Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Simple "Thank You" Would Be Nice

American parents have been told from the birth of our republic that one of the most

patriotic actions they can perform is to encourage their children to join one of the armed

services. Having a child choose to serve their country likewise reflects honor on the parents.

No greater honor can an American parent make than to support a child in the service of our

country;and no higher sacrifice can be asked than for those parents to lose their child in service

to their nation. Unfortunately, this sacred trust of American parent's greatest treasure is not

shared by their Commander-In-Chief, the President of the United States.

Some parents recently found that the President does not send a letter of condolence if

their child, while serving in the armed services, dies by suicide. It turns out this practice of

denying comfort to grieving parents and spouses dates back to the Clinton administration,

possibly further. According to one Pentagon source, suicide is not an "honorable" way to die;

and therefore does not deserve condolence. It would not matter even if the soldier was at

the war front at the time of death. Since death by suicide is not defined as "honorable"; their

commander, the President, will not express even a minimal amount of official sorrow to

those whose loss is inexpressible. Families whose child's life was lost in the very performance

of a soldier's duty are now tragically and forever disrupted without so much as an official

"Thank You".

I have opposed U.S. military adventurism my entire life. From my point of view, a

soldier who participates in an immoral war is not acting honorably. However, in addition to

the lack of "ethics" involved in U.S. wars, I'm constantly amazed at how this country turns

it's back on the returning veterans who do the dirty work of our political leaders. Take

Vietnam: Returning veterans, whose lives were ruined by exposure to agent orange, had

to fight Dupont, corporate America, and the Pentagon to try and get adequate healthcare.

Veterans of the first Gulf War came back with a nervous system disorder called Gulf War

Syndrome; which the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon denied ever existed and

denied veterans disability claims and medical assistance. Many veterans of Iraq and

Afghanistan are homeless, suffer from post-traumatic stress, have limbs blown off by IED's;

and yet the Pentagon and Congress continue to avoid fully funding the programs designed

to help our returning vets. When our children come home broken by war they quickly become

an inconvenient and embarrassing reminder of the failed hopes and the long-term human costs

of warfare. How can you ask someone to put their life on the line and then abandon them

when they come home?

Our sons and daughters dressed proudly in their military uniforms will now be sent to

Afghanistan to carry out President Obama's new war strategy. This could be their fifth or

sixth tour of duty. In many cases, they will not be home for at least a year, as Pentagon

policy requires; and many are showing adverse effects because of these deployments. The

Veteran's Administration estimates one in four returning soldiers require mental health

services. Many of these same returning veterans will also need marriage counseling and

therapy to help them deal with post-traumatic stress. Compounding a bad situation, reports

have surfaced that the Pentagon is prescribing anti-depressants for front-line soldiers rather

than sending them to a hospital or home. Other reports catalog decisions of field commanders

to keep soldiers who are showing signs of mental illness in theater rather than sending them

to medical facilities for help. After the recent shooting at Fort Hood, the Pentagon admitted

it simply does not have enough mental health professionals to meet the needs of returning

soldiers. More to the point, statistics show the suicide rate for American soldiers is at an

all-time high.

Let's get this straight: The Commander-In-Chief orders soldiers into combat. He doesn't

just order them to the front once, but rather two, three, four, or more times. If these soldiers

have mental difficulties, depression, excess anger, or post-traumatic stress, they aren't sent

home; instead, they are medicated or taken out of duty for a few days to lie in their bunk in

their barracks or tent. When they do return from deployment, they don't get the help they

need to cope with the experience of being in combat and frightened and tense 24 hours a day.

After not getting any help, they are sent back to the place which is the source of all their

problems. Catch 22!

It is a perfect mental health storm. Your child is sent to war. It is a guerilla war where

you can't tell the good guys from the bad guys. You live with fear every day. A comrade is

killed; so now you live with rage. You are approached by villagers and don't know if they

could be the enemy. You open fire and kill women and children and at some point, when

the cloud of delusion clears, you have to live with the horror of your actions for the rest of

your life.

At the end of the day, some can't cope. They find themselves in such a dark valley they

see no way out but suicide. A soldier kills himself. Parents are notified of their child's death.

They had noticed the change in their child, but the system didn't help them; and now that

their child is dead, the President will not offer condolences for the sacrifice they made, not

to mention the pain and sorrow they will have to endure forever. And somehow this soldier's

death is not honorable? This is a disgrace!

For a President to refuse to acknowledge such a profound loss, the very man who put

their child in harms way, is simply wrong. A person would have to be morally and spiritually

bankrupt to suggest that suicide somehow negates the sacrifice of a soldier's life to their


I suspect some of this current attitude toward suicide stems from religions that define

the act of killing yourself as a mortal sin; or the view by others that it is a sign of weakness.

I say no matter the roots, if a soldier dies while serving their country, the least the man who

sent them can do is offer some sort of condolence and compassion. There should be great

compassion for the soldier, for the parents of the soldier, and for the memory of the beloved

child who in the final analysis, and in God's eyes, lost his will to live because of what he was

asked to do.

If Obama continues this practice after sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, he

will verify the view of many that he is no different than his predecessor and lacks the basic

humanity and compassion that a Commander-In-Chief needs if our Republic is to continue

to be worthy of men's praise and God's continuing grace.

And so it all comes down to opinions about honor. Such a sad little word when it stands

alone. And it does stand alone when a nation's leaders fail to respect the humanity of it's

people. When compassion and comfort are withheld from the parents of soldiers who in

good faith joined the military, and for a thousand possible reasons found themselves drowning

in a physical or emotional nightmare. Who are we, from the comfort of our homes, to judge

why they chose to end their lives? Being a soldier is not easy. Life is not easy. Yes, suicide

is sad beyond the ability of words to say; but death is death, and these brave souls are fallen

warriors just the same. The battlefield may not have taken them; but they suffered isolation

as fragile human beings, as God well knows. But more importantly, they suffered as members

of the United States armed services. Their lives are forfeit, lost to themselves, their parents,

their spouses, their children, the nation, the world, and possibly even to God. With this in

mind, it seems a small thing to ask that these soldiers be honored; but, as things now stand,

a simple letter of condolence or a "Thank You" is simply too much to ask from our impossibly

righteous leaders in Washington. What do you think? I welcome your comments and

rebuttals. Please send them to

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