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A Journey That Ended in Anguish
November 27, 2005 1:16 PM   Subscribe

Military Ethic's "War is the hardest place to make moral judgments." Col. Ted Westhusing, a military ethicist who volunteered to go to Iraq, was upset by what he saw. His apparent suicide raises questions (L.A. Times) When the military's own moral compass gives up, should we continue?
posted by Elim (32 comments total)

 
"Despite his intelligence, his ability to grasp the idea that profit is an important goal for people working in the private sector was surprisingly limited," wrote Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach. "He could not shift his mind-set from the military notion of completing a mission irrespective of cost, nor could he change his belief that doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do should be the sole motivator for businesses."

Jeez, obviously unfit for the modern military then.

US military culture is under assault by the materialist, corporate values of our AWOL president and his "private" sector buddies. It's losing badly.

I remember the gloom behind the jokes made by many officers about the erosion of military values and the incompetence and greed of the contractors. Sometimes it was funny, but most of the time it chilled me.

I read an essay once by a Marine discussing the contractor situation in Iraq: "Mercenaries are fine when you're winning, but are worse than useless when you're losing".
posted by xthlc at 1:37 PM on November 27, 2005


I suppose he was probably killed. But on the other hand, there's this line of thinking (Sarte, in this example):

"Thus there are no accidents in life; a community event which suddenly bursts forth, and involves me in it does not not come from the outside. If I am mobilized in a war; it is in my image and I deserve it. I deserve it first becuase I could always get out of it by suicide or desertion; these ultimate possibilites must always be present for us [. . .] if therefore I have prefered war to to death or to dishonour, everything takes place as if I bore the entire responsibility for this war."

Perhaps Westhusing took this seriously.
posted by washburn at 1:38 PM on November 27, 2005


Poor fellow: honour in war was everything for him. The psychologist makes him sound like an adolescent:
She said that Westhusing had placed too much pressure on himself to succeed and that he was unusually rigid in his thinking. Westhusing struggled with the idea that monetary values could outweigh moral ones in war. This, she said, was a flaw.

"Despite his intelligence, his ability to grasp the idea that profit is an important goal for people working in the private sector was surprisingly limited," wrote Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach. "He could not shift his mind-set from the military notion of completing a mission irrespective of cost, nor could he change his belief that doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do should be the sole motivator for businesses."
Or was he murdered?
posted by jouke at 1:44 PM on November 27, 2005


So....
Should we kill our leaders now?
posted by Rubbstone at 1:57 PM on November 27, 2005


Westhusing struggled with the idea that monetary values could outweigh moral ones in war. This, [Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach] said, was a flaw.

Jesus fucking Christ we have all gone mad.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:57 PM on November 27, 2005


Welcome to the New Morals, Worse than the Old ones.

Thanks Republican,
God! Can't Bush just get that BJ now? PLEASE!?!?!?!?
posted by Elim at 2:03 PM on November 27, 2005


"Mercenaries are fine when you're winning, but are worse than useless when you're losing"

Wouldn't be surprised to find this a restatement of something in Machiavelli's "The Prince"... (google google) guess this will work:
"They are ready enough to be your soldiers whilst you do not make war, but if war comes they take themselves off or run from the foe; which I should have little trouble to prove, for the ruin of Italy has been caused by nothing else than by resting all her hopes for many years on mercenaries..."
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:09 PM on November 27, 2005


Bring back the draft then so we can riot?
posted by j-urb at 2:22 PM on November 27, 2005


US military culture is under assault by the materialist, corporate values of our AWOL president and his "private" sector buddies. It's losing badly.

Those values were lost when Bush and the Republican Party paid off private mercenaries in exchange for campaign payola.
posted by Rothko at 2:27 PM on November 27, 2005


"I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied," it says. "I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored.

"Death before being dishonored any more."


.

Things can't be going so well when your ethicists start killing themselves.
posted by ScottMorris at 2:38 PM on November 27, 2005


"Westy?" "You're doin a hellava job!"
posted by Elim at 2:40 PM on November 27, 2005


Just more evidence that this war is destroying our military. Just more evidence that the traditional conservative suspicion of "nation building" makes a lot of sense. Just more evidence that the current Administration is destroying traditional conservative values along with the military and the country.

