Join 3,415 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Life and Death of a Warrior in Iraq
March 10, 2007 8:27 AM   Subscribe

I am sullied -- no more. Colonel Ted Westhusing was a soldier's soldier -- a multilingual West Point graduate, tough as nails, who was committed to the ancient Greek warrior's ideal of ἀρετή ("arete," excellence). He volunteered to go to Iraq, where he was commanded by another outstanding rising-star officer, counterinsurgency expert David Petraeus. (Westhusing's widow, Michelle, recalls that her husband thought his country was doing "a great thing" there.) After working with one of the shadowy contractors the US has relied on to train Iraqi security forces, USIS, Westhusing became increasingly despondent. In May 2005, investigators say, he put a 9mm bullet in his brain after writing a note that said, "Reevaluate yourselves, cdrs [commanders]. You are not what you think you are and I know it." Westhusing died, as was previously discussed here, and his former "cdr" is now running the war. Lots of new information in this article from the Texas Observer.
posted by digaman (114 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yet another disillusioned soldier shirking his duties, which are always to the nation who must be told what has gone wrong and why, and to the family that he leaves behind. Anyone with the intelligence to articulate just war defenses in the case of Iraq is far too smart to really believe his own self-deceptions about the relative value of self-inflicted death and dishonor. Facing a 9mm takes a certain sort of bravado... but the more excellent courage is the courage to be.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:00 AM on March 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


...Westhusing was such a believer that he volunteered for what he thought was a noble cause...“He absolutely believed that this was a just war,” said one officer who was close to him.

Is his suicide proof that this is not a just war?
posted by found dog one eye at 9:07 AM on March 10, 2007


It's not the time for glib oversimplifications, FDOE.
posted by digaman at 9:09 AM on March 10, 2007


Anything worth dying for is better spent living for.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:13 AM on March 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yet another disillusioned soldier shirking his duties, which are always to the nation who must be told what has gone wrong and why, and to the family that he leaves behind. Anyone with the intelligence to articulate just war defenses in the case of Iraq is far too smart to really believe his own self-deceptions about the relative value of self-inflicted death and dishonor. Facing a 9mm takes a certain sort of bravado... but the more excellent courage is the courage to be.

I think he was probably atoning for his part of it, not factoring in the role that such guilt and depression played. The patronizing mourning of your loss is inconsistent with his final message, and illustrates why he made such a choice. He needed to underline the seriousness of his point in order make one last difference when it would still matter (because they would have disgraced him anyway). A great sacrifice for someone who lived by a code of honor and who was able to experience a complete disappointment in trust. His children may never understand how or why such men were made useless in Iraq.
posted by Brian B. at 9:18 AM on March 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


It isn't just a suicide. It resembles a protest, a monk aflame.
posted by owhydididoit at 9:21 AM on March 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


For anyone without some profound mental illness, suicide is the coward's way out. All it does is amplify and distribute his pain to the people who loved and respected him.
posted by JWright at 9:24 AM on March 10, 2007


I would say profound mental or physical illness, JWright. I don't see anything cowardly about deciding you don't care to put yourself or your family through a prolonged, painful death for example.
posted by Justinian at 9:27 AM on March 10, 2007


Suicide before dishonor is the code of the warrior culture that Westhausing devoted himself to. You may as well call the thousands of samurai who committed seppuku throughout history "mentally ill." And you might be right. But you're also missing an important point -- and Westhusing lived and died for that point.
posted by digaman at 9:28 AM on March 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


For anyone without some profound mental illness, suicide is the coward's way out. All it does is amplify and distribute his pain to the people who loved and respected him.

Ironically, they say the exact same thing about someone after they leave a brainwashed cult. He obviously didn't want their respect if they don't respect him now.
posted by Brian B. at 9:31 AM on March 10, 2007


I'm no fan of suicide, by the way. A very close friend committed suicide a couple of years ago, and not a day goes by that I don't go through cycles of grief and rage about it. But I also understand that people like Westhusing see themselves as answerable to certain ideals and principles that most civilians would not understand. People like him take the business of war and killing very seriously, unlike the coddled idiots who sent him into this war. I assume he took the business of killing himself equally seriously.
posted by digaman at 9:39 AM on March 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


I feel very sorry for him and his family.

I can't help thinking that the more excellent courage a soldier can express is the courage it takes to face down the Big Lies like "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori", rather than embrace them warmly as a comforting and edifying worldview for one's martial subculture.
posted by darkstar at 9:49 AM on March 10, 2007


Well, sure, darkstar. But Hitler and Genghis Khan weren't into sitting down to tea. We could talk about the virtues of pacifism for a very long time -- and you could probably convince me that it's always the right choice -- but that's not where Westhusing was coming from. Arguably, the next best thing to pacifism is having officers who are keenly attuned to the ethics of war, and when the lives and higher ideals of those who fight it are misused by their commanders. Westhusing was one of those.
posted by digaman at 9:56 AM on March 10, 2007


Suicide before dishonor is the code of the warrior culture that Westhausing devoted himself to.

Suicide before dishonor is central to the Japanese warriors at Iwo Jima who faced impossible odds against the American forces. This was very-well illustrated in the Oscar nominated film "Letters from Iwo Jima
posted by ericb at 9:56 AM on March 10, 2007


i think he may have been whacked by the military contractors because he knew too much. the suicide note was printed in large block letters instead of ordinary handwriting (to neutralize handwriting analysis?) and something about this seems ginned up.
posted by bruce at 10:02 AM on March 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


People like him take the business of war and killing very seriously
I'm having a hard time reconciling the claim that he took this seriously with the fact that in mid-2005, he "absolutely" thought that Iraq was a "just war".
posted by Flunkie at 10:02 AM on March 10, 2007


Self-immolating monks and seppuku-committing samurais belong to different cultures and follow different traditions. As far as I know, in the western tradition we follow the golden rule and prefer practicing love rather than preserving honor, whatever that is.

So, to claim that Westhusing's suicide is somehow noble because he lived and died by a warrior ideal is a little frightening. I'll Voltaire (or Christ) over Mussolini and Hitler (some other guys who talked a lot about honor) any day.

