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July 10, 2008

When Night Falls II

The world we knew
Won't come back
The time we've lost
Can't get back
The life we had
Won't be ours again

This world will never be
What I expected
And if I don't belong?

The first time made me sad. I was only six or seven: too young to understand.

The second time I stopped sleeping for nearly a year. Sometimes I still hear her screaming in my dreams.

The third time made me angry. And hopeful. And guilty. And last December it brought me back here; brought me back home:

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem,” Albert Camus wrote, “and that is suicide.”

How to explain why, among the only species capable of pondering its own demise, whose desperate attempts to forestall mortality have spawned both armies and branches of medicine in a perpetual search for the Fountain of Youth, there are those who, by their own hand, would choose death over life? Our contradictory reactions to the act speak to the conflicted hold it has on our imaginations: revulsion mixed with fascination, scorn leavened with pity. It is a cardinal sin — but change the packaging a little, and suicide assumes the guise of heroism or high passion, the stuff of literature and art.

"The stuff of literature and art"? What a traveshamockery. I often wonder if the kind of person who romanticizes suicide has ever seen the twisted wreckage it leaves behind?

After he was gone, the second one, everyone agreed. No one - not one of us - had seen it coming. He kept it all inside, kept it safely hidden away. All that pain, the anxiety attacks. He couldn't allow anyone to help him. It was only afterwards that people picked up the shattered puzzle pieces with shaking hands and painstakingly tried to assemble them into the sketchy outlines of a pattern.

But there will always be too many pieces missing. One piece that seemed not to snap neatly into place was that he'd been just fine before he went to Iraq.

But he'd had "a good war". From all accounts, he hadn't experienced the kind of debilitating stress one expects to produce symptoms like that. And they hadn't shown up right away. There are a lot of things we don't understand about the human mind. We don't understand, for instance, why one person walks through the gates of Hell and emerges unscathed while others go into an endless free fall. Kim Dozier thinks it has a lot to do with attitude:

I think the other assumption some people have about trauma patients, and combat troops, is that we're scarred for life in our heads and hearts. Even some friends assume I'm plagued by nightmares and flashbacks, all the symptoms of the dreaded post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Newsflash: You can go through hell and end up with some of those symptoms, yes, but you can get rid of them. It's not a life sentence.

Dispelling the flashbacks for good can be as simple as talking about them, saying out loud, "Yeah, that shooting/bombing/car crash gave me some nightmares. I keep remembering it, feeling the blast like it's happening now."

When people who are haunted by these things DON'T talk about them, that's when the problems start.

How did I avoid getting PTSD? I talked my head off, and then I wrote everything I could remember.

I would like to believe that it is that simple for everyone. I am not so sure, however, that it is.

I do know how important it is to have someone you can talk to, if you need to, about PTSD. Not in the patronizing, scoring political points way that forces the mantle of victimization on every man and woman who serves, but in a way that recognizes both the pain some feel, and the magnificent potential of the human spirit: the nearly miraculous ability we have to battle despair and suffering, and overcome them.

This is a lesson we all too often forget. If pain is sometimes part of the awful price of war, the sheer power of human resilience can also be a priceless and unexpected gift:

I listen to people for a living. As a psychologist in the Department of Veterans Affairs, I hear about some of the worst experiences humans have to bear. I have sat face-to-face with a Bataan Death March survivor, an airman shot down over Germany, a Marine who was at the Chosin Reservoir, veterans from every region of Vietnam, medics and infantry soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq. I have spoken with people who have been assaulted and brutalized by their own comrades, and parents who've had to attend their own children's funerals.

I have gained a surprising belief from hearing about so much agony: I believe in the power of human resilience. I am continually inspired by the ability of the emotionally wounded to pick themselves up and keep going after enduring the most traumatic circumstances imaginable.

My friend Semper Fi Wife has seen the same thing in her work with recovering vets:

I honestly don't understand. The men and women that I meet through volunteering at the hospitals humble me with their courage and their service. You see, they're not just surviving, they're thriving. Maybe they are having to relearn how to do something we take for granted like walking but they are doing it with determination and humor. They are trying new things. One of my guys learned how to play ice hockey with prosthetics on and he's so good that the instructors want him to teach kids how to play.

