Friday, December 21, 2007

Anatomy of a Suicide

I first read this piece a few days ago, and was very angry when I first read it. I waited a few days and let the story turn over in my mind.

I still think it's a pretty disturbing story (and one of the things I always want to keep away from is posting sensationalized stuff, and that's why I thought about it for awhile). I also think that we need to be tracking EXACTLY how many active duty people are killing themselves in Afghanistan, Iraq, and at bases back in the US. Then we need to be actively tracking those who've come back and gotten out of the service and committed suicide. We simply need to know in an exact, systematic manner - NOT in an anecdotal manner. The article gives some numbers on suicides, but I wonder how accurate they really are.

In thinking about it, I believe that there is no one in this story who DELIBERATELY woke up and said I think I am going to drive Private Scheuerman to commit suicide. If that was the case, then this would be a case of absolute, extreme evil (this however does not absolve anyone from possible culpability in this Privates' death).

I think what happened here is that the Private was done killing, and the Private was done seeing death and "the system" had to try to make the Private go back. One way "the system" does this is by threats, bullying and intimidation. It works for some, but for others (including this guy), NOTHING you say is going to revert him back to doing what he was doing.

As far as the leadership, their idea is that one less guy in the platoon is one less guy in the platoon, even if he is not a particularly good soldier (and if this guy gets away with it, then ALL of them will try the Psychological dodge - and, what if we gave a war and no one wanted to play? That would be terrible right?)

The Private understood his choices were to die in Iraq or get buggered in prison. He took control of his own destiny at a horrible cost to him and his family.

All along the way, they seemed somewhat convinced that this guy was a malingerer and was trying to beat the system. Now that he's dead, they see that probably wasn't true. He probably was in distress the whole time and needed to be saved.

I find it difficult to be mad at the guys immediately above him. I tried. I really did. I think they tried to make him do what he was supposed to do. I understand the incredible amount of pressure on these guys to try to keep everyone in their charge alive and well. I think that mistakes are going to be made. They are not mental health professionals, and while they are given training in it, I don't think they can always recognize when someone has made up their mind to end their lives.

One of them even shows that he doesn't like being the heavy when he says:

"You have put me into a position where I have to treat you like a troublesome child. I hate being in this position. It makes me be someone I don't like."

I believe THIS person is going to struggle mightily with this particular death.

So the Private is sent to Psychologists. On forms he fills out he says he is going to kill himself. In person, he never mentions it (or at least that's what they said). I always thought that if a person ideates suicide (which he did when he checked the form), you take it seriously. That he did not tell the Psychologist in person doesn't necessarily mean that he had decided not to do it. They come to the conclusion that he is just trying to shirk his duty.

I guess he proved them wrong.

Unlike his immediate superiors, I can find some anger for these "mental health professionals". But, I believe they are playing in a system which probably pressures them to send as many back as they can.

Shortly before he dies, they take away his contact with the outside world by taking away his phone and Internet privileges. His support system. At that point they should have just taken him out and shot him themselves, because they took away the one thing he had left. Hope. Hope that he KNEW someone out there knew he might be in trouble, and someone out there might look into helping him (which his mother was desperately trying to do, and I believe they took away his privileges because his constant "whining" was an embarrassment to them).

I cannot imagine the pain that his parents must have felt when they found that note. Or the panic they must have felt when they stopped hearing from him. But one thing his Dad said to him caught my eye in this story.

His father said:

"I've seen war"

"I told him that a lot of what he was seeing was normal. That we all feel it. That we're all afraid."

I realize he probably said that to just be supportive (with probably no idea of the depth of his son's problems). With no disrespect to his father, I think this is the biggest issue of all. THE THINGS THEY ARE SEEING ARE IN NO WAY NORMAL, AND SHOULD NOT BE SEEN BY YOUNG MEN (OR WOMEN) AT ANY TIME.

To try to pass it off as "normal" is to continue to perpetuate the war as a routinized way of life for this country. For a lot sitting at home comfortable and safe and not seeing death and destruction every day, it is easy for them to bad mouth this young man on talk radio and call him a coward because he didn't want to do his "duty" anymore.

How many more are there out there like this young man. Maybe some of them are coping today, but maybe a week or two weeks from now will not be able to cope anymore. Maybe some will last a year. Maybe some will die tomorrow.

Do we know? More importantly, do we care? Or is this just the price of being in the Global War on Terror to make this country safer. Are these young men and women just written off as "the price we pay" and so sorry for that?

If you fundamentally change who you are as a country, and you destroy a significant slice of the youth of your country in body, mind and spirit, is that really making you safer?

I have always thought not.

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