Friday, November 10, 2006


Richard Schoch has given us a thought-provoking article prompted by reports of the elevated suicide rates of US troops in Iraq ( He deploys philosophy in an attempt to gain some understanding of what is happening in that conflict. I’ll riff.

It shouldn’t be any surprise. You go and put troops into a situation of prolonged combat with no sign of success let alone ultimate Victory, and with the prospect of multiple rotations back into the bloodbright, steelhot desert, a-n-d with no guarantee that when you’re sent home for a short time you won’t be recalled before you even get there. And if this is formidably hard for full-time troops (once – so quaintly now – called ‘active duty’ to distinguish them from the Reserves) it is even harder for the Reserve forces. Even in the family-friendly forces that the US has evolved, where active-duty troops come with long and diffuse ‘tails’ of personal relationships and interests and responsibilities, the Reservists come with even longer and wider such tails, trailing needs and anxieties and issues in a gut-wrenching cloud.

Then to have to put up with the failures of their own government, their own Service, to provide them adequately with the equipment and supplies and numbers necessary to accomplish their mission. Then to face that awe-full scourge that half-consumed von Paulus’ Sixth Army in its prime: urban warfare. And urban warfare combined with asymmetrical warfare, where the ‘other side’ is hidden among the civilian population, and is actually several-sided. And unsleeping. And undistracted. And angry.

It is a terrible situation. Were the gods this afternoon to suddenly pluck up its Washington authors by the hair and plunk them down in the middle of the maelstrom over there, who could call it unjust? Who would dare?

Like the Light Brigade reaching the first line of Russian defenses, Schoch gallops over and through the sharp but ragged Pentagon PR firing that crackles No Problem! Nothing To See Here!, sabering the assorted pomposities, lancing the calculated inaccuracies and bold dishonesties. Assorted military mental health ‘professionals’ (this word needs to be put up on blocks for at least the next generation; see other Posts on this blog) propose increasing the amount of anti-depressants and sleeping pills available in the field.

That anyone – especially anyone with pretensions to both military and medical expertise – could propose that troops heavily engaged in asymmetrical urban warfare, where there is no safe haven, should at any time be issued sleeping pills … is a sign of just how debauched the US military bureaucracy has become, even though amply provided with lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and chaplains. That the American people, they of the plastic flags affixed to vehicles and the tin flags affixed to lapels and ballcaps, have only just yesterday risen up to ecraser l’infame … is a sign of some as-yet unacknowledged debauchery within American society and culture. Yes, it is two days after the elections and passengers on the great ship of the Republic have just made their opinions known to America’s own Great Helmsman. But since as Citizens they are all shareholders in the ship, and it was their own children and spouses and friends and relatives consigned to war in the hot goo that is the Iraqi theatre of operations now … they’ve taken their damned time. Doubtless they console themselves that no ship so great and so good could ever run into something really really hard and come to ultimate grief. Curiously, just a few years ago they made the movie one of the top-grossers of all time. Can no one connect the dots?

But connecting dots has not been a skill highly esteemed in America for decades. Not unless the connecting leads to certain approved conclusions, to the discovery of certain approved patterns. Although America has taken many a wolf by the ears over the course of those decades, the prevailing assumption – derived from French (French!) literary theory that not even the French (not even the French!) have tried to deploy in actual human affairs – is that nothing is real, but rather it’s all a game of smoke and mirrors designed by oppressors to further oppress those who feel oppressed. Everything’s on the level, if you hold your head right, or – conversely – nothing’s on the level, again with the holding of the head just so. It’s not a wolf you’re holding up to your face; Think positively about it, don’t be negative, and you’ll see it’s actually the portal to broad sunlit uplands of unoppression and liberation. And don’t be hateful by suggesting to anyone else that the wolf-snout inches from their face is anything but a boon.