Why wouldn't you want to know someone like that? Or someone like the young Soldier who came to a fishing event last week wearing a t-shirt that read,"$10 for the leg story"? That's a guy with a damned good sense of humor, don't you think?

And knowing them gives me perspective. The impediments I perceive as mountains are really just molehills. Looking at what they can overcome makes me realize that anything is possible.

I wrote to a few friends privately a while back about an early morning trip to Walter Reed. I saw a young Marine there.

My eyes met his, and I was immediately struck by the force of his personality. He literally glowed with youth and energy and intelligence. His chest and arms were heavily muscled and lean and his skin was lightly bronzed. I rarely do more than glance at men who are not my husband - especially men young enough to be one of my sons. This young man somehow managed to make me, from his wheelchair, feel acutely conscious of my femininity in a way I haven't been for years. He was a double amputee.

If that fazed him in any way, it was undetectable. If I were 25 years younger it would not have stopped me for an instant from doing everything in my power to gain his undivided attention.

I think, sometimes, we are too quick to project our own pain, fears and insecurities upon recovering soldiers. They deserve our concern and our gratitude. But have they not also earned our confidence? That is why I have always loved the portraits of Michael D. Fay. He looks in the eyes of these men and finds the warrior who still lives there.

To do so is not to minimize the price paid in war, but to acknowledge the bravery with which these men and women fight, often long after the last trumpet has sounded on the field of battle. Even when sometimes, heartbreakingly, the fight is one they cannot win.

Sometimes, they pour out all their strength for others but forget to keep something - some tiny scrap of hope - for themselves.

I don't know whether we will ever be able to prevent tragedies from happening. I know that some very good people are trying, and I know that nothing we can ever do will seem like enough when good men and women die and the tears begin to fall.

I also know that each of these men and women was once a living soul. They had their own reasons for living and dying which we may never know. But once they have passed on they can no longer speak for themselves. And it is an obscenity to parade their dead bodies on the Internet to score cheap political points in a shadow war of words and images, to draft them against their will; purposely juxtaposing their bodies next to sentiments designed to defeat the cause for which they willingly gave their lives.

After all, a corpse can hardly fight back, nor can he argue with you, and so this is a war you will always win. And if there happens to be "collateral damage", if mothers, sisters, wives, brothers, fathers of the men killed can recognize a wrist, a forearm - it's not difficult, when there were only three - who needs a nametape?

Casualty of war. Some men fight with a gun. You fight with your camera.

The only difference is the intended target. Bullseye.

They say all's fair in love and war. Or at least that is what you tell yourself, after you tell yourself you followed the rules. It's a tough world out there and anyway, these people should be able to handle reality.

This world will never be
What I expected
And if I don't belong
Who would have guessed it?

I will not leave alone
Everything that I own
To make you feel like it's not too late
It's never too late...

Even if I say
It'll be alright
Still I hear you say
You want to end your life.

Now and again we try
To just stay alive
Maybe we'll turn it around
'Cause it's not too late
It's never too late

It's never too late.

Posted by Cassandra at July 10, 2008 08:57 AM

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Comments

Thank you so much, Cassandra. Your words about the wounded articulated what I've never been able to adequately express. Beyond brilliant.

Posted by: FbL at July 10, 2008 02:53 PM

Well, I certainly expressed something.
As my Dad used to say, I got my cats out. That is what the little neighbor girl in the Philippines used to ask about my Mom when she was pregnant with me: "When is she going to get her cats out?".

Posted by: Cassandra at July 10, 2008 03:32 PM

We just owe them so much.

Respect for serving, support when recovering and honor whether they have fallen or not. If they have, we honor them by supporting their families too. It's the very least we can do to pay the debt we owe them.

The last link/aspect. Obscenity is the perfect word for what this idiot and his supporters are advocating.
The fact that one of them, at least, is an active duty service member only brings home the true effect of the "Peter principle" in every sense of the phrase or words contained therein.

Posted by: Semper Fi Wife at July 10, 2008 03:52 PM

Ooops...meant to say and hit post too early:

This is really a great, great post, Cass.
I always love to see how your mind relates things to each other.
Sometimes, I know where you're going and other times I don't. Either way, it's always worth the trip.