Wake up, America!
posted by orthogonality at 2:55 PM on November 27, 2005


"shut up - take some Soma and be a good gamma."
posted by Elim at 3:00 PM on November 27, 2005


I have a hard time with calling any war "The Good War," as is the second (and remember "The War To End All Wars?"), but this is most definitely a bad war, and that the cognitive dissonance produced by seeing the war first hand drove this man to suicide, if that is true...depressing.
posted by kozad at 3:11 PM on November 27, 2005


"I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied," it says. "I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored.
"Death before being dishonored any more."
It's cliche now to say that truth is the first casualty of war, yet the Col.'s suicide note improbably suggests a man who despite his long career in the military and philosophical passions, was unfamiliar with the true nature of war. Corruption, human rights abuses, and liars seem nothing more than the banal ingredients of war, and have always been so.

Stories like these suggest a Greek tragedy; that character is destiny; and that we all may be hiding tragic flaws which one day will destroy us - in his case a blindness to the forces of war which inevitably and easily twist moral (human) systems like trailor parks in a tornado.

But I think the real lesson stories like this offer is just as the army psychologist case summary implies - to question and keep questioning our world views to insure that they never calcify into something rigid. To be flexible. To admit the possibility of other scenarios. To allow for failing.

Because ultimately, rigid worldviews risk shattering on contact with reality as it seems was the sad fate of Col. Westhusing.
posted by extrabox at 3:12 PM on November 27, 2005


What a load of platitudinous horseshit. Wars have not "always" been launched with massive PR campaigns based on known lies, military men have not always been under the thumb of the most flagrantly corrupt administration in recent memory, and Westhusing's fate is not only "sad," it's terrifying and infuriating. There was nothing wrong with Westhusing's appraisal of reality, other than the reality was so awful he was either murdered or committed suicide to retain some shred of his personal sense of honor. It's the reality-appriaisal of anyone who voted for Bush in the last election, or didn't vote, or acts as his apologist now, that needs reexamination.
posted by digaman at 3:41 PM on November 27, 2005


American Pre-emption, Trinitarian and Nontrinitarian War, and Justice,” by Theodore Westhusing. (I had to cut and paste this to read it properly.)

Westhusing was not a naive idealist:
Imagine the following scenario and its impact on American communal existence and the interconnected global economic community today. Instead of one nuclear device, Al Qaeda manages to acquire two. Or Al Qaeda manages to get its hands on smallpox or a quantity of serin gas. Usama Bin Laden succeeds in a surprise detonation of one in a large metropolitan area within the U.S. Or perhaps he unleashes smallpox in a metropolitan area or manages to secret serin within a crowded building or elementary school. He then appears, live, on Al Jazeera television. He announces responsibility for the nuclear, biological, or chemical devastation. He follows that horrific announcement with the report that he also has a second nuclear device, biological toxin, or chemical weapon prepared for some other unnamed American city. Making a host of demands, he then holds the American government and its way of life hostage for an excruciatingly long period of time before unleashing a second WMD on an American city, school, or building.
Finally, he follows this second strike with more threats, throwing the entire country (and global economic systems) into chaos. While extreme, such a doomsday scenario is not outside the realm of possibility in the near term. IT is also certainly the most dangerous possibility we currently face. It would be a war of existence for the U.S., as even the most skeptical must agree. It would entail an immeasurable evil and disaster for the American political community, and, by extension, the global economic community. It must never happen. Through the continued political will to confront terror on its home turf, as only America can, we may be confident it will not.
He was willing to accept breaches of ethics to contain such threat, by political leaders, and by soldiers authorized to combat terrorists, who he saw as using WMD's.
Within nontrinitarian war, there must be American warriors seeking “decisive victory” who cannot be Dukes of Sung [a leader who accepts total defeat for ethical reasons]. They are the elite joint forces falling under U. S. Special Forces Command (U. S. Army Special Forces, Rangers, and Task Force 160 Army aviators, Delta Force, SEALs, Air Force strike aircraft, and Air Force Special Tactics Teams) who are likely to be involved in defeating the non-state actor or rogue nation-state WMD threat. The urgency and stakes of their mission require a different principle of Double Effect. Likewise, the non-state actor or rogue nation-state WMD threat justifies anticipatory strikes authorized by U. S. political authorities--at any time. Our political authorities thus can never be Dukes of Sung since the slaughter of 9/11 because non-state actors have now demonstrated both the capability and intent to harm as never before.
Westhusing's writings show him willing to accept actions of dubious moral character when undertaken as part of anti-terrorist actions. But not for commercial reasons. It seems he was quite serious about that.
posted by washburn at 3:51 PM on November 27, 2005


<ahem> "When the military's own moral compass gives up"... excuse me?
posted by blue_beetle at 4:10 PM on November 27, 2005


To be flexible. To admit the possibility of other scenarios.

