 2001 about a month after September 11th. My third was 2003 and 2004, that was all before I was 23. Obviously I had some serious issues after that. [um]

I really related to a lot of the things that were shared here today in terms of brother being different when he comes home. Especially, I have a brother who is nine years younger than me and when I came home he didn’t recognize me. He even said, “you’re not my brother any more.” I didn’t really understand what that meant at the time. It has taken me a while to get to where I can grasp what that means and I thank him for saying that to me.

I also had a similar experience that was shared in the beginning of this in terms of mass wholesale slaughter in Afghanistan and digging through body parts and that was very formative for me in understanding what war is and how it works and ultimately my injuries and what they are.

So obviously I have post-traumatic stress. If I didn’t there would be a greater issue here. And [ah], it took me a long time to get to the point where I could go to the VA and start asking for help. But I did. So what I wanted to talk about was that experience … of going through it. Making myself go through that even though there are all of these hurdles that we heard about today.

So I volunteered for this program called “cognitive processing therapy”, and to the VA this is the Cadillac of treating PTSD. And, it’s basically in the title, what you do is you write like ten page narratives, hand written of this one experience that supposedly traumatized you and do it over and over and over. I did this for about three months, once a week, all through the winter.

And you also tell your story over and over. But about halfway through this therapy, Dr J, that’s what I refer to her as, I started to realize that I already do this. I’ve been riding my bicycle around the country for about three years now, playing music about the war and telling my story and I’m already processing this. I’ve done cognitive processing. So I said, “Dr Jacobs, I need to process something else, because I have already done this. Can we do that?”

I have to say, [hold on a second] she was about my age, and she really did want to help me. So she was pretty much open, to most of the things that I wanted to do. I have to say that not everyone at the VA [ahh] is a complete butt hole. There are people who want to help. The problem is the institution isn’t designed to address the depths of the wounds that we have. Like PTSD is a reference to a fancy word that the clinical community uses to categorize what we go through and it’s based largely on psychological developments, you know, reactionary behavior, lack of emotional intuition or intelligence, polarizing situations, paranoia, the list goes on.

So these are things that are used to look at mental health, but they don’t really look at the soul, and how the soul has been injured in war and what that is. So like, “Dr. Jacobs we need to stop talking about my brain. We need to start talking about my soul if you really want to help me. And I think this might help you help other people in the future if you really want to help people.”

So I talked to her about all of these things I have been doing: riding my bicycle, telling my story, all the things I have been talking on, and how something is still wrong. It doesn’t matter what I do. I have done warrior dancing, I’ve done sweat lodges, I’ve done vision quests, I’ve done a whole variety of different energy works, and I’ve tried every single thing that someone will bring to me to help with PTSD, and I think every one of them helps in its own way, and its not like there is only one way to get rid of post-traumatic stress disorder.

So I said, “Dr Jacobs there is one thing that I went through that had a very profound effect on me, and I want to share that with you. and it is politically loaded.” She said like “Okay.” She tried to steer me away from politics when I would talk to her about my injuries, and I see them as inseparable.

I said, “I marched with my brothers and sisters to the NATO summit and I threw my medals back. And the, that act of throwing released something inside of me. I don’t know what it is. I’m still trying to figure it out, but it played a role in healing my soul and it was a very transformative event and I want to talk to you about that.”

So Dr J was like, “Okay, we can talk about that.” [Ah] So I processed this event with her. And afterward we talked about how the VA could never endorse something like that because it is so politically loaded for us to throw our medals back. The VA couldn’t say, “Look, you need to organize a protest. You need to march to the pentagon with 100,000 veterans and you should just throw your medals through the windows.”

She is like, “We can’t do that.” Do you hear what you are saying? You are telling me you can’t offer me the actual healing rituals and ceremonies that I need and an entire generation of people needs in order to heal their souls. You’re trying to figure out how to heal the mind and you’re doing a good job to some extent with cognitive processing therapy. But where’s the soul processing therapy? How do we take care of that? How are you going to take care of that?

She was pretty … she was admittedly open to the idea of it but she said, “It holds too much weight politically. There is no way we could do something like that.” That is terrible and I understand. And it is very likely the VA will never be taking on that task.

