News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Suicide in Time of War: TV Re-run Canceled

Friday, December 09, 2005

Suicide in Time of War: TV Re-run Canceled

The story of West Point military ethics professor, Colonel Ted S. Westhusing, who went to Iraq to oversee military contractors and committed suicide should be more than a blip on our TV attention spans. Such incidents--individual, unique, and filled with pathos--should register as symbolic of this entire war effort, as well as a reminder that suffering and how we respond to it tells us as much about ourselves and our society as it does about the persons who suffer.

A recent article at Counter Punch updates the story and provides some contextualization. It begins with a quote from Colonel Westhusing's suicide letter:

I cannot support a mission that leads to corruption, human rights abuse, and liars. I am sullied. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored. Death before being dishonored any more.
Corruption, lies, and human abuse. The Counter Punch article verges on trivializing this incident, but veers away from that to draw some needed and astute morals.

Let me just add that what characterizes this war is the almost muffled plaint of its emotional and psychological pain. By this, I mean that we see nothing of the carnage and hear nothing of the psychological ravishing that war has on the bodies and souls of those suffering the effects of the war: neither the warriors themselves nor the innocent victims. Indeed, a recent article reports exactly these circumstances and how hiding the violence and effects of war have been part of the Bush admin's campaign to manipulate the reality of this war:
Today, seven members of Congress wrote President Bush asking him to stop under-counting U.S. casualties in Iraq. The Bush Administration has done its best to hide the realities of war from the American public. Photographs of the dead returning to the United States are hidden. Litigation is needed to get photographs released. The wounded are brought to military hospitals late at night so reporters and the public can't see them. In Iraq, reporters are prevented from taking video and photographs of the dead. And, the Administration minimizes the number of soldiers who have been seriously injured in the war.
The sanitized, packaged Iraq war stories that make it into the press convey nothing of this spiritual desolation. I can only ascribe this to the corruption that lies at the heart of this American culture. It wants to neatly compartmentalize all experience into categories that become labeled so that one can buy this package or that package, but until I actually pick it off the shelf it's just another item on the shelf of other consumer items, on the same shelf as scandals, movie star bios, entertainment, and commercials to buy soap.

That is, I see the common way of thinking and understanding this war in the following way, "Unless I am directly involved with a soldier, I pretty much have no motivation to consider his or her story as my own. It's a private affair of the families of these people. Let them lament and greive in privacy, leaving me alone to go on with my life."

Now, there are those who will argue that this is what's wrong with America. From a more conservative bent, they'd have us think in patriotic tones and buy into the grand mythology of America on the march to bring freedom to the world. Unfortunately, this effort sounds so hollow to most people that it simply turns into a mouthing of platitudes and cliches that do as much disservice to the dead as does the liberal strain.

America has forgotten how to mourn. Individually and socially, pain has become a purely private thing. And I believe that the reason that the majority don't want to see or hear anything about the coffins or the dead Iraqi civilians is that suffering has become something like a TV show that we'd rather turn off than on.

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