I think the word you're looking for is "scoundrel".
posted by c13 at 4:10 PM on November 27, 2005


One military officer said he felt Westhusing had trouble reconciling his ideals with Iraq's reality. Iraq "isn't a black-and-white place," the officer said. "There's a lot of gray."
He was really saying, "there's a lot of black".
posted by Malor at 4:20 PM on November 27, 2005


Speaking of mercenaries....
posted by c13 at 4:35 PM on November 27, 2005


Digaman, if he was murdered, that's terrifying and infuriating. If he killed himself, there was something wrong with his reality appraisal. A disease - mental illness - aggravated by environmental factors - the Iraq war. Bush killed him. Sure. But the Col. also killed himself.

The great irony is that he was in the military for twenty years, and yet, for whatever reason, his constitution / temperment was not made for war. In that sense, one might imagine his whole thesis - a search for ethics and morality in war - as a means for justifying a career choice that he knew - on some level - he was not made for.
posted by extrabox at 5:25 PM on November 27, 2005


So Extrabox, he has 20 years in the military and YOU decide he couldn't take it cause he was wrong about military ethics, and how long have you been studying, Phsycology and military ethics, to base this assumtion on?

When I was in the Gulf, this shit didn't happen and wasn't tolarated, but maybe my generation in the military had a soul....
posted by Elim at 5:38 PM on November 27, 2005


He was willing to accept breaches of ethics to contain such threat, by political leaders, and by soldiers authorized to combat terrorists, who he saw as using WMD's... willing to accept actions of dubious moral character when undertaken as part of anti-terrorist actions. But not for commercial reasons. posted by washburn

Dead fucking on.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:40 PM on November 27, 2005


Omg, a member of this small mailing list I'm on mentioned Col. Westhusing's (his CO when he was in the military) death a few months ago, but I never knew it was an apparent suicide.
posted by Devils Slide at 8:19 PM on November 27, 2005


There is a profound difference between a Colonel and a General. A Colonel's zeitgeist is the battlefield--he is a tactician, whether a combat officer or not. His focus is on his subordinates, and his purpose is his tactical mission.

A General divides his gaze between the tactics of his subordinate Colonels and the strategies of his civilian superiors. He must transcend tactics to look at this overall strategy, linkages beyond the immediate battlefield to the past, the future, the rest of the world and his home nation's people and government.

In many ways, a General can seem more like a politician or a bureaucratic Mandarin, than a soldier. But the bottom line is that a General must see the big picture.

There are many superb Colonels who will never become Generals, despite brilliance on the battlefield, because they cannot see the big picture. They refuse to compromise their opinions for a greater good, they refuse to compromise their ethics in small ways for a more profound ethos. Theirs is a world of black and white. They not only do not see, and do not want to see, that most everything has shades of grey. They resent the fact that others see things that way.

I have heard it said that a Colonel like this, when his wife asked him if she looked fat, replied "Yes". Then, after she abused him for his meanness, he insisted that he was in the right, that she was indeed fat, and that that was the truth.

This did not help the situation, as you might well imagine.

But this mindset is carried over in many other decisions as well. Decisions that are incompatible with his becoming an effective General. What wins on the battlefield loses the war.

Because a General must also be a diplomat. Diplomacy is "war by other means", whose stakes can be far higher than those of the battlefield. Diplomacy may also impact on the battlefield, even without the knowledge of the combatants. It may turn the tide of battle, invisibly, or even turn a defeat into a victory, after the fact.

Such scheming offends the unpromotable Colonel. He wants an "honest fight", no conclusion based on a cocktail party halfway around the world. And so he becomes resentful of the actions of those he does not understand.