So I started telling her about all of the anti-war work I am doing now and how it helps me and how that is a therapy as well, not just taking pills and all of the other things, and bio-feedback and all this great stuff that does help my brain.

So I go on and on about this for a couple weeks and then one day I come in and I’m ranting and raving and going on about it and she goes, “Aha! I’ve got it”. I’m like, “What is it?” She says, “You’re obsessed with non-violence. And with PTSD means that you polarize things so much that you can’t see from one side of the realm to the other. It’s just in this tunnel and that’s all you can see. And all you can see is non-violence.”

Praise the Lord! But that got me really thinking. I was like, wait a second, are you telling me that my trauma, the very things that radicalized me, the things that gave me PTSD and focused my energy on changing this world, is what you call disorderly? Would you call colored people, during the civil rights movement, disorderly? Because they were oppressed for generations and had to put this state on their neck and obviously, well actually this is documented, there were mental health facilities opened all over the country to incarcerated black, angry men during the civil rights movement. Why are you black, angry men only able to see it this way, “We want our rights?” Maybe its all the trauma you exposed them to.

But what she did when she told me this, she opened a doorway in me of perception in order to see some of the things that are going on inside of me, and in this country, and in this world. I started to see that my anti-war work, in a way, was me trying to heal my soul. And the anti-war work in particular is a symptom of the moral injury.

When you have thousands of veterans who are raising their voices and their fists and demanding justice and demanding that our stories are heard, you have, and in my mind, all the evidence you need to categorize moral injury. Because there is a reason we quit our jobs. There is a reason we put our asses on the line to challenge the narratives of war. There is a reason you do this work. If we weren’t morally injured, if we were not traumatized, we wouldn’t be doing it.

So we talked about this for the rest of my therapy and what moral injury is and how moral injury works and the fact that anti-war, an anti-war movement is proof that moral injury exists.

She had a hard time wrapping her mind around this but eventually what we had come to, was that trauma itself, in a way, is transformation, and that almost every single activist that I know, and the reason I do my work, experienced some level of a trauma that mobilized them into changing the world and that Western medicine likes to think that that means you’re broken.

So as the therapy was winding down, I was like, I’ve got to sing Dr Jacobs a song. So, I got really high, I got my banjo, hopped on my bicycle, road to the VA, marched straight into her office with my banjo, I was like “I’m going to sing you a song about PTSD. Its called “Soldiers Heart” and I wrote it this winter while we were working on this.

Soldiers Heart

(click to listen)

Now, I’m just a farmer from Arkansas.
There’s a lot of things I don’t understand,
Like why we send farmers to kill farmers
In Afghanistan.
Now I did what I was told
For my love of this land,
And I come home a shattered man
With blood on my hands.
And now I can’t have a relationship,
I can’t hold down a job.
Oh, while some may say I’m broken,
I call it a soldier’s heart.

Because every time I go outside,
I’ve got to look her in the eyes,
Oh, and knowing that she broke my heart,
And it turned around and lied.
Oh, I said red, white and blue,
I trusted in you,
And you never even told me why.

Now in the summer of 2002,
I just got off the Pakistan border
to get out of the heat
and my sergeant handed me some orders
and told me to read.
Well it called for the mobilization of 500,000
soldiers, sailors and marines
for a pending invasion of Iraq
the coming spring.
Well I got home a few months later
and I heard the drums,
I said I heard the drums of war
and they had y'all dancing, all around
and asking for more.
Well a soldier's heart couldn't take it any more.
I said a soldier's heart couldn't take it any more.
And now I can’t have a relationship.
I can’t hold down a job.
Oh, while some may say I’m broken,
well I call it a soldier’s heart.

Because every time I go outside,
I’ve got to look her in the eyes,
Oh, and knowing that she broke my heart,
And it turned around and lied.
Oh, I said red, white and blue,
I trusted in you,
And you never even told me why.

Because every time I go outside,
I’ve got to look her in the eyes,
Oh, and knowing that she broke my heart,
And it turned around and lied.
Oh, I said red, white and blue,
I trusted in you,
And you never even told me why.

Dr Jacobs told me to never do that again. It was too loud and the whole floor probably heard it.