He was clinically depressed. He was mentally ill. He needed help. There was nothing logical, rational or noble about his death.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:02 AM on March 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


i think he may have been whacked by the military contractors because he knew too much. the suicide note was printed in large block letters instead of ordinary handwriting (to neutralize handwriting analysis?)
His widow confirmed his handwriting.
posted by Flunkie at 10:03 AM on March 10, 2007


I would say yes, potentially he was mentally ill -
But his suicide was for reasons that are honorable: his job was to manage military contractors who were not being inspected, reviewed, and causing chaos for the world.

His suicide reflected his understanding of how real the problems were in Iraq and how mindlessly distant his coworkers were from the real problem:

Why serve when you cannot accomplish the mission, when you no longer believe in the cause, when your every effort and breath to succeed meets with lies, lack of support, and selfishness?

I would argue that everybody is to a certain extent mentally ill, and those who are mindlessly running the war and creating the problems are far more mentally ill than Ted Westhusing was.
posted by niccolo at 10:11 AM on March 10, 2007


Well, sure, darkstar. But Hitler and Genghis Khan weren't into sitting down to tea. We could talk about the virtues of pacifism for a very long time -- and you could probably convince me that it's always the right choice...

I doubt it, since I'm not a pacifist. You're making an assumption there.

I agree, fwiw, that having officers attuned to the ethics of warfare is a good thing. I'm only suggesting that perhaps the more courageous thingfor him to do would be to endure the ignominy or agony or whatever he might have had to experience in order to live and do something constructive about the unethical warfare he had experienced.

I can't really judge him. But I can surmise what the effects of his suicide might be, and "judge" that. My comment above was intended to suggest that he probably would have had more impact if he'd lived, and used his experience and intelligence proactively to correct the situation, rather than passing judgment and execution on himself for his perceived complicity in it.

Doing so would seem to me to require a kind of excellence in courage that goes far beyond that courage required to embrace a classicist's approach to the "noble warrior".
posted by darkstar at 10:12 AM on March 10, 2007


And what KokuRyu said...
posted by darkstar at 10:14 AM on March 10, 2007


Is it impossible that the suicide note was faked? The investigators found incongruities at the death scene, and at least some of the testimony given about the 'gun-fingering' was given by contracts themselves.

And the results of the Army Inspector General seem fishy enough:
In September 2005, the Army’s inspector general concluded an investigation into allegations raised in the anonymous letter to Westhusing shortly before his death. It found no basis for any of the issues raised. Although the report is redacted in places, it is clear that the investigation was aimed at determining whether Fil or Petraeus had ignored the corruption and human rights abuses allegedly occurring within the training program for Iraqi security personnel. The report, approved by the Army’s vice chief of staff, four-star Gen. Richard Cody, concluded that “commands and commanders operated in an Iraqi cultural and ethical environment often at odds with Western practices.” It said none of the unit members “accepted institutional corruption or human rights abuses. Unit members, and specifically [redacted name] and [redacted name] took appropriate action where corruption or abuse was reported.”

So they found nothing at all? I'm also curious about the contractors themselves. What sort of oversight, if any, is in place for these guys? Is there even an estimate for the number of them serving in Iraq, and a breakdown of what sort of operations they're involved in?
posted by maryh at 10:14 AM on March 10, 2007


Sometimes it is better not to say anything and leave things as they are.
posted by Postroad at 10:16 AM on March 10, 2007


Suicide before dishonor is the code of the warrior culture that Westhausing devoted himself to.

Say rather, the code he played at. Westhusing was a scholar, an intellectual, and a teacher. Scholars are the only sort who take things like codes and principles more seriously than life and love. Warriors are a lusty, joyous lot: high speed, low drag types. They're not at all the lugubrious thinkers who can talk themselves into eating a bullet. Believe me... I've worked with a number of West Point philosophy instructors obsessed with antiquity, and they're much alike. They're divided between the life of the mind and a nostalgia for battles fought with sharp edges: swords, spears, and bayonets, maybe the occasional naval battle from Nelson's quarter-deck. Yet they back this nostalgia with a tremendous intelligence, direct all their intellectual efforts to imagining and reliving and distancing themselves from the world they live in. It's a very dangerous tension.

The romanticism of his Greek warrior ethos says it all: here's a man smart enough to make a difference, knowledgeable enough to navigate the pitfalls of the military's legal and political structure, and positioned, as a teacher, to be heard and respected. Yet he preferred to play at being a Spartan or a samurai. He preferred purity to the dirty, difficult world. His preferences killed him... not his principles.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:17 AM on March 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


Is it impossible that the suicide note was faked?
Again, his widow confirmed his handwriting. She also said that the sentiments in the note exactly match his, from recent conversations.
posted by Flunkie at 10:19 AM on March 10, 2007


The entire "faked suicide note" is just an example of the paranoia and irrationality that characterize the post-9/11 world. Those aren't airplane contrails...those are chemtrails. Bush and co. plotted to destroy the two towers to incite the GWOT. And on and on.

Then again, perhaps the "faked suicide note" paranoia has always been with us. The 90s had black helicopters, anal probes and cattle mutilations, while before that we had JFK and the trilateral commission.

And before that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

The comparison in this context is a little over the top, I admit, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. It was a bona fide suicide note. Besides, what information could one colonel possibly have that would prompt USIS or whatever to off him? I mean, pallet-loads of unmarked American currency are going missing.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:23 AM on March 10, 2007


And this is a sad, tragic example of why movies like "300" are more than just dismissable teen fodder - they are pernicious influences.

They perpetuate in society the kind of Big Lie about the nobility of uncritical nationalist fervor that is eventually destructive.

That said, I will confess that continuing to comment on this fellow's very sad decision to kill himself seems to te to be at least half in bad taste, as relevant as it is to the issues we're facing today.

Basically, the misguided War in Iraq has claimed another victim. I mourn his passing and wish his family much strength in their grieving.
posted by darkstar at 10:25 AM on March 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


digaman wrote...
People like him take the business of war and killing very seriously, unlike the coddled idiots who sent him into this war.

Interesting. To me, it seems that he had much more in common with the coddled idiots.

Despite your assertion that he was "tough as nails", he was in fact a West Point English professor with a degree in philosophy who barely passed his firearms test.