In every war, and in "peace", both types exist. Those who conduct the war from the sanctuary of an embassy or deep in the rear area, and those out in the mud trying to rout the enemy. When the battle is over, the Colonel may finally rest. But the General can never sleep. He prepares for the next war, he cleans up after the war just fought, he seeks "lessons learned", and perhaps ties up "loose ends", so that advantage gained in the war is not lost in the peace.

Colonels write books about the bravery of their men and the perfidy of those who do not "fight fair". Generals write books about the bravery of their men, and how politicians supported or betrayed them. But only after they retire, not if they still have ambition. They see the big picture.
posted by kablam at 8:22 PM on November 27, 2005 [1 favorite]


So, General, would you care to elaborate on that big picture you speak of? I take it you think there is some connection between the article and your post.
posted by c13 at 8:29 PM on November 27, 2005


USIS seems to have taken logo inspiration from Unisys.

See this exhaustive blog post from June discussing the circumstances of Westhusing's death, when it was not public knowledge that it was presumably suicide.

Westhusing was among the highest-ranking officers to die in Iraq (he was an LTC at death, promoted posthumously).

It's cliche now to say that truth is the first casualty of war, yet the Col.'s suicide note improbably suggests a man who despite his long career in the military and philosophical passions, was unfamiliar with the true nature of war. Corruption, human rights abuses, and liars seem nothing more than the banal ingredients of war, and have always been so.

That seems facile. For one thing, it's common even in today's overstressed military to miss out on combat during one's entire career. I draw a more disturbing and broader lesson -- that America's warfighting ethos, which was so wholly swallowed, refined, and promulgated by men like Westhusing, is at odds with America's use of those warfighters.

Because ultimately, rigid worldviews risk shattering on contact with reality as it seems was the sad fate of Col. Westhusing.

There are precedents here. The rigid worldview isn't Westhusing's exclusively; his role in the creation of the warfighter ethos suggests it is much more broadly held. The problem, if I may step back a jot, is possibly to be laid at the feet of a strategic paradigm shift from the World War II total war and Cold War eras, which required a professional military, to an era of Fourth Generation warfare, i.e. the GWOT -- in which there is no front line and much of the tactical training, in which the military was thoroughly inculcated for decades, is useless. I would suggest a possibility that the ethical training itself may be outdated.

To be sure, that's almost too depressing a thought.

What a load of platitudinous horseshit. Wars have not "always" been launched with massive PR campaigns based on known lies, military men have not always been under the thumb of the most flagrantly corrupt administration in recent memory, and Westhusing's fate is not only "sad," it's terrifying and infuriating. There was nothing wrong with Westhusing's appraisal of reality, other than the reality was so awful he was either murdered or committed suicide to retain some shred of his personal sense of honor.

The idea that something like the GWOT or a pre-emptive military occupation can be managed with the warfighter ethos is probably the real problem here. The Bush administration abolished the Peacekeeping Institute because it seriously didn't want the military trained for a job they didn't want it to do. At the same time, training for the Iraq occupation has been catch-up from the beginning, and much of it has developed ad hoc. We've seen the results of that in, for example, Abu Ghraib.

Let me bring this to where I'm thinking. I'm worried that not only is the military being broken in terms of morale and readiness, it's being broken philosophically. The old ways -- the warfighter ethos -- are at odds with the mission. The mission itself may be at odds with any warfighter ethos, not just the "one we have". Once the occupation is over, not only will there be a period of training and rebuilding to go through, there will be a period of reappraisal. If the mission for which the "warfighters" in the military were trained for is gone forever, and they can't adjust to the new one (or the new one requires unethically substantial realignment of either the military or the social contract with the military), there's going to be an era of an ethically hollow military.

The most disturbing thing is that this may accelerate a trend, in many ways engendered by the volunteer army, of tilting toward a warrior class in society which sees itself and its mission as separate and ungovernable. The "you need me on that wall" business, basically.

In the past there's been an adjustment after a conflict, as the draftee population demobs and the career military reconstitutes itself. The Cold War made this a somewhat diffferent process in scale, but there were still adjustments after Korea, after Vietnam. I'm not sure where this next one is going.
posted by dhartung at 9:30 PM on November 27, 2005 [1 favorite]


The more I think about it, the more I grudgingly accept Digaman's critique of my earlier comment.