Posted by: Semper Fi Wife at July 10, 2008 03:54 PM

I think, sometimes, people get so caught up in whatever moral crusade they happen to be on at the moment that they forget that the end doesn't always justify the means.

What bothers me so much about what this 'photojournalist' is doing, is that he has decided that conveying an intuitively obvious idea: that [alert the media! five years into the war, who in the hell realized the purpose of IEDs and bombs was to blow human flesh to smithereens???] was so important that it excuses any means he chooses.

Now he could choose to use such a device to explode a dead cow carcass, if he needs to show blood and gore. And then he could draw the connection with words.

He cannot use the photo of a living person without his permission. He clearly knows that is wrong. But a dead person (and their relatives) cannot stop him, so he feels free to use their image, even if doing so will shock, grieve, and torment the family. To do so in an incident when only 3 people were killed and the family will certainly know their loved one's photo is on the Internet is unconscionable. That knowledge would haunt me.

I would not be able to sleep at night if that were my husband and I had no way to make him take it down. The man is a bully.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 10, 2008 04:01 PM

I am just glad I finally got to link your post. I have been wanting to use it for some time - I loved it the first time I read it but just didn't have the right way to use it. Sometimes it just takes me a while to find the connection.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 10, 2008 04:03 PM

Bully maybe... man, not so much.

Posted by: bthun at July 10, 2008 04:03 PM

One thought that keeps running through my mind, with regards to that picture, is why in the hell didn't he put down the damn camera and HELP...yanno, render aid ... comfort ... compassion ... any would have sufficed. (All would have been too much to ask, apparently.) He had been embedded with this unit for some time, certainly there was a certain level of familiarity and friendliness -- however minimal that may have been -- and there they were in need of humanity not photography.

I. just. don't. understand.

And, quite frankly, I don't think I want to.

Posted by: DL Sly at July 10, 2008 04:11 PM

I think there is something about a camera that is like looking through a microscope. It's not people he is looking at.

It is pictures.

I have never forgotten that video of ... oh, who was it? Mike Wallace? That journalist roundtable where he concluded his 'highest duty' was not to warn American troops of an impending ambush, but to record the slaughter for the evening news:

Mike Wallace proclaimed that if he were traveling with enemy soldiers he would not warn U.S. soldiers of an impending ambush. “Don't you have a higher duty as an American citizen to do all you can to save the lives of soldiers rather than this journalistic ethic of reporting fact?", moderator Charles Ogletree Jr. suggested. Without hesitating, Wallace responded: "No, you don't have higher duty...you're a reporter." When Brent Scrowcroft, the then-future National Security Adviser, argued that "you're Americans first, and you're journalists second," Wallace was mystified by the concept, wondering "what in the world is wrong with photographing this attack by [the imaginary] North Kosanese on American soldiers?"

George Connell, a Marine Corps Colonel, reacted with disdain: "I feel utter contempt. Two days later they're both walking off my hilltop, they're two hundred yards away and they get ambushed. And they're lying there wounded. And they're going to expect I'm going to send Marines up there to get them. They're just journalists, they're not Americans." The discussion concluded as Connell fretted: "But I'll do it. And that's what makes me so contemptuous of them. And Marines will die, going to get a couple of journalists."

Click my name.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 10, 2008 04:17 PM

During the Civil War, what we now call "PTSD" was known as "Soldier's Heart."

Which is a much more human-sounding thing.

Posted by: david foster at July 10, 2008 04:17 PM

"To do so in an incident when only 3 people were killed and the family will certainly know their loved one's photo is on the Internet is unconscionable. That knowledge would haunt me."


"I. just. don't. understand.

And, quite frankly, I don't think I want to"

Similiar thoughts have been running through my mind for the past couple of days and kept me on a steady diet of Pepto Bismol tablets.
It makes me physically ill to contemplate it.

Posted by: Semper Fi Wife at July 10, 2008 04:18 PM

Also..see my post Journalism's Nuremberg?, written after the revelations about journalistic complicity with Saddam's regime.

Posted by: david foster at July 10, 2008 04:20 PM

Ah... cherie! Eef onlie I had your moral authorite!

