Ted Westhusing, was a champion basketball player at Jenks High School in Tulsa Oklahoma. A driven kid with a strong work ethic, he would show up at the gym at 7AM to throw 100 practice shots before school. He was driven academically too, becoming a National Merritt Scholarship finalist. His career through West Point and straight into overseas service was sterling, and by 2000 he had enrolled in Emory University to earn his doctorate in Philosophy. His dissertation was on honor and the ethics of war, with the opening containing the following passage: "Born to be a warrior, I desire these answers not just for philosophical reasons, but for self-knowledge." Would that all military commanders took such an interest in the study of ethics and morality and what our conduct in times of war says about our development as human beings. Would that any educational system in this country taught ethics, decision making, or even political science that's not part of an advanced degree anymore.
Ted Westhusing, the soldier, philosopher and ethicist, was given a guaranteed lifetime teaching position and West Point by the time he had finished with his service and his education. he felt like he could do more for his country by trying to shape the minds coming out of the academy that were the ones that would be military commanders. He had settled into that life with his wife and kids, when in 2004 he volunteered for active duty in Iraq, feeling like the experience would help his teaching. He had missed combat in his active duty and it seemed like an important piece for someone who not only philosophized about war, but who was also preparing the military's future leaders.
But more than that, he was sure that the Iraq mission was a just one; he supported the cause and he bought the information that was put in front of him. Considering that vials of powder were being tossed around hearings by the highest level of military commanders how could he not? This was a man who was so steeped in the patriotism of idealistic military fervor that he barely could fit in regular society. His whole being was dedicated to this path, and he was proud to serve his country.
Once in Iraq, he found himself straddling the fence between a questioning philosopher and an unquestioning soldier. Westhusing had thought he was freeing a country in bondage, keeping America safe from a horrible threat, and spreading democracy to a grateful people. But the reality of what was happening in this out of control war was too much for him. His mission was to oversee one of the most important tasks left from the war; retraining the Iraqi military by overseeing the private contractors that had been put in charge of it.
As the assignment went on he found that everywhere he looked he was seeing corrupt contractors doing shoddy work, abusing people, and stealing from the government. These contractors were being paid to do many of the jobs that would normally be done by a regulated military, and they bore out the worst fears of those who don’t believe in outsourcing such vital work. He responded to the corruption that he saw by reporting the problems up the line, but the response from his commanding officers was disappointing. He had, for much of his career, idolized military commanders, and in that assignment he found himself with some of the military's most famous faces, doing the most important job, but he was terribly disappointed and alarmed to realize that they were greedy and corrupt themselves.
The wall of silence about this was impenetrable and the reality of the situation turned his entire belief system upside down, making him question everything that was going on, and his role in it. Having envisioned the top military commanders to be the most honorable that America has to offer, he was crushed to find out that ascending to power in this military could be more due to cronyism than expertise and that these men who he had aspired to be like were greedy and corrupt themselves. Upon reporting to his commanding officers, he realized that not only did the problems stretch to the level above him, but that they were systemic.
To these commanders the only real problem was the fact that they had a deeply honorable soldier in their command that was likely to rock the cash cow. Westhusing was so bereft at the realization of his part in this breakdown in the military's code of conduct, and the atrocities carried out in America's name, that he became despondent and finally in June, 2005, he shot himself. It was called a suicide, though there have been some questions raised about it.
He’s not the first Iraq suicide, though he was, at the time of his death, the highest ranking one. He was an oddity; a thinking soldier in a war that requires blind obedience, and unwavering dedication. The black and white world of Bush's military doesn't allow much for the grays that come into the picture when one is, at heart, a philosopher...and even in the face of seeing the reality of war, how can anyone come to terms with the revelation of corruption on this scale? More crushing was the realization that the leaders that he idolized, and the honor that he held as being the very foundation of his entire world as a military officer, were all a lie, and stories told to cadets at West Point that didn’t bear out in reality. The leaders in this war didn't care, and many were, as he outlined in his 4 page suicide letter, that was addressed to General's Fil and Petraeus, his direct commanders, only out for their own selfish enrichment.