All this is – you could say – just the natural result of a revolution. ‘Reality’ has to be disabled at the outset, until the new revolutionary Reality can be set up, at which time this new Reality can be bronzed with the police power of the State. Lenin and Stalin and Mao and Hitler – they all mastered that play. Of course, to have a revolution without actually saying you’re having one … that’s a tickler. To have several, one after the other, layered and interlocking, and not admit that you’ve gone and unleashed such a hydra upon your own people … that was the problem that one American political Party set for itself decades ago. It’s like re-building a bridge while letting the traffic still use it, without at the same time admitting that the bridge is being rebuilt, and without really knowing if the new design is actually going to hold up, and if it does, at what cost and with what unforeseen consequences. In a close-enough example of reality imitating fantasy, the government embarked on Boston’s “Big Dig”, currently the world’s most expensive chamber of thrills, where the daily commute is spiced up by the prospect of being drowned or crushed by this or that of the structure’s ill-connected parts. It will be fixed, all are assured, and – as befits any self-respecting American movie script – no great harm done.

Iraq is beginning to demonstrate what should have been obvious all along to anybody who considered the fate of the ‘Titanic’: that even something as insubstantial as water, if it’s frozen and if there’s enough of it, can wreck steel, however marvelously wrought and strongly propelled. Reality has a way of doing that, even to revolutionaries. I can recall almost thirty years ago marveling that Deng Xiao-ping was exhorting his Party cadres: “Let us seek truth in facts”. And precisely at the same time a robust motley of revolutionaries in the US were loudly proclaiming their victory over facts, the insubstantiality of Truth, a new world of Order of unsubstance, for which prize all – even the personal – would be bent to the political. They would be welcomed as liberators. For a time.

The effects of their liberatory efforts on a several generation-cohorts of American youth cannot be ignored. Those youth now comprise many of the troops – officers as well as enlisted – holed up in the beleaguered desert fort that Iraq has become to them.

Schoch has noted that the numbers and percentages of the suicides far surpass those of other wars, including Korea, which was a climatic hellhole of uncertain success and Vietnam, where victory failed to bring Victory. Who can be surprised? Given the suspension of Reality that has been in effect in America for decades now, upon what can these American youth fall back in the face of difficulty? Upon what rock can they ground themselves? Within what mighty fortress might they seek refuge? When Reality turns against them or – even more frightening – suddenly reveals its presence, when they suddenly realize that willy-or-nilly they are holding by the ears a violent and angry Reality that they had been led to believe didn’t ever exist … what can they do? Where can they turn? To whom?

They are unanchored and ungrounded. They had to be. It was an inevitable and perfectly foreseeable, even if unintended, consequence of the recent American ‘revolutions’.

First, Interiority had to go. Concerning the children of 30 or 40 years ago, exposed in infancy to the ‘old’ Reality, their interior life could not be trusted to yield anything but old wine. And as every revolutionary knows viscerally: the human spirit (what a couple-three millennia of dead, often white, males had called ‘the soul’) is capable of unpredictable insight and stubborn strength. Interiority had to go. An attention to what was Inside one could only lead to untoward encounters with inconvenient and counterrevolutionary elements, the stuff of ‘backlash’; Interiority had to be discredited until – in some bright future – the individual’s interior could be reconstructed. Perhaps reformatted so as to ‘get it’ naturally. And so the Self as a resource, as a vast interior universe which could be, had to be, explored and its lessons learned, even to the point of achieving a certain mastery, perhaps a certain maturity … all of that had to go. Success would come from knowing the right doctrines and conducting oneself accordingly; and mastery was a masculine concept anyway, and automatically suspect.

Then, Verticality had to go. The sense that within every human being there is a spectrum of possible quality, such that one might progress ‘higher’ or regress ‘lower’. Such that one should try to avoid ‘lower’ and strive to go ‘higher’. This could not be permitted, because to learn to discriminate between and among such nuanced phases or stages within oneself would put a child in the habit of ‘judging’, of – the horror – ‘discriminating’; to permit a child to develop such incorrect and socially unuseful habits was simply not done. And so the sense of height and depth was removed; the experience of oneself as existing and acting along a spectrum, and of navigating along that spectrum, was lost. The ability to ‘distinguish’ was lost, except – apparently – to pick a sex-offender out of a crowd. Were you capable of great good? It wasn’t worth it to impose such a task of creation upon yourself. Were you capable of evil? Right doctrine and appropriate conduct would quench any flames. Character became “character”, a conceptual tool of the Oppressor, and the life goal only of the self-hating and the repressed.