Posted by: Casserole at July 10, 2008 04:21 PM

Well, doesn't everybody?

That reminds me, I'm out of Absolute Moral Authority cards. I need to order more.

Posted by: Semper Fi Wife at July 10, 2008 04:28 PM

"The discussion concluded as Connell fretted: "But I'll do it. And that's what makes me so contemptuous of them. And Marines will die, going to get a couple of journalists."
That is a man.

Posted by: bthun at July 10, 2008 04:35 PM

I have the template for those on my hard drive, SFW.....

Although, I didn't include the Obamination official seal on them.........still, they should do the trick.

Posted by: DL Sly at July 10, 2008 04:50 PM

Photos of those who died in service do haunt parents. In 1968 I was a young man just starting his career in San Diego. My wife and I rented a house. Our first child was born there. Our neighbors were an elderly couple eager to give a small stuffed animal to the new baby girl next door. There was a picture standing on the mantel in their house. It was a photo of a handsome young sailor in his dress blues; taken in around 1940. He was their only child--and he died at Pearl Harbor. 27 years after the fact, the ache of their loss was still palpable. To have shown them a picture of their son after his death would have been an act of immense cruelty. Better to remember the handsome young sailor who sailed out of San Diego Bay and left them forever.

Posted by: Mike Myers at July 10, 2008 07:19 PM

Situations like this (Zoriah's photo) leave me feeling as though there are 2 groups of people in this world - those who possess common decency and place it above their sense of self and self-promotion and those who will use anything and anyONE to catapult themselves to the front of the line.

And the former seems to be shrinking every day. Which makes me unbearably sad.

Posted by: HomefrontSix at July 10, 2008 11:46 PM

re: Mike Wallace and the "journalist's" duty:

During a photojournalism class we had this very discussion and the instructor said it's a very fine line to walk - can you do more by showing the disaster to the world or should you toss the camera aside and help.

The theoretical was an earthquake, not war. The consensus was that if the photo would bring relief efforts that otherwise might not be forthcoming, then take the photos.

However, I got the distinct nauseous feeling that in his mind, in the journalistic world, that depicting it for the future was far more important than saving a life in the present.

That's why I didn't take any more journalism classes.

Posted by: Donna B. at July 11, 2008 12:31 AM

The last link/aspect. Obscenity is the perfect word for what this idiot and his supporters are advocating.The fact that one of them, at least, is an active duty service member only brings home the true effect of the "Peter principle" in every sense of the phrase or words contained therein.

Sorry I don't live up to your blogging standards, Semper Fi Wife. Clearly my post was about how censorship of the media was damaging to strategic efforts of defeating terrorism. Believe it or not, there are some portions of the international population we hope to influence that aren't on the "Team America" bandwagon.

Posted by: LT Nixon at July 11, 2008 12:39 AM

That reminds me, I'm out of Absolute Moral Authority cards. I need to order more.

SFW, I'm sure you're a decent person, so allow me to give you a bit of advice: Don't try to browbeat people in the blogosphere because they are "unpatriotic" and "idiotic" for disagreeing with your point of view. That tactic was employed by the Republicans after 9/11 and has become a running joke by the likes of The Colbert Report. Statistics and facts are a good way to support your vision, and if those are unavailable, a well-written post using empirical evidence and rational arguments can be suffice.

Posted by: LT Nixon at July 11, 2008 12:56 AM

There's actually a lot of precedence for showing dead bodies in the media. One interesting story is the 14 year old Emmett Till who was killed in the south for whistling at a white woman in the 50s. He was beaten to death and his mother insisted that the media photograph his badly beaten body. The picture of his body is on the Wiki, so don't click it if you're easily offended by history.

Posted by: LT Nixon at July 11, 2008 01:06 AM

"Clearly my post was about how censorship of the media was damaging to strategic efforts of defeating terrorism."

Really? You mean that whole story on exactly where the openings and weak spots were in our armor was really supposed to help us defeat terrorists?
Oh......um,......how exactly was that supposed to go again? Cause it sure seems to me that telling our enemies exactly where to shoot to by-pass our armor is actually helping them defeat us.

