We were enjoying bar food and cold drinks at an East Columbia establishment. College football was on every hi-def TV and the place was buzzing with good vibes. The lady sitting across from me, one of my favorite people; was trying to keep the night from becoming a bummer while attempting to come to grips with the recent death of a young friend.
Her partner’s favorite nephew had lost his best friend to suicide. It was a bad combination of alcohol, overreaction, PTSD, and having a pistol handy. No telling what else led to the decision by a young man to take the easy way out for himself and leave everyone else behind; struggling for a lifetime to decide who is to blame.
Every time I see a bumper that features a yellow ribbon or a sticker with God Bless our Troops, I think about how two months ago, we reached a threshold. More young soldiers have now died by their own hands than were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Either we aren’t supporting the troops very well or God is too busy winning football games to take care of those who were wounded internally and aren’t getting better.
Two days after that conversation I learned Guy Clark has a new album, his first in four years, and likely his last. Clark lost his wife, best friend, and inspiration last year, and has to be winding down. Old musicians, like young soldiers, deal with stress most of the rest of us never get exposed to.
One of the songs on the CD is called Heroes, and deals with soldiers who come home broken and unable to adjust to life after combat. I couldn’t listen to the whole thing the first time. It was too haunting, too familiar, too touching.
The masterful Texas songwriter isn’t the first person to use the futility and stupidity of war as the basis of a song. Since Viet Nam, when the cause became less defined and the television coverage more revealing, the songs took on a more poignant tone. On the other hand, as we have developed a professional army and dropped the need for a drafted military, the number of people directly affected by soldiers’ deaths has decreased. That is small consolation to those who are directly affected; regardless of whose bullet does the job.
We are a nation of walking contradictions. The religious among us prefer to worship the rich and treat the poor and infirm as some kind of untouchable caste not worthy of our compassion. We scream for budget reductions on social programs to get the spending under control yet leave the defense budget untouched and unquestioned. Currently America spends more on defense than the next fourteen nations combined.
And we support our soldiers full bore and totally; up until they are released and really, really need our support. Then we drop them into an ineffective system that can’t give them what they need. As soon as we invade the next country, the band strikes up, the flags fly. And we love them once again.
Suicide is a horrible, unexplainable thing. Few understand how the mind works in such circumstances. The thought process itself is bad enough; where someone decides the best plan is to end it all. A loaded pistol within reach also increases the likelihood of such a thing. Maybe if the act required more effort, second thoughts might reveal themselves.
But first and foremost, when we send our best young men into the meat grinder of war, expose them to unspeakable horrors, and then send them home without another thought, we are creating a horrible problem. Too bad the money has to go to defense contractors and former congressman.
You’d think by now we would have learned the best way to support our soldiers is to keep them safe. And take care of them after they come back to us.