In the classroom he took bold philosophical positions, and professed all sorts of ideas that didn't make sense in the real world of warfare. The best that could be said for him was that he was aware that he needed to "obtain verification" in order for students to to take him seriously.

So he took his sorry "born to be a warrior but ended up an academic" ass to Iraq, where he discovered that the reality of occupying a country has less to do with the warrior ethic and more to do with managing a vast swarm of humanity that has wildly varying agendas.

Out of academia and faced with the real world, he folded like a cheap accordian. In a remarkably short time.
posted by tkolar at 10:29 AM on March 10, 2007 [6 favorites]


I play chess on-line and occasionally I'll have a game where it is obvious that I have a definite advantage and will win the game, however my opponent will not resign. I want to tell those players that a *good* chess player can see when the game is lost and should resign, but I never have done that. If they are a skillful player and can see that I have some amount of ability, I don't understand their rationale for delaying the inevitable. I see honor in resigning, others do not.
posted by jaronson at 10:32 AM on March 10, 2007


Say rather, the code he played at. Westhusing was a scholar, an intellectual, and a teacher. Scholars are the only sort who take things like codes and principles more seriously than life and love. Warriors are a lusty, joyous lot: high speed, low drag types.

The code of honor is traditional to those who lead, plan and execute wars. You may have illustrated what is wrong with this war, and with the current military--they all see themselves as followers.
posted by Brian B. at 10:36 AM on March 10, 2007


Say rather, the code he played at.

he folded like a cheap accordian.


Amazing how many people are willing to mock somebody who went through stuff we can't even imagine. But I'm sure y'all would have done much better.
posted by languagehat at 10:37 AM on March 10, 2007


I play chess on-line and occasionally I'll have a game where it is obvious that I have a definite advantage and will win the game, however my opponent will not resign. I want to tell those players that a *good* chess player can see when the game is lost and should resign
I have won several games of chess in which my opponent told me that I should resign because of my poor position.

And I don't mean games in which they were incorrect about my position being untenable.
posted by Flunkie at 10:38 AM on March 10, 2007


But I'm sure y'all would have done much better.
I'm not condoning distasteful mockery of the man. But is it seriously your position that most -- or even any -- of those commenting here would have committed suicide within five months?
posted by Flunkie at 10:41 AM on March 10, 2007


For those that are suggesting that he was killed; why would the would-be conspirators leave a note behind that would encourage additional investigation? I mean, if I was going to do away with someone, I'd have the note say something like "I can't live with the awful things I've done..." not something that would be an invitation to all it's readers to probe more deeply into the activities of those who had issue with the person.

Just a thought.
posted by quin at 10:41 AM on March 10, 2007


Amazing how many people are willing to mock somebody who went through stuff we can't even imagine. But I'm sure y'all would have done much better.

"Stuff we can't even imagine"?

The man was a training instructor and administrator. This isn't a shell-shocked frontline veteran we're talking about.

Did you read the article?
posted by tkolar at 10:45 AM on March 10, 2007


But is it seriously your position that most -- or even any -- of those commenting here would have committed suicide within five months?

No, it's my position that mocking him is pathetic. What the fuck? When did "Gee, (I hope) I'd never do that" become equivalent to "OMG what a loser dickwad fuckup!!!"
posted by languagehat at 10:45 AM on March 10, 2007


Amazing how many people are willing to mock somebody who went through stuff we can't even imagine. But I'm sure y'all would have done much better.

They can't understand a moral gesture beyond their ideal of personal loyalty.
posted by Brian B. at 10:45 AM on March 10, 2007


The man was a training instructor and administrator.

Who went to Iraq. Did you read the article?
posted by languagehat at 10:46 AM on March 10, 2007


No, it's my position that mocking him is pathetic.
Then what did your sentence "But I'm sure y'all would have done much better" mean, within this context?
posted by Flunkie at 10:46 AM on March 10, 2007


Sorry, first sentence should have been in itals; I was quoting tkolar.
posted by languagehat at 10:47 AM on March 10, 2007


Then what did your sentence "But I'm sure y'all would have done much better" mean, within this context?

It meant that I assume anyone who points at someone else and mocks their actions is implicitly saying "I wouldn't have done that." Was that not obvious?
posted by languagehat at 10:48 AM on March 10, 2007


It meant that I assume anyone who points at someone else and mocks their actions is implicitly saying "I wouldn't have done that."
And how does this differ, significantly, from my interepretation of it? To wit, that it was claiming that "I wouldn't have done that" is not highly likely to be true?
posted by Flunkie at 10:49 AM on March 10, 2007



Who went to Iraq. Did you read the article?


...where he was a training instructor and administrator.

What, does everyone who flying into Bagdad International qualify for combat pay now?

Still, you're right about the imagination thing. I'm finding it hard to imagine the terrible horrors a training program administrator would go through. Particularly since none were mentioned in the article about him.
posted by tkolar at 10:53 AM on March 10, 2007


TKolar, you'll find plenty of support for your contempt for "academia" and tough talk about "the real world" among the guys who launched this war -- the same guys who dismissed this report by the Army War College in 2004. Westhusing served in the 82nd Airborne, and unless you have some private knowledge that he proved himself inadequate in that service, I'd lay off trashing his military record. I don't share your contempt for academia and for people who try to live their lives in accord with higher ideals. Many of the freedoms, and much of the culture, that you enjoy daily are the product of people living that way long before you were born.
posted by digaman at 10:55 AM on March 10, 2007


The cunty knob on this one went straight to 11, didn't it?
posted by The Straightener at 11:00 AM on March 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


KokuRuy is right on the mark clinically deeply depressed with
a high likely hood of psychosis. The military fails here just as it has at Walter Reed. It lacks the facilities or personnel to counter mental health issues that arise from combat. We remain a society were mental illness is seen a moral failing. This is especially true in the military. General Patton in WW2 slapping a soldier in an aid station and calling him a coward epitomizes this mindset. That Col. Westhusing saw corruption on a grand scale is troubling but that he would put his family through great suffering by his suicide shows the illogic reasoning of a man beset by a mental illness.
posted by Rancid Badger at 11:00 AM on March 10, 2007


For those that are suggesting that he was killed; why would the would-be conspirators leave a note behind that would encourage additional investigation?

