Killin’ Themselves

February 5, 2009

Suicide is painless,” and yes indeed it does bring on many changes, but with the game of life hard to play, since it’s gonna be lost anyway, to win is to cheat, lay it down before gettin’ beat…
Paraphrasing a description of a definite blowback from two ugly wars grinding this country into dust.

suicide art
(Illustration of ‘Suicide’ by Ralph Sirianni found here).

This afternoon from CNN:

  • The Army said 24 soldiers are believed to have committed suicide in January alone — six times as many as killed themselves in January 2008, according to statistics released Thursday.
    The Army said it already has confirmed seven suicides, with 17 additional cases pending that it believes investigators will confirm as suicides for January.
    If those prove true, more soldiers will have killed themselves than died in combat last month. According to Pentagon statistics, there were 16 U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq in January.
    “This is terrifying,” an Army official said. “We do not know what is going on.”

What a dumb-ass remark — what’s going on is an army too small is fighting wars that are so huge, so out-of-hand, brutal and seemingly endless, thus creating a continuous US GI shuttle into meat-grinding combat zones.
So lopsided:

  • Since 2005, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the lives of two soldiers from the Utah National Guard.
    Suicide has claimed 10.

Last year, the Rand Corp. reported in a study that “Nearly 20 percent of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan — 300,000 in all — report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, yet only slightly more than half have sought treatment…

Hopefully Eric Shinseki, most likely President Obama’s most-perfect department pick, will give the VA a good kick to rev-up its capabilities to handle an-even more unique situation that Vietnam.
Shinseki does sound good, though:

  • “I am now watching all of our efforts to understand PTSD, TBI, substance abuse amongst our veterans and have a better appreciation of what we put my comrades through when we came back” from Vietnam, he said.
    “None of these programs were available, in fact. None of these terms were in vogue then. We still don’t understand enough. We are still learning.”

    “One of the things we have done at the VA is that we’ve taken mental health from being in a separate part of the complex and moved it into the primary-care area to reduce the stigma of someone having to go to that part of the hospital,” he explained.

    Suicide attempts are also a major issue for the VA, Shinseki said.
    The department has a national suicide hotline that got 67,000 calls from veterans and some active duty personnel between October 2007 and October 2008 and managed to intervene to prevent suicides in 1,700 cases. Over the past three months, he added, the hotline has helped intervene on 700 calls.
    “We are doing more. Not enough. We are learning as we go,” he noted.

Maybe it’s the emotion.
Maybe good, old George Carlin nailed it right (again!) and the problem lies with the reality of words — post-traumatic stress disorder has lost that searing emotion of the original term for the battle condition, “shell shock,” first diagnosed in WWI.
Carlin explained in his bit about US peoples propensity for euphemistic language, the condition, “shell shock,” was more accurate: “Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables. Sounds almost like the guns themselves.”
However, by WWII the same condition had been downgraded in emotional sound to “battle fatigue,” which to Carlin became less real: “Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn’t seem to be as hard to say. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock.”
In Korea, the same condition had morphed into “Operational Exhaustion,” a Madison Avenue catchphrase: “Hey, we’re up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase now. It’s totally sterile now. Operational Exhaustion: sounds like something that might happen to your car.”
And then Vietnam.

  • And thanks to the lies and deceit surrounding that war, I guess it’s no surprise that the very same condition was called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Still eight syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen.
    And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
    I bet you, if we’d still been calling it shell shock, some of those Vietnam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I bet you that.

We’d bet, too, Mr. Carlin.
Read the whole langauge monologue here.

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