Friday, November 6, 2009

* Jimmy's Gray Badge of Courage (With Footnote to the Tightly Wadded David Brooks of NYT)

Thursday's alleged mass murderer at Ft. Hood is an Army psychiatrist. President Obama expresses shock. It is almost as if wearing the presidential mantle turns one's brains to the service of propaganda.

Is it really "shocking" that a warrior-profession that takes idealistic young men and women and turns them into suspicion-ridden killers would collapse inward in self-devouring fury?

And that a doctor whose mission it is to restore humanity to those who have been dehumanized in order to kill, who have been made paranoid in order to survive, might lose his own stability in the process?

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) didn't become a formal psychiatric term until the first Viet Nam veterans to return stateside started shooting up McDonalds' customers for some odd reason in the 1970's, even before the phrase 'went postal' was coined.

Its reality has been around since Antigone sought to bury her brother Polynices on the battlefield of ancient Greece 3000 years ago.

I recall that in 1953 my next door neighbor returned from the Korean War. He had bought the only new car in our neighborhood, a 1953 gray Chevrolet which fascinated me as an 8 year old. My mother told me not to bother him about the car because he was "tired" from the war. So I watched every day from our window , waiting for him to leave for work in the morning and drive that shiny elegance off into the horizon. Boyhood!

One day Jimmy (that was his name) didn't come down from his 3rd floor attic apartment in his parents' house to drive off in that Chevy and delight my childhood eyes.

He had hung himself in his parachute up there on the third floor. No adult ever explained to me why. Maybe they didn't know themselves. Maybe I heard the word "shell shocked" out of the corner of some adult's mouth, but I think not.

The car was given to his aunt who loyally drove it in our neighborhood for the next 15 years and then gave it to her eighty-year-old boyfriend two blocks away. I realize half a century later that that car had been Jimmy's Gray Badge of Courage.

Jimmy and his car have long been forgotten---as we all will be,unless we have an Antigone (or an Aunt) in our lives who delays that inevitability a few years and insists that we continue to be honored in death.

Antigone was honoring her brother's "bravery," a word nations invented to pretty up war, a word which has turned millions of men into monsters.

Unlike Antigone, I honor not Jimmy's "bravery" but his sacrifice:The sacrifice of his childhood innocence, the sacrifice of his soul; both tortured in the inferno of the mind, set ablaze by the butchery of war.

Whatever "reason"* adults devise to explain today's butchery at Ft. Hood there is one reality which cannot be explained: a mind consumed by its own fires, set ablaze in the name of national "bravery".

P.S. Ever heard the name John Brown?

*(added 11/10/09 Veterans' Day Eve): "Reasons" including today's David Brooks 11/10 NYT Op-Ed "The Rush to Therapy"--Has the guy never read The Red Badge of Courage? Does it occur to such a tightly wadded conservative as Mr. Brooks that war itself is "evil" not just Dr. Hasan (to use his Reaganesque, evangelical word)?