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The earwig and soldier suicide

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The earwig and soldier suicide

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The Night Gallery was Rod Serling's 1970 follow up to his highly acclaimed Twilight Zone television series that ran from 1959 to 1964. One Gallery episode in particular reached extraordinarily creepy heights for sheer terror: "The Caterpillar." (As the story involves an earwig, rather than a caterpillar, I've no clue concerning the title's intent.)

Those who may not be familiar with the insect are directed to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earwig, where a full description and photographs await. According to the article, they can grow from about two inches to nearly ten, although I've never seen any much more than one inch in length. The male of the species features two long, shiny, caliper-like curved pincers just aft of the abdomen that approximate one-third of the critter's length.

In the episode, a lustful suitor after a Borneo tobacco plantation owner's wife happens on a means to eliminate the husband: hire a team of hit-men to insert an earwig into the husband's ear while he's asleep. (Actually the old mythological source of dermaptera's common name.). Once past the outer ear, the creature gnarls past the eardrum, ultimately reaching the brain, where it begins to feed; a most extremely ghastly, excruciating way to die.

But in the twist that was iconic of Serling's tales, the very much in love husband and wife conspire with the assassins to make a slight error. When the ill-intentioned suitor is at breakfast the following morning he senses an itch just inside his ear. After dabbing the area with a handkerchief, in the process of folding the cloth he notices blood. "Oh NO! They went to the wrong room," he shouts. "It's in MY ear."

Both the husband and wife then approach the fellow. He will want to die, to be executed, to suffer almost any demise to save himself from the lengthy, tortuous route he will be forced to endure en route to a death the medical profession has no means to circumvent. They advise him that he will not be sent to the gallows in England or in Borneo, or anywhere else. Nor will he even be arrested. Furthermore, the earwig that was inserted in his ear was pulled out and crushed underfoot by the doctor the couple had summoned, as opposed to a male, was an egg-carrying female. His fate as host to thousands of tiny earwigs who will be taking their nourishment from his brain has been sealed.


Ask Michael Vick. We have laws against the inhumane treatment of dogs. But none protecting the soldiers and marines who have volunteered to protect us.

Again and again and again they are sent to regions that, for climatic discomfort alone, the overwhelming majority of Americans would avoid at all costs. They are sent -- again and again and again -- to commit the most uncivil acts and to be repeated witness to things that almost none of us would dare imagine. For our level of callousness, it's safe to presume that most Americans look upon the combat theater as some sort of X-Box video game, and upon being wounded the way we would suffering a slight cut, or a broken bone, at the most.

Our legislators make speeches focusing on "Our brave men and women in uniform." They are called "heroes." And supposedly thereby the score is made even, and whatever debt might have been owed to them has been "paid-in-full." Much along the lines of Vickie Lawrence's 1973 hit, "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," "The judge said 'guilty' in a make believe trial, slapped the sheriff on the back with a smile and said 'Supper's waiting at home and I got to get to it.'"

With two wars raging, the Republicans, at the Bush administration's urging, in 2003, began kicking non-combat and combat veterans out of the VA medical system. If family income exceeded $29,000 the vets were on their own. So much for honoring. There was a way to save chump change and the GOP and the administration salivated over it.

The going insane that was the horror of that earwig episode? Living with nightmares that come in the middle of the day, nightmares with crystalline high def clarity and Dolby surround sound that blares and that cannot be turned off or turned down . . .. Dead and mutilated bodies. Bodies of little kids and old women and of comrades . . . And the gnawing that's inside the brain just keeps on gnawing.

At the beginning of this I cited a Salon article, "Camp Lejune whistle blower fired." It tells of two Marines who predicted to a camp psychiatrist that some were going to come back from the war and "lose it." "One of these guys is liable to come back with a loaded weapon and open fire."

Soldiers and Marines were returning after repeated deployments and were being dumped. The doctor to whom the Marines offered their prediction, Dr. Kernan Manion, checked on the situation the two had reported and concluded their's was an accurate representation, with forecastable consequences. And when Manion reported his concerns to his contractor employer, NiteLine Kuhana LLC, he was fired.

Army Major, Dr. Nidal Hasan, a psychiatrist whose specialty was PTSD, was ostensibly sent to Ft. Hood in Texas because the post was acutely short of qualified psychiatrists. (That the major had separate issues and that he may have actually been sent, in order to become lost amidst the hugeness of Ft. Hood, is not an issue I'm addressing.) Although both the Army and the Marine Corps have requested an upgrade in the number of their psychiatric staffing, neither branch has yet been able to fill what is becoming a veritable bottomless pit. On every military post and surrounding community that receives returning combat personnel violence is proving a contagion immune to standard care. Suicides are at never before experienced rates. Nighttime squabbles between spouses and significant others pierce the air. Spousal abuse -- physical and emotional -- is daily de rigeur, and both on and off post civil authorities are preparing, then serving requests for protective orders the way Mac Donald's serves fries. Arrests records for public intoxication and for the private abuse of illegal substances fill police files. Robberies are up. Assaults are up. Murder is up.


And now President Obama is weighing whether to send more combat troops to Afghanistan, to "win" something, though specifically what has never been detailed. Regardless, we do know what and who will do the losing. And why.

Where will these soldiers and marines come from. Iraq? Some quick turn-around of those who just a short time ago returned from tours in Iraq and/or Afghanistan?

If he does, and if we stand idly by, saying nothing to anyone lest we dampen the holiday spirits of those around us, we will be the ones inserting the earwig into their ears. Whatever violence a returning combat veteran may visit upon anyone, possibly including one of us or one of our kids or one of our parents, will be of our own doing. We will have no one to blame but ourselves.

We regard dogs more highly than we do our soldiers and marines. They deserve better.

-- Ed Tubbs
Palm Springs


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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."

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