Well, because it allowed an investigation that resulted in everybody being let off the hook, on the record, end of story? I know the 'murder conspiracy' sounds unlikely, but damn, the was/is an awful lot of money at stake here.
posted by maryh at 11:02 AM on March 10, 2007


I hate to say it, but I wouldn't have done that.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:03 AM on March 10, 2007


languagehat- I can't speak for others here, but I'm tired of celebrating the bravery of suicide. I have personal reasons to detest suicides, but these are out of place here. Let's just say that the spate of soldier suicide posts has simply surpassed my own capacity to feel loss and anger and frustration without expressing it. I've grown tired of the 'blame the war, not the warriors' comments.

I think Westhusing would have understood me, were he alive, when I say that, "count no man happy while he is alive" requires a serious accounting of the life once he has died, especially the manner in which it ended.

As I've said, I've known men like him. My thoughts are where his should have been: with his wife Michelle, and his three children. And no, I wouldn't have done that.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:03 AM on March 10, 2007


Sounds more like he was a true believer who suddenly lost his faith, if you want to call that mental illness. I've seen it more than once in seriously religious people and the results have not been pretty.

R.I.P. in any event.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:10 AM on March 10, 2007


I wouldn't have done that.

Bold statement. I would never say that.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:13 AM on March 10, 2007


Westhusing served in the 82nd Airborne, and unless you have some private knowledge that he proved himself inadequate in that service, I'd lay off trashing his military record.

I'm sure he served in the Airborne with distinction -- 20 years ago. A lot happens in a life between your twenties and your forties.

I don't share your contempt for academia

Academia has strengths and weaknesses like anything else. One of its largest weaknesses is when it becomes detached from reality. For example, it's possible for a professor at West Point to be caught completely off guard by the fact that the U.S. occupation in Iraq is dealing with massive corruption issues.

and for people who try to live their lives in accord with higher ideals.

Ideals are fine, but if you become incapable of operating in this world because it doesn't live up to what you think it "should" be, then I won't miss you much.

In addition, lots of people wander around claiming that they're living according to high ideals and most of them, like this fellow, quickly change their tune when the going gets tough. The men and women who have led us to where we are today not only claimed to have ideals but also lived up to them under the hardest conditions imaginable.
posted by tkolar at 11:17 AM on March 10, 2007


TKolar, thanks for that link -- I had missed that FPP.
posted by digaman at 11:19 AM on March 10, 2007


Sounds more like he was a true believer who suddenly lost his faith, if you want to call that mental illness. I've seen it more than once in seriously religious people and the results have not been pretty.

I agree, and calling it mental illness ignores his point, which would explain his actions all over again, because he is basically calling the system mentally ill.
posted by Brian B. at 11:28 AM on March 10, 2007


And how does this differ, significantly, from my interepretation of it? To wit, that it was claiming that "I wouldn't have done that" is not highly likely to be true?

You're right, and I should have been clearer. I didn't mean that "I wouldn't have done that" is a lie (assuming "that" means "commit suicide"), I meant that "that" is only one of a huge number of lousy ways to deal with being in Iraq as a part of an occupying force busily engaged in committing, abetting, and turning a blind eye to massive criminal activity, that there are precious few good ways to deal with it, and that mockers are implicitly saying "I would have dealt with it better." Note: sitting tight, shutting up, and following orders is not an acceptable way of dealing with it. Sorry for the lack of clarity—as should be obvious by now, this is not an easy subject to discuss calmly and dispassionately. When I read nasty personal attacks by the likes of tkolar on somebody who was obviously in a terrible situation, I get hot under the collar.

languagehat- I can't speak for others here, but I'm tired of celebrating the bravery of suicide. I have personal reasons to detest suicides, but these are out of place here. Let's just say that the spate of soldier suicide posts has simply surpassed my own capacity to feel loss and anger and frustration without expressing it.

I understand that, and nobody (certainly not me) is "celebrating the bravery of suicide." But one can deprecate the act without stooping to sneering about "the code he played at." I feel terrible for his family and I wish he hadn't done it; it was a lousy thing to do. But somehow I can't see calling him names or mocking his ideals as a decent response.
posted by languagehat at 11:29 AM on March 10, 2007


I can't see calling him names or mocking his ideals as a decent response.

I don't think I've called him names, but I did mock his ideals. Since his ideals murdered him senselessly, I stand by that. As for accusing him of playacting at principles, which is what seems to have caused contention... perhaps I should have avoided that phrasing. The play was deadly serious... and therefore it seems like he cannot really have been play-acting. Yet here authenticity was fatal and levity would have meant survival; to me, that seems a good case for playing soldier without getting lost in the role.

I apologize to those offended my comments.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:56 AM on March 10, 2007


Well, disillusionment really sucks. I feel badly for his family. I would have preferred that he'd decided to concentrate his sense of dedication on them rather than to destroy himself to make a personal statement in such a final way -- if, indeed, it wasn't as bruce wondered about above.

I know of someone close to me who very much wanted to end his own anguish (a very different context, but it also involved disillusionment and betrayal) in a similarly final and selfish way but decided there are people close to him who'd never understand or forgive him for the gesture, and who continues to tough it out daily on behalf of those loved ones. That's more noble and moral, I think, than a warrior's seppuku.
posted by pax digita at 12:04 PM on March 10, 2007


I agee that celebrating suicide is stupid, but I'm really shocked at the number of comments here insinuating that this man was weak and pathetic.
posted by maggiemaggie at 12:17 PM on March 10, 2007


Through early morning fog I see

visions of the things to be

the pains that are withheld for me

I realize and I can see...

that suicide is painless

It brings on many changes

and I can take or leave it if I please.

I try to find a way to make

all our little joys relate

without that ever-present hate

but now I know that it's too late, and...

The game of life is hard to play

I'm gonna lose it anyway

The losing card I'll someday lay

so this is all I have to say.

The only way to win is cheat

And lay it down before I'm beat

and to another give my seat

for that's the only painless feat.

The sword of time will pierce our skins

It doesn't hurt when it begins

But as it works its way on in

The pain grows stronger...watch it grin, but...