Thanks for telling me it was a good day until I briefed you. [Redacted name]—You are only interested in your career and provide no support to your staff—no msn [mission] support and you don’t care. I cannot support a msn that leads to corruption, human right abuses and liars. I am sullied—no more. I didn’t volunteer to support corrupt, money grubbing contractors, nor work for commanders only interested in themselves. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored. I trust no Iraqi. I cannot live this way. All my love to my family, my wife and my precious children. I love you and trust you only. Death before being dishonored any more. Trust is essential—I don’t know who trust anymore. [sic] 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? No more. Reevaluate yourselves, cdrs [commanders]. You are not what you think you are and I know it.- Advertisement -
COL Ted Westhusing
Life needs trust. Trust is no more for me here in Iraq.
What troubled Westhusing was not just the death and destruction all around him, the obvious looting of the country, and the human rights abuses, but the seeming lack of attention to the problem by his two of commanding officers, General Joseph Fil, and General David Petraeus. Yes, that David Petraeus. So focused was he on the destructive role of these two, that his suicide note was written to them. Westhusing's widow said that her husband's death should serve to bring out the truth of the corruption that her husband saw. Author and journalist, Robert Bryce was recently able to get documentation of interviews with Westhusing's wife and many other bits of correspondence and Investigation documents through the freedom of information act. They leave more questions open than they answer, especially in light of the media's blackout on information about Petraeus' part in this...even during a week that he is center stage at hearings being conducted on the war.
The book Blood Money, by T. Christian Miller, relates in depth, the deep convictions of Westhusing, and his drive towards a sort of noble honor and how that ended with his death. His favorite saying was by Socrates from Plato's Phaedo: "Those philosophizing rightly are practicing to die." It’s more than a little disconcerting to find that he had acted detached and despondent for days or weeks before he committed suicide, often standing around looking at his gun closely and lost in thought, not paying attention to what was happening. In a war where there are a record number of cases of suicide and PTSD, is there no awareness training of the trouble signs going on? He exhibited all of the signs of depression and despondency, and it’s a mystery why no one stepped up and tried to help him. But this is the culture of the military, and this is probably what worked out better for his commanding officers, who were no doubt looking at a loose canon who was raining on their good deal out there in the desert. Was there more to Westhusing's death? There is quite a lot of speculation out there that something was amiss at the death scene, and about who found him, (a contractor who reportedly tampered with the scene,) and that things don’t add up exactly.
General Petraeus is appearing before congress this week to try to defend his "surge" and to stop any further troop withdrawals. He is also making the case for an additional 100 billion dollars.
The surge is not working, no matter how it’s spun. If we keep combat troops in Iraq there could arguably be a reduction of violence, depending on many factors, but if its actually "working," as in helping Iraq to be more self sufficient and to end our participation in the problems there?...well, that depends on your definition of "working."
The fact that Petraeus has a long history of being wrong in his assessments of Iraq, and the fact that when directly questioned about current violence, he tends to defer blame to Iran, aside, at some point you have to question how much Petraeus' risen star and earning potential is tied to this war and its continuation. To say that this administration is in any way even a little translucent is laughable. Never has there been such an almost psychotic grab for all encompassing power with no body overseeing the actions of a few in power. Never has there been an attitude that the executive is above the law and the need to somehow document that for some sort of long range plan.
At some point the level of spending and loss of funds is so incredible that we must be compelled look at management, even if it’s unseemly in a time of war. At some point the American people have to demand an accounting. You would think that America had never run a war before. Surely it must be embarrassing when the top military officer has to get up in front of congress and try to explain some very small incremental improvement at such a huge cost. These improvements can also be easily explained away by so many factors, such as payments to a certain faction to stand down, ethnic cleansing having actually worked, and just the fact that more troops might put off the inevitable civil war that will happen now or in 20 years once the US security forces are pulled out. None of that speaks to a lasting improvement or even a partial repair of what we’ve done there.
A lot of this is common sense, and the fact that all Americans want so badly to feel like we've won, or that this was a just cause and not just some construct of Imperialism and the oil wars...much less, plans that happened in some conference rooms above the rule of law and our governmental checks and balances...well, we may be just caught in a nightmare here and waking up is not an option for those in power. We must realize that at some point we're doing more harm than good, and that may involve admitting that we are not necessarily on the side of right. But that's the rub here, and that's where we get back to Westhusing; any action in life comes with the possibility of a later realization that what you were positive about at one point could have been wrong.