Suicide, if that was the case here, was not a rational, moral, or ethical response to the situation he faced in Iraq. It was a desperate act beyond judgement, and attempting to draw overarching lessons from his despair says more about us than it does about the real "reasons" the Col. killed himself.

In fact, when you really think about it, on the basis of that article alone, one really can't fathom why such a man would kill himself. It seems completely out of character, and this dischordant end to an otherwise exemplary life is difficult to deal with. We try to make sense of the senseless, and in my case at least, end up with a load of platitudinous horseshit.
posted by extrabox at 10:27 PM on November 27, 2005


Possibly unrelated news today:
QUOTE
a "trophy" video appearing to show security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

The video has sparked concern that private security companies, which are not subject to any form of regulation either in Britain or in Iraq, could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqis....
...
The video, which first appeared on a website that has been linked unofficially to Aegis Defence Services, contained four separate clips, in which security guards open fire with automatic rifles at civilian cars. ....

In one of the videoed attacks, a Mercedes is fired on at a distance of several hundred yards before it crashes in to a civilian taxi. In the last clip, a white civilian car is raked with machine gun fire as it approaches an unidentified security company vehicle. Bullets can be seen hitting the vehicle before it comes to a slow stop.

There are no clues as to the shooter but either a Scottish or Irish accent can be heard in at least one of the clips above Elvis Presley's Mystery Train, the music which accompanies the video.
...
... The Foreign Office has also confirmed that it is investigating the contents of the video in conjunction with Aegis, one of the biggest security companies operating in Iraq. The company was recently awarded a £220 million security contract in Iraq by the United States government. Aegis conducts a number of security duties and helped with the collection of ballot papers in the country's recent referendum

.... The video first appeared on the website www.aegisIraq.co.uk. The website states: "This site does not belong to Aegis Defence Ltd, it belongs to the men on the ground who are the heart and soul of the company." The clips have been removed.

The website also contains a message from Lt Col Spicer, which reads: "... Refrain from posting anything which is detrimental to the company since this could result in the loss or curtailment of our contract with resultant loss for everybody."
....
Capt Adnan Tawfiq of the Iraqi Interior Ministry which deals with compensation issues, has told the Sunday Telegraph that he has received numerous claims from families who allege that their relatives have been shot by private security contractors travelling in road convoys.

He said: "When the security companies kill people they just drive away and nothing is done. Sometimes we ring the companies concerned and they deny everything. The families don't get any money or compensation. I would say we have had about 50-60 incidents of this kind."

A spokesman for Aegis Defence Services, said: "There is nothing to indicate that these film clips are in any way connected to Aegis."

Last night a spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "Aegis have assured us that there is nothing on the video to suggest that it has anything to do with their company. This is now a matter for the American authorities because Aegis is under contract to the United States."

END QUOTE
posted by hank at 10:32 PM on November 27, 2005


God.
posted by Drexen at 6:08 AM on November 28, 2005


Disclaimer: I'm not trying to dish up dirt or anything, but it seemed to me that there were some gaps in the story that really didn't make a whole helluva lot of sense. Based on the information presented by the writer, it just seems a little too pat an explanation to say that he saw some shit in Iraq that short-circuited his wiring and caused him to off himself.

IANA psychologist, but I've done a great deal of reading on the topic of suicide and depression over the years. From what I have learned, principled, disciplined men with no apparent history of mental illness/depression rarely (if ever) commit suicide. It seems reasonable to speculate that (a) Westhusing got involved in some dirty business that he couldn't get out of (the dirty politician suicide scenario), (b) he was a closet depressive for most of his adult life (plausible, to be sure, but not mentioned anywhere) or (c) his death was made to look like a suicide.

He seemed, if the background information is to be belived, to be a competent and dedicated manager who went to Iraq, did well to execute his charge and saw some things that conflicted with his world view. That he was powerless to change them despite his training and capabilities, seems unlikely to cause such a short and tragic downward spiral. In military circles, it seems like Bunny Greenhouse's course of action is much more common than what seems to be indicated in this story, but maybe it's much different when one is out in the field left to one's own devices as opposed to fighting with int the system at the DoD.
posted by psmealey at 8:56 AM on November 28, 2005


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