Democracy Now reported Jacob’s death, “Soldier’s Heart: Remembering Jacob George, Afghan War Vet Turned Peace Activist Who Took Own Life“.

On September 21, 2014 in the massive People’s Climate March in New York City, IVAW and VFP carried a banner in memory of Jacob George. I participated in the march and the Flood Wall Street action the next day.

Since the arrest of veterans and clergy at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in New York City on May Day 2012, we have been returning every year on October 7, marking the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. We were there to protest continued war, honor those who had suffered and died, protest the closing of the memorial at 10 pm and push back against the narrowing of the definition of First Amendment rights. I traveled to New York three times in support, arrested on May 1, 2012, participating and doing jail support on October 7, 2012, and once for a court appearance. In 2014 we were also honoring Jacob George and sent a letter inviting Mayor Bill de Blasio (click to read full letter). If I recall correctly, with this letter, the new mayor eliminated the curfew at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and dropped the prosecutions from prior years.


VFP & IVAW Members Deliver Letter to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio

October 02, 2014

Dear Mayor de Blasio,

This is an invitation.

We are U.S. military veterans who organized and led the Veterans For Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War contingent in the People’s Climate March Sunday, Sept. 21. The following day a number of us joined the Flood Wall Street action.

You said something quite significant regarding the Climate March and Flood Wall Street and many of us appreciated those remarks, especially coming from the mayor of New York.

You said, “First of all, I think the First Amendment is a little more important than traffic. The right of people to make their voices heard, regardless of their views, is a fundamental American value. And we’ll protect that value.”

Grief does not keep hours. There are over 22 suicides by veterans each day. One of those deaths was Jacob George, a veteran of the Afghanistan War, a wonderful musician, poet and bicycle riding ambassador for peace and justice who, in his all too short life, inspired many to work for a war-free, more sustainable and peaceful world.

Sadly, Jacob succumbed to the moral wounds of war sustained during his three tours in Afghanistan witnessing atrocities that no human being should ever have to see and committing acts that no human should ever have to inflict on another human being.

This Oct. 7, we will gather at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to remember Jacob George and the countless veterans whose names are not on the wall. Veterans and their loved ones seek healing from nightmares and PTSD in this solemn place.

As members of Veterans For Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War, we feel it is important to remind you that this Vietnam Memorial is still not open to the public 24/7.

We invite you to join us at 10 pm on Oct. 7 at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to remember Jacob and all those others needlessly sacrificed to the gods of war.

Bill Gilson,
U.S. Navy, 1954-58
President, Kaufman-Pahios, Chpt.34
Veterans For Peace, NYC

Lt. Jg Susan M. Schnall, U.S Naval Reserve, 1967-69
U.S. Navy, 1954-58
President, Kaufman-Pahios, Chpt.34

Tarak Kauff, U.S. Army Airborne Inf., 1959-62
National Board of Directors, Veterans For Peace
845 679-3299 takauff@gmail.com (mailto:takauff@gmail.com)

Jay Wenk, U.S. Army Infantry, 1944-4
Veterans For Peace
Woodstock, NY, Town Board

With support from veteran and associate members of Veterans For Peace:
Paul Appell, 1st Lt., U.S. Army, 1968-71
Sgt. Ellen E. Barfield, U.S. Army 1977-81
Steve Bray, associate member
Ellen Davidson, associate member
Margaret Flowers, MD, associate member, PopularResistance.org
Nate Goldshlag, U.S. Army 1970-72,
Ken Mayers, Major, U.S. Marine Corps
Jules Orkin, U.S. Army 1958-61
Ward Reilly, U.S. Army Inf. 1971-74
Bill Perry, U.S. Army Airborne Inf.,, Tet Offensive 1967-68
Bev Rice, associate member
Will Thomas, U.S. Navy 1961-63
Mike Tork, U.S. Navy, 1965-1967, Vietnam
Ret. Col. Ann Wright, U.S. Army 1982-2003, U.S. State Dept. Foreign Service,
CODEPINK Women for Peace


The heroic anti-war work of Jacob George against the repeated trauma inflicted on him through both Republican and Democratic Presidents, continues to be a powerful message.

(read other personal transformations)