A brave man once requested me

to answer questions that are key

is it to be or not to be

and I replied 'oh why ask me?'

'Cause suicide is painless

it brings on many changes

and I can take or leave it if I please.

...and you can do the same thing if you please.

stupid war
posted by hortense at 12:24 PM on March 10, 2007


it's possible for a professor at West Point to be caught completely off guard by the fact that the U.S. occupation in Iraq is dealing with massive corruption issues.

That anybody would be "caught off guard" by the clusterfuck in Iraq sort of astounds me.

Were - are - Americans really this idealistic, and dumb? In what world were opportunistic contractors getting every damned penny they could get, legally and not, not going to be part of the post-war "reconstruction?" Did we - did he - really think it was going to be all honor and freedom and truth and justice, rather than cash and blood and loathing and betrayal?

All that said - this guy had kids, a family. They are the ones who are well and truly fucked by both this war, and the way he chose to bail out of it.
posted by kgasmart at 12:29 PM on March 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


There's nothing in that article to suggest that Westhusing was "dumb." In fact, he appears to have been highly intelligent -- about everything except this war, and, arguably, how he chose to protest it. Until my fellow liberals understand how smart people could be deceived about this war, they will not understand how it happened, or how similar wars and disinformation campaigns can be pre-empted in the future.
posted by digaman at 12:46 PM on March 10, 2007


how smart people could be deceived about this war

Smart people were deceived about this war because they were idealistic. And I don't use "dumb" in the unintelligent sense - I use it in the gee-whiz "liberty and freedom" sense.

Smart people were deceived about this war because they wanted to be. In the wake of 9/11, the trauma that event inflicted, people wanted to believe the best - about their country, and by extension themselves. Freedom and liberty would triumph, thereby proving to the Islamists that they could never terrorize our indomidable spirit. Or something like that.
posted by kgasmart at 12:51 PM on March 10, 2007


I agree, kgasmart.
posted by digaman at 12:56 PM on March 10, 2007


kgasmart wrote....
Were - are - Americans really this idealistic, and dumb?

From Meet the Press, March 16 2003

Vice President Cheney: Now, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.
maggiemaggie wrote...
I agee that celebrating suicide is stupid, but I'm really shocked at the number of comments here insinuating that this man was weak and pathetic.

Well, the only other option is mentally ill. Although given the circumstances, that does seem like a good possibility...
posted by tkolar at 1:02 PM on March 10, 2007


Say rather, the code he played at. Westhusing was a scholar, an intellectual, and a teacher. Scholars are the only sort who take things like codes and principles more seriously than life and love. Warriors are a lusty, joyous lot: high speed, low drag types.

MY GOD. "THE" only ones huh. well, aren't "we" the death before dishonor dr frikkin phil.
How in the*&^%$ do YOU know what was going on in his head....you do know what went into to his head. Just because someone dreams of Thermopylae...ya know, I'm not prepared but will post anyway....

Since his ideals murdered him senselessly, I stand by that. As for accusing him of playacting at principles, which is what seems to have caused contention... perhaps I should have avoided that phrasing. The play was deadly serious... and therefore it seems like he cannot really have been play-acting. Yet here authenticity was fatal and levity would have meant survival; to me, that seems a good case for playing soldier without getting lost in the role.

parse this down nothing is either inciteful nor....real. I can't place it, I can't fit this around my head.
the basic tenents of survival seem missing in this Statement. you may have knowledge of Pattonesque fellows but this does not.....make any sense

The play was deadly serious... and therefore it seems like he cannot really have been play-acting.


The "Play" is this akin to a "tell"? look sweetheart, I'm crass by nature, but i suspect your sensibilties as sure as I can't spell well.
'Play' in intel are decoys or misdirection....more so with "Playacting"...
this post is flawed from inception.

was a soldier's soldier
yea and this means?

After working with one of the shadowy contractors the US has relied on to train Iraqi security forces
well "we" had thought of training the solders and doing "The Job" in the "light of day" but thought better because people might GET KILLED. (at a higher rate at any rate

geez they are "shadowy" by nature.

so here is a test for you.
my brother-in-law, retired colonel, was search and destroy airbourne...we won't go to his sons graduation from MP school.

WHY?
posted by clavdivs at 1:19 PM on March 10, 2007


Thanks for the post, digaman. This seems to me to be a story with as much hidden as written, so I can't assume any moral ground on this. In fact I think it's all been taken upthread, so I'll take what I can from the FPP and leave the rest of you to make talking points.
posted by nj_subgenius at 1:44 PM on March 10, 2007


It's pretty much guaranteed that suicide posts will draw out the little people to raise charges of mental illness or cowardice. That he was also an academic, a philosopher no less, is undeniable proof of his warped mental state though his detractors would be making the same charges had he been a farmer. I suppose there's some value in this immediate, irreducible urge to denigrate those who kill themselves and deny any possibility of empathy. It's like the way the evening news always ends on an upbeat note.

Anyways, what Mr. Westhusing’s suicide really drives home is the defeat of the officer class. That is, the point at which it's determined that core ideals must be sacrificed in order to continue combat is the official definition of 'defeat'. It's likely that there's many officers who feel like Mr. Westhusing but they just lack the courage to embrace defeat with honor.
posted by nixerman at 2:05 PM on March 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Interesting story. From what I know of the "contractors" situation over there and of the complete lack of accountability by American authorities it seems like this guy went in with the boy scout-ish view that the US always acted for the greatest possible good, and then saw that this war was little more than a boon for the various contractors on the ground who more or less openly played the US military for suckers -- with the generals looking on, not wanting to upset the apple cart for fear that it would make them look like they weren't "team players".

Given Westhusing's background, it makes suicide unsurprising, almost anticlimactic because it came after his entire world-view has been pretty much torn apart by the reality he experienced without any chance of being mended. Then again I'm just speculating, as -- frankly -- we all are here.
posted by clevershark at 2:08 PM on March 10, 2007


was a soldier's soldier
yea and this means?