Worst of all, any sense of the Beyond – ‘Meta’ in Greek – was expunged. That there might be other Dimensions, other planes of existence; that there might be other presences; that there might exist a dimension where capital letters were called for – the Good, the True, the Beautiful, Virtue and the Virtues, Excellence, Character, Presences … perhaps even where such capital-letter entities existed, perhaps even able to exhibit mind or some of the characteristics of personality, or perhaps the Source of all that is in the world of appearances … perhaps as a dimension the importance of which in some ways outweighed the events of ‘this’ plane of existence, that there might be another plane of existence at all … none of this would be officially permitted to those children.

And were any of the foregoing aspects of human nature and human experience ever used to interfere with the present liberation? Might they be? Then they must be discredited or – more efficiently – ignored or ridiculed, suppressed and prohibited.

It can be no surprise that the imposition of such a programme would not be taken lightly. It was for that reason that its existence could not be openly and clearly described or discussed, nor its consequences publicly imagined except in the most positive terms. But this only created a suppressed build-up, like magma, that would in short order be tapped by shrewd political operatives. Nor am I proposing that the whole enterprise was directed by one master-mind from a Central Command; it evolved in a terrible though hardly interlocked synergy, but a synergy that developed a self-sustaining life of its own.

But even more dangerously, this inability to connect the dots, this prohibition from considering the ramification of changes, fundamentally disabled cohort upon cohort of American youth. They were unable to muster the capability even to enter into their Interiority or their Verticality, or into humanity’s Beyond. Thrown upon a vastly diminished revolutionary ‘reality’, a world External, Horizontal, and Monodimensional, they were then ‘protected’ from any threats that would expose them to challenges for which their revolutionary education could not prepare them. (And here, perhaps, lie the roots of the current American risk-averse culture and the child-protection-emergency culture.). From a philosophical and spiritual point of view, generations of American youth have now grown up as impoverished as the children of the early Soviet years or of the Cultural Revolution.

Thus bereft, they were flung proudly (and gladly) into the furnace of war, the assumption being that they would require few personal resources since it would all be over soon and they would be greeted as liberators. But they and the cultural revolution that oversaw their childhood have now run up face to face with a Reality that the Theory said didn’t exist, said wasn’t there. And it is killing them.

That the Republican Party irresponsibly and infamously used these youth as cannon-fodder is undeniable. That the Democratic Party provided aid and sustenance for the revolutionary Theory that robbed them of so much of the human heritage is also infamously true. And while the Democratic Party has been most recently restored to political authority, it will take more than vote-counting to restore its moral authority. And even before they begin buzzing about re-establishing themselves as the Party of the working-man and the working-woman, the key question for the Democrats is whether or how they will re-establish a working relationship with the capital-letters. You want to lead the little people? The little people know how important the capital-letters are; in whom or what else can they place their hope and trust? They, far more than their erstwhile elites, know that the ocean is so big and our vessel is so small.

The American dead in Iraq, greatly out-numbered by the wounded, who are themselves vastly out-numbered by the psychically ungrounded … they now constitute a reality and an awe-full truth for which America and her Parties and her assorted revolutionaries are responsible.

It is November. But this is no time for Thanksgiving. A National Day of Reflection and Self-Examination should be proclaimed, lest America’s unexamined life make more human lives not worth living. For this project, one of Thomas Jefferson’s most poignantly ominous reflections must serve: “I tremble for my country, when I think on the fact that there is a just God.” This is not intended as a trump, as ‘god-talk’ is so often deployed in American civic discourse. It is a call to examine and reform, a call to the Beyond. If this be philosophy, let us make the most of it.

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Blogger Davidco said...

The suicides of Col. Ted Westhusing and Alyssa Peterson the Mormon Arabic translator are explicitly related to both the means and ends of the Iraq conflagration.

In Iraq, which there are few fora for virtue to do what it does best.

One doesn't invoke the mysticism of the Warrior Code (Death before dishonor) and then send its adepts after economic booty as mere fronts for corporate corruption. That is a job for pirates and mercenaries.

When the civilian authority is comprised of a band of pirates and mercenaries, such virtue as remains in the armed forces is squandered.

11:55 AM  

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