Posted by: DL Sly at July 11, 2008 02:43 AM

DL Sly,

Here is the story accompanying the photos, and I don't see how it is an OPSEC violation. He does not mention what tactics the suicide bomber employed or even the specifics of where the attack was. Is there something in particular you are referring to?

Posted by: LT Nixon at July 11, 2008 03:48 AM

...can you do more by showing the disaster to the world or should you toss the camera aside and help.

That's part of the problem, because they're taught to make a moral judgment -- which would probably be okay, if they all had morals...

Posted by: BillT at July 11, 2008 05:33 AM

Well, let's see if I can explain this any more simply to you LT.....
You said, "...censorship of the media was damaging to strategic efforts of defeating terrorism."
To which I asked how the publishing of information (as opposed to censorship - be it self-induced or otherwise) such as exactly where to hit our body armor (in order to more effectively kill our Marines and soldiers) aided in the cause of defeating terrorists. A PFC could understand that question. Of course the PFC has been promoted once. You? Well....

Posted by: DL Sly at July 11, 2008 11:22 AM

Sly -- LT G *has* been promoted -- a couple of times, since he's now technically CPT G.

Don't underestimate the terrs. They figured out *exactly* where to try to hit us without having to read about it in blogs or the MSM, and their reaction to us fielding MRAPs was to use bigger EFPs and larger, buried IEDs. They keep experimenting to see what works and we keep them off-balance with tactics-switches and new technology.

And despite the occasional success on the street, the terrs are in a world of hurt...

Posted by: BillT at July 11, 2008 11:46 AM

Bill,
I think we're talking about different people.

Lt. G (now Capt. G) is Army.

Lt. Nixon is Navy.

Posted by: Semper Fi Wife at July 11, 2008 11:59 AM

Bill, I don't underestimate the intelligence of the terriers of the world. I have a very clear picture of their capabilities seared into my memory.
Forever.
However, "they'll figure it out eventually" doesn't mean go ahead and give them all the spec's -- weaknesses and all. Just as I'm quite sure many terrier organizations were *aware* of the wire-tapping program tracking them and their money, I'm also confident that there were some that weren't. At least, not until the NYT took it upon themselves to *inform* them -- front page-style.
Adapt and overcome. It's a Marine motto. It's not supposed to include having to do so due to our own countrymen.

Posted by: DL Sly at July 11, 2008 12:22 PM

Sly -- a lot of the specs are public info. But, It's not supposed to include having to [adapt and overcome] due to our own countrymen.

Heh. Got that -- coupla decades ago, in fact...

SeFiWi -- Sorry, I was over at the Castle and had G on the brain. Helluva time for short-term memory *retention* to kick in.

Posted by: BillT at July 11, 2008 12:54 PM

"Sorry I don't live up to your blogging standards"

In all honesty, it isn't your blogging, it's the thought process behind, at least, the post in question. And, it's the idea that you are an active duty member of the military and you don't seem to see that these are your brothers in arms.
Even if you don't think so, they are. They aren't tools and, even in death, they shouldn't be treated this way. Their families shouldn't either.
This has been said over and over again and you still don't seem to see that even though the picture was posted after notification had been made, you're still advocating something so unnecessarily hurtful to their families. It was posted and although I'm not going to check, it's probably still up.

I understand that you were deployed to Iraq but I wonder if you've ever been a part of a detachment, squadron, office group that suffered a KIA?

Maybe you've never had to sit with a wife who's just lost her spouse and her dreams for the future. Maybe you've never had to look into the eyes of a twelve year old who understands quite well that his dad is never coming home and think of something comforting to say. There really isn't anything, by the way, to say. Maybe you've never had to take a mom over to look at the same kind of vehicle that her son was killed in and watch her crawl all over it. You watch her as she pictures where exactly her son was when he shot. She doesn't want a picture of her son laying dead on the ground. That won't help her understand.
She wants a snapshot of him as he was at the moment before he was killed.

I realize that you are arguing about the effect this picture has on the rest of the world and I'm telling you that the Marine Corps doesn't give a good goddamn and neither do I. They were people, they gave all that they had and they deserve much better than what you're advocating for their memory and their families' grief.

