"We're going to Disneyland."
Yep. You killed them, and I killed them, just as surely as if we had held the weapon, aimed it, and pulled the trigger, which, of course, we did. Because -- what evil we abide, we also do.
But the one who will be held responsible is Sgt. John Russell, 44, of Texas. According to Russell's father, his son had joined the Army National Guard in 1988 because "it was a steady job." Sgt. Russell was on his third tour in Iraq, and was behind on his $1,500 per month mortgage. He had been ordered by his commanding officer to visit the stress clinic, interpreted by many, if not most, or even all, soldiers as the first station en route to being booted from the service.
Walk a mile in Sgt. Russell's shoes. Booted, Army pension gone; you're behind on your house mortgage -- the only tangible thing you've got. Others may not see things quite that bleakly, but others are not you. You can't look out from their eyes, only your own. At 44, and 5,000 miles away from being able to sit down with anyone to try to work things out, you find yourself in a world and a life where nothing makes sense. The hamster wheel is whirling ever faster, and all you do is go 'round, and 'round, and 'round, and can't get off. Three tours now. How many more? Death and destruction and unrelenting heat and unrelenting fear are the painted scenes outside the cage. You can't get out. You can't even find the door, don't know where it is. It's crazy. Everything is.
You think crazy thoughts, and sometimes you do crazy things -- tie a comrade's boot laces together, short-sheet his bunk, toss a live grenade into an officer's tent, take an assault weapon to a stress clinic and shoot as many GIs as you can. Maybe, just maybe, someone will do you a favor . . . shoot you first; stop the craziness, stop the dizzying wheel from spinning, let you catch your breath, even as your breathing ends.
We can't slip from under this one. Every single one of us pulled the trigger that ended those five lives. Sgt. Russell only held the weapon, but we pulled the trigger. Or, what? We thought that putting human beings in an endless circle of hell could be sanitized, if only we could layer over enough of the insanity? While we sat in our office cubicles, or strolled the mall, or fought with our spouses, they . . . But then, we called them "heroes," as if that made them different, supposedly stronger than the rest of us. Please, do NOT call them heroes; that only objectifies, dehumanizes sentient beings. And, as with you and me, they break.
According to Army records, the branch experienced 140 "confirmed suicides" last year. But, hey -- summer is just around the corner. The kids will be out of school. Time to start making plans. Hmmm . . . How about Disneyland? We've already been to the shooting gallery.
A last parting thought. There is a sort of connection. In 1973, Carol Burnett comedienne Vicky Lawrence released "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia." The ballad reached Number 1 on Billboard's country charts. It tells of a man wrongly convicted and hanged by a judge and jury more interested in convenience than its obverse. Among the lyrics are:
The judge said 'Guilty!' in a make believe trial,
Slapped the sheriff on the back with a smile,
Said, "Supper's waitin' at home and I gotta get to it."
The trial was more an obligatory, pro forma charade than it was anything genuine. Those of us who thumped our patriotic chests, put looped-ribbon "Support the Troops" decals on our autos, flew the American flags from our porches, and on and on -- are no different from the judge in the ballad. We sent a man, we sent thousands of men -- women too -- somewhere the rest of us did not want to go, to do things we didn't want to do. Then we sent them back. Again. And again. Like when you bend a paperclip back and forth enough times, it's gonna break. As to the breakage -- we're like that Georgia judge who, with "supper's waitin," don't spend a moment pondering what we've done, the evil we've abided.
Yeah, how about that Disneyland?