Yea and this means he was a soldier who taught other soldiers how to be soldiers -- at West Point.
posted by digaman at 2:24 PM on March 10, 2007


So, how many people did he kill? Did they get the choice he did?
posted by pompomtom at 3:08 PM on March 10, 2007


What this man did, and what samurai in general do by committing suicide, isn't death before dishonor. It's death after dishonor. They have become so dishonored by their actions--even under orders--that they feel they must die by their own hands to cleanse themselves. The point of "death before dishonor" is not to commit dishonorable acts at all, ie, "I would die first".

That said, a person in his position might, as an alternative to suicide, have devoted himself to gathering information about the contractors. Even with orders not to interfere with their fraudulent dealings with the Army--and I have no doubt that orders protecting these thieves and murderers from military and civilian justice came directly from the White House--his position would have allowed him access to a great deal of information that, once he returned to the USA, could have been released to the public to prompt the Army to action.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:57 PM on March 10, 2007


That said, a person in his position might, as an alternative to suicide, have devoted himself to gathering information about the contractors.

And how does one reconcile doing this with the harm such evidence will cause to the very military, president, and country one has sworn to serve?

There's a point there where one's very core values are exposed and come into question, and one realises those values often conflict. Personal morality vs training/instilled belief vs honour vs greater good - which one wins out?

Sadly, sometimes it can seem the simplest, most logical, and best solution is to remove oneself from the equation...
posted by Pinback at 6:35 PM on March 10, 2007


Petraeus is being lauded as the new wunderkind who will save our collective bacon in Iraq. And yet, he's been there for three years aleady (note the dateline).

America is incredibly fucked over there. And this guy knew it. I expect more of these types of suicides in the near future.
posted by bardic at 7:10 PM on March 10, 2007


2003: Army's Suicide Rate has Outside Experts Alarmed.

2004: Army Suicide Rate in Combat Zones Elevated.

2004: Where's The Army's Suicide Report?

2006: Army's Suicide Struggles Continue.
posted by ericb at 8:22 PM on March 10, 2007


The huge, private armies that have been created with funding for this war, will be turned on us, by their owners, that set this war in motion, so that this monster could grow in size, and have the power to control the world economy, with or without our vote. It will never be possible to know if this was a suicide or not. It is likely that he knew his termination was imminent, and he decided to go down with a stir.

Devout Catholics usually don't choose suicide.

What loving husband and father would obliterate his presence from his family, with or without a warrior code?

Thirdly, some of the experimental drugs, given to soldiers to allay the effects of nerve agents, have resulted in stateside murder and violence post-return to home life, in the US. With a soldier such as this one, perhaps that medication induced violence, was turned inward.

It would be horrific to suddenly realize that an entire lifetime of study, and dedication, and devotion to duty, had been to become a useful tool for brutal profiteers.

Lastly maybe just the difference in the pay-scale, for regular army and mercenary contractors, was a shock that sent him over the edge.

Brilliant idealists have no acceptable role to play in certain scenarios. They are very dangerous to the power players.
posted by Oyéah at 8:25 PM on March 10, 2007


So, how many people did he kill? Did they get the choice he did?

Good question. Great question. I suspect the answer lies in why the public allows Bush to brush off a quarter million civilian deaths as "bad science" — some people are more equal than others.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:27 PM on March 10, 2007


All I'm going to say about this post is that I'm often surprised at the amount of contempt people have for suicides.
posted by empath at 9:08 PM on March 10, 2007


Okay, I'm going to elaborate: I'm surprised how many people have bought into the politically correct black-and-white morality that suggests that people who commit suicide are either weak and pathetic or mentally ill.

I can think of several cases in which it's not only justifiable, but perhaps admirable. I don't think any of us know enough about what was going on in his life and in his head to pass such easy judgement on him.
posted by empath at 9:12 PM on March 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


The military (as currently enacted, there's probably a more wholesome form of it possible) is, by and large, a cult. Sure, it's a big cult, and it's a cult with a purpose and budget, but there's still head-shaving, special rituals, important and incomprehensible titles, us vs. them, salvation through conflict, humiliation, and a general "clearly this is the only way the military can work and any critique most come from commie Pinko fag Satanists" attitude. When reality pulls the rug out from under a cult member, they have a tendency to retire after the denial phase kicks in. Remember that a large percentage of the soldiers in Iraq still think that Iraq had something to do with 9/11.

Humans love to offload all of their moral and ethical choices to something or someone who will just tell them what to do, and then pat them and say, "You did the right thing." Disillusionment is pretty painful for people who are attracted to rigid, black and white structures. So painful that death is preferable to coming to terms with the falibility of those you followed and your own misjudgment. Sure, it's great to get excited and to think of war as "high adventure." It's crap to find out that you were killing real people who just happened to disagree with you and weren't moustache-twirling villains, and even worse to realize that you were manipulated into doing it because, gosh darn it, you believed that the country into you were randomly born was somehow the best darn country ever.

Sullied? Still. It takes courage to be skeptical and not just assume that everything is hunky-dory. I've got nothing against suicide, but if you really want to wipe the slate clean, come back to the US and raise a fuss, get the right guys thrown in jail. People sign up for cults because they're so bloody tired of thinking, and when they find out the truth, sometimes they kill themselves, because having to re-evaluate reality means more of the unpleasant introspection they wanted to avoid in the first place. Heroism comes from admitting you were wrong and removing from power the guys who deceived you. His suicide doesn't change the war an inch, and the corrupt contractors he despised won't pause to note his death in their quarterly reports.
posted by adipocere at 9:48 PM on March 10, 2007


empath wrote...

I can think of several cases in which [suicide is] not only justifiable, but perhaps admirable.


I can think of several cases where murder is not only justifiable but admirable, but that doesn't change the fact that 99% of the time it's a fucked up thing to do.

Trying to attach meaning to depressed people killing themselves only detracts from the very real sacrifice made by those very few people in history who committed suicide for admirable reasons.
posted by tkolar at 11:25 PM on March 10, 2007


It was suicide, he was ill, it is sad.
posted by Dagobert at 4:52 AM on March 11, 2007


It wasn't an act of desperation. It was an act of asymmetrical warfare.
posted by Devonian at 5:03 AM on March 11, 2007


America is incredibly fucked over there. And this guy knew it.

That's really all that needs to be said. It pretty much renders this entire thread superfluous.