Your personal zings are really negligible but your take on this issue and your status in the military makes me think this one thing:
The only thing you should ever be in command of is the office stapler and that really ought to be monitored closely too.

Posted by: Semper Fi Wife at July 11, 2008 03:21 PM

"SFW, I'm sure you're a decent person, so allow me to give you a bit of advice: Don't try to browbeat people in the blogosphere because they are "unpatriotic" and "idiotic"

I never said that you were unpatriotic. That isn't something I run around saying and for me, this isn't about politics. It's about a duty to those who've fallen and the families they leave behind.
The fact that you see things in this other light only reinforces my original impressions.

Posted by: Semper Fi Wife at July 11, 2008 04:26 PM

Oh, and if you think that what I've been doing is "browbeating", clearly you have never been married.
Man up.

Posted by: Semper Fi Wife at July 11, 2008 05:59 PM

The only thing you should ever be in command of is the office stapler and that really ought to be monitored closely too.

That's pretty funny.

Posted by: LT Nixon at July 11, 2008 06:41 PM

A PFC could understand that question. Of course the PFC has been promoted once. You? Well....

Sly,

A LT in the Navy is an O-3, which is equivalent to a CPT in the Marines, Army or Air Force. That gets confused from time to time by many, so I just wanted to clear that up. Thanks.

Posted by: LT Nixon at July 11, 2008 06:49 PM

Your personal zings are really negligible

What personal zings? I have a lot of judgements that float around my mind about different types of people, but it doesn't mean I'm going to go posting on about it.

Posted by: LT Nixon at July 11, 2008 07:05 PM

Cassandra, thank you for the heartfelt post.

Now, LT Nixon - let me be clear here. Are you coming out in favor of showing American dead on the internet or in the media?

Posted by: Q_Mech at July 11, 2008 07:48 PM

Q Mech,

I don't support the censorship of the media in this case. American dead and enemy dead and jihad propaganda have long been available on LiveLeak, and before that Ogrish.com (now defunct). I do not agree with the USMC for disembedding Zoriah Miller from Anbar province. He did not violate the MNF-I embed ground rules and having an antagonistic approach between the military and the media is dangerous. It discredits information propagated by the military as mere "propaganda". Cassandra and SFW seem to think I'm not being supportive of the Marines because of my stance, but the ground rules state that the media cannot post pics before death notification to the family, which Zoriah followed.

Posted by: LT Nixon at July 11, 2008 08:24 PM

That tactic was employed by the Republicans after 9/11 and has become a running joke by the likes of The Colbert Report.

The myth that once a war starts, you can sabotage it all you want just because you didn't get what you wanted to begin with?

Yeah, that myth that such actions aren't anti-American is definitely working through the Colbert Report and propaganda apparatuses like it.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at July 14, 2008 12:41 AM

He did not violate the MNF-I embed ground rules and having an antagonistic approach between the military and the media is dangerous.

Journalists like danger, that's why they interview dictators and what not on these pre arranged agreements on what to report and not.

After all, if journalists didn't like danger, and if an antagonist approach between the military and the media is dangerous, why have the journalists been the primary proponents of antagonizing the military with false accusations, legal attacks, and emotional exploitations?

It discredits information propagated by the military as mere "propaganda".

What matters is power. No matter how many times the New York Times has been discredited, they still have their power. The military's problem is not being discredited. The military's problem is that they have ZERO power in terms of using propaganda on the American population while the media has an almost infinite amount over the previous decades.

Given the military's approval from the American public compared to Congress, you'd think everything coming out of Congress would be discredited as propaganda as well, but it isn't. And you know why it isn't? Cause it ain't about credibility. It's about power and who has it. Congress has the power and the access to information nobody else has, so they believe them, even though they lie all the time.

And if nobody believes the military because they think it is propaganda, it won't be because the military has been discredited. It will be because the military got booted out of the propaganda business by tougher older competitors.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at July 14, 2008 12:46 AM

Btw, just as a point of reference, LT Nixon's views from the Navy often illustrates the fundamental differences, rather than the superficial, that exists between the military branches.

Do rules matter more to the Navy than the unspoken and unwritten standard of conduct on the battlefield for Marines? Can't say, but certainly there are hints.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at July 14, 2008 12:50 AM

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