Shakespeare on Despair

is it sin To rush into the secret house of death, Ere death dare come to us? The suicide of Seneva & his wife Paulina “…is it sin
To rush into the secret house of death,
Ere death dare come to us?

(Antony and Cleopatra, act 4)

According to current statistics 22 US Veterans commit suicide daily!  Recently, the New York Times published the suicide note of Daniel Somers, a 30-year-old war veteran from Phoenix, Arizona who shot himself in the head on June 10, 2013 four years after the end of his second deployment in Iraq.

Somers is a casualty of an American war machine that has claimed the lives of over one million people just in the last ten years. His farewell note is an indictment of the recent administrations and of their wars of aggression – devastating the lives of thousands of soldiers, ordered to commit unconscionable war crimes.

Somers says, “The simple truth is this, during my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity. Though I did not participate willingly, and made what I thought was my best effort to stop these events, there are some things that a person simply cannot come back from… to move on in life after being part of such a thing would be the mark of a sociopath in my mind. These things go far beyond what most are even aware of.

… To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing cover-up is more than any government has the right to demand. Then, the same government has turned around and abandoned me. They offer no help and actively block the pursuit of gaining outside help… Any blame rests with them.”

“It leaves us where all we have to look forward to is constant pain, misery, poverty and dishonor. I assure you that, when the numbers do finally drop, it will merely be because those who were pushed the farthest are all already dead.

“And for what? Bush’s religious lunacy? Cheney’s ever-growing fortune and that of his corporate friends? Is this what we destroy lives for?”

“My body has become nothing but a cage, a source of pain and constant problems. The illness I have has caused me pain that not even the strongest medicines could dull, and there is no cure. All day, every day a screaming agony in every nerve ending in my body. It is nothing short of torture. My body is a wasteland, filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety, even with all of the medications the doctors dare give.

Simple things that everyone else takes for granted are nearly impossible for me. I cannot laugh or cry. I can barely leave the house. I derive no pleasure from any activity. Everything simply comes down to passing time until I can sleep again. Now, to sleep forever seems to be the most merciful thing… I have nothing left. Too trapped in a war to be at peace, too damaged to be at war.”

As for the last sentence, the second part means that Somers feels impotent to fight a war against a system that reduced him to his conditions.

There is a connecting thread between the content of Daniel Somers’ suicide note and what drove Private Bradley Manning to turn over documents detailing US war crimes to WikiLeaks  – at the cost of more than one year in solitary confinement and a sentence of 35 years in prison, at the end of a classic in kangaroo trials.

The same thread links Somers’ message to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden who risked life and career to reveal the existence of a vast and illegal international spying system run by the US government and its allies.

The corporate media did not deem Somers’ suicide and his note worthy of attention. There is however an organization called “Tragedy Assistance for Survivors (TAPS)” – a name and acronym that could have been invented by George Orwell. For the simple reason that corporate CEOs, defense industry executives, Wall