Except that if it weren't for this thread tkolar wouldn't have gotten to make half a dozen comments calling a dead guy a douchebag. So I guess it's accomplished something.
posted by languagehat at 6:45 AM on March 11, 2007


It would have been better if he'd gone out in a blaze of glory, ridding our world of an evil despot or two. If one is going to suicide, one might as well do some good at the same time. Do one's best to eliminate a dictator or despotic president, f'rinstance.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:21 AM on March 11, 2007


It would have been better if he'd gone out in a blaze of glory, ridding our world of an evil despot or two. If one is going to suicide, one might as well do some good at the same time. Do one's best to eliminate a dictator or despotic president, f'rinstance.

Those despots were probably his commanders and he would have been all over the news as a psychotic. They now have a more difficult time of it in order to destroy his character. Some are so troubled by the message he sent that they will try to see it as part of an Army pattern, although his suicide is well outside of that pattern.
posted by Brian B. at 9:42 AM on March 11, 2007


Except that if it weren't for this thread tkolar wouldn't have gotten to make half a dozen comments calling a dead guy a douchebag. So I guess it's accomplished something.

Are you going to off yourself because the thread wasn't to your liking? Because I promise I'll really really respect you if you do.
posted by tkolar at 10:19 AM on March 11, 2007


The despots are undoubtedly in the White House, but whatever.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:30 AM on March 11, 2007


Yea and this means he was a soldier who taught other soldiers how to be soldiers -- at West Point

soooo...they were not solders before talking english at west pointe? oooohhh, they were solders (Like the title of the movie) who needed to be taught how TO BE solders...I see...

It was suicide, he was ill, it is sad.
well said.

it is "Fucked".

if only they had listened to my plan.

The Clavdivs Plan for getting combat troops out of Iraq
1.0 have them form an effective police force and interim government

1.1 have, wait, give them an army.

1.2 have them form a secret police. (refer to 1.0)

1.3 sell them what they need at cost. (this is subject to what the need is.)

1.4 dispel any cultural epistemological naivety.

1.5 Leave.

((this means keep your smart ass comments like they need a Wal-mart in the comedy pocket, they need the means to produce what they can, not the building in which to sell it))
posted by clavdivs at 10:29 PM PST on September 20, 2003
(((#28451)))
posted by clavdivs at 10:34 AM on March 11, 2007


Except that if it weren't for this thread tkolar wouldn't have gotten to make half a dozen comments calling a dead guy a douchebag. So I guess it's accomplished something.

It was interesting to read some people admit that their warrior ideal had no higher level to it other than obedient servitude--in defense of their warrior ideal no less. A completely unsolicited admission of second-rate political leadership. It turns out that this guy basically embodied a higher ideal, but he quit in protest, going out in the only way that had any meaning to the betrayal of those ideals. Those who are angry at him are naturally upset because it is now, officially, a war without any higher meaning and has become just another act of jealous violence.
posted by Brian B. at 10:48 AM on March 11, 2007


To me, this man sounds like a fanatic. He may have fit the textbook definition of honorable, but honor is just a made-up word. I think people with his level of commitment are constantly distancing themselves from their perceived moral failings.

I would argue that there is a likelihood of lifelong, undiagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and that the stresses of combat brought on major depression. He might have been schizophrenic or received brain damage.

There is no honor in abandoning your family for love of country, extreme religiosity, or a disintegrated view of humanity. It is simply not an acceptable way of dealing with problems unless you are mentally ill.
posted by sswiller at 10:48 AM on March 11, 2007


sswiller wrote...

There is no honor in abandoning your family for love of country, extreme religiosity, or a disintegrated view of humanity. It is simply not an acceptable way of dealing with problems unless you are mentally ill.


Well said.
posted by tkolar at 10:53 AM on March 11, 2007


To me, this man sounds like a fanatic. He may have fit the textbook definition of honorable, but honor is just a made-up word.

Fanatic is subjective to a cause, but honor is the lack of hypocrisy.

There is no honor in abandoning your family for love of country, extreme religiosity, or a disintegrated view of humanity. It is simply not an acceptable way of dealing with problems unless you are mentally ill.

You freely forfeited your right to define "honor" in your previous sentence. But there are bigger problems here because you say that if one is mentally ill, it is acceptable to commit suicide. This just means it makes more sense to you. You are only repeating the fact that his suicide doesn't make sense to you. No need to incompetently diagnose something that makes no sense to you.
posted by Brian B. at 11:11 AM on March 11, 2007


honor is just a made-up word

So many of them are.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:32 AM on March 11, 2007


Indeed.

There is no honor in abandoning your family for love of country, extreme religiosity, or a disintegrated view of humanity. It is simply not an acceptable way of dealing with problems unless you are mentally ill.

The historical Buddha -- another candidate for the funny farm, apparently.

clavdivs, people go to West Point to learn how to be soldiers just like people go to medical school to learn how to be doctors, but that seems obvious. Did you ever go to school? Then you know what I'm talking about.
posted by digaman at 12:15 PM on March 11, 2007


The historical Buddha -- another candidate for the funny farm, apparently.

No, simply a man who walked away from his family responsibilities. There was no honor abandoning his wife and children.

Buddha made choices and some of those choices hurt people. Sometimes he chose from the lesser of two evils.

Even the greatest of humans has to make shitty choices from time to time. That's what bugs me about this statement:
“if you are not of strong character and know right from wrong, you will leave this place devastated in personal esteem and priceless human beings will be harmed.”
In saying this he implies that if you are of strong character and you do know right from wrong, you can somehow find your way through the morass clean and untouched, and never having been forced to choose between two evils. Unsullied, if you will.
posted by tkolar at 1:08 PM on March 11, 2007


If you think Westhusing felt "clean and untouched" as he pulled that trigger, I never want you for my therapist, TK. :)
posted by digaman at 1:20 PM on March 11, 2007


Tkolar, I teach at West Point, and some of my colleagues counted Ted Westhusing as a friend. Your swipes at West Point faculty as unconnected with the real world are uninformed.

Teaching at West Point is a privilege. All instructors here are distinguished in some way -- they have to be, in order to receive the privilege of teaching here -- and most wear combat patches on their right shoulders. An initial tour at West Point -- which can only come after an officer has held company command, as a captain, and we all know where that most often happens these days -- lasts three years, after which the instructor rotates back out into the Army.

So, no, you're mistaken: COL Ted Westhusing was very much the soldier, despite the uninformed assumptions you're making.
posted by vitia at 1:46 PM on March 11, 2007


Tkolar, I teach at West Point, and some of my colleagues counted Ted Westhusing as a friend.

I'm sorry for your and their loss.

You obviously have a lot more context than I'm working with, so I'll bow to your superior knowledge of the man.

I am very curious what you and your colleagues think of the official report on his death, though.

Was it the case that
despite his superior intellect, his ability to accept the fact that some Americans were only in Iraq for the money was “surprisingly limited. 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.”
?
posted by tkolar at 2:13 PM on March 11, 2007


I didn't know him, so I don't have sufficient knowledge to say. But there is also decorum, and the notion of de mortuis nil nisi bonum: it is cowardly to slight those who cannot speak for themselves.

If you're looking for a deeper understanding, though, you might read the first and last chapters of T. Christian Miller's Blood Money, which address his death directly. Miller represents him as a complex and conflicted man.
posted by vitia at 4:34 PM on March 11, 2007


Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives, and Corporate Greed in Iraq by T. Christian Miller.

Here is the chapter regarding Col. Ted Westhusing.
posted by ericb at 5:38 PM on March 11, 2007


Thanks for the pointer.

I appreciate decorum, but I can't agree that suicide should render someone exempt from criticism. It's certainly no act of bravery to speak ill of the dead; However, it's not right to sit by while their history is rewritten either.
posted by tkolar at 5:42 PM on March 11, 2007


tkolar will never be asked to write a eulogy...
posted by five fresh fish at 6:15 PM on March 11, 2007


Westhusing cautioned that devotion to honor could be taken too far. The "regimental honor" of the British infantry in the Victorian era was so extreme that officers suffering even a slight moral lapse would occasionally commit suicide rather than face disgrace.Westhusing called it a "monster" of a notion. "This sense of regimental honor tends to prevent and transfigure both greatness of mind and extended benevolence," two of the requirements needed for true honor, he said.
Wow, I was way the hell off target. He was a far more complex person than the Texas Observer article lead me to believe.

Please accept my apologies, vitia and others.
posted by tkolar at 6:16 PM on March 11, 2007



tkolar will never be asked to write a eulogy...

My wedding speeches are even worse.
posted by tkolar at 6:17 PM on March 11, 2007


The Army is ordering injured troops to go to Iraq: At Fort Benning, soldiers who were classified as medically unfit to fight are now being sent to war. Is this an isolated incident or a trend?
posted by homunculus at 10:25 PM on March 11, 2007


clavdivs, people go to West Point to learn how to be soldiers just like people go to medical school to learn how to be doctors, but that seems obvious. Did you ever go to school? Then you know what I'm talking about.

well, requirements for entry do not require one to have prior military service, but many with military service go to the Point.

I was wrong in your, YOUR take of the statement.
who taught other soldiers
most are not "solders" but cadets until graduation i.e. no prior military service.
see i was trying to show that your logic is FLAWED.

so i have enuf scoolin to point your FLAWS.


article says the colonel went in the 82nd then ranger school then airbourne. Is this correct as in the order of advanced training? one would think airbourne school then ranger but i do not know, perhaps it was advanced aibourne after learning "basics" like parassult etc. in ranger school.
posted by clavdivs at 8:35 AM on March 12, 2007


clavdivs, sorry man, I'm not going to engage your statements. Carry on.

vitia, thanks for speaking up here -- you raised the quality of the discourse by doing so. And thanks for the pointer, ericb.
posted by digaman at 11:49 AM on March 12, 2007


If anything, this man was an amazing stand-in for the public opinion given by many Americans supporting military action in Iraq. Unwavering patriotism in the wake of terrorism, belief in the possession of the ability to help others, and a sense of pride and honor that supersede supposedly "practical" concerns. The reality did not line up with these ideals, and the stopgap measures (broad use of contractors) employed were not something he was willing to accept.

Life demands compromise and adaptability, sometimes in the face of moral challenges. This could have meant working for an army that employed methods he disagreed with, or speaking out against his administrators that he held in high esteem. He did not choose life.
posted by mikeh at 1:48 PM on March 12, 2007


I'm not going to condemn his suicide as a weak or desperate act of a mentally ill individual, but I am going to say this: If you have any strength left, any degree of freedom at your disposal, and any amount of will left to exercise these things, there is always something better than suicide. Suicide is the last item on a very, very long list of options.
posted by tehloki at 4:41 PM on March 12, 2007


I'm not going to condemn his suicide as a weak...[but]...if you have any strength left...

Yes, you are. Also, no, there isn't always.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:04 PM on March 12, 2007


Point of note: The program he was working on at the time was under Department of State. It is now under the Department of Defense.
posted by Dagobert at 10:09 PM on March 12, 2007


fff: What? My statement was a condemnation? Perhaps you need to work on your reading comprehension. I simply said there were probably better choices available to this man. I didn't say they were much better, I didn't say he was in any way weak or stupid for doing what he did. The phrase which you took out of context ("there is always something better") comes after a big IF. I didn't say there is something better than suicide if you have no power, no freedom, and no other way to convey your message. You are reading words which I did not write.
posted by tehloki at 2:58 AM on March 13, 2007


He may have only had enough strength left to take his own life, but not enough freedom to spread his message himself. I don't know what his exact mindset and situation was.
posted by tehloki at 3:04 AM on March 13, 2007


clavdivs, sorry man, I'm not going to engage your statements. Carry on.

this means he was a soldier
yes he was a soldier.

who taught other soldiers
most cadets are not solders unless they have prior military training, hence he was mainly teaching cadets.

the flaw is your premise that the colonel was teaching soldiers when most are mere cadets, cadets are not solders.


how to be soldiers
agreed.

look, I tripped you up and you fell for it. It maybe just a semantic issue but it is important.

so disengage sweetheart because i am right, you are wrong.
g'day
posted by clavdivs at 10:19 AM on March 14, 2007


« Older We, the observers:...  |  Wet cats. Cats in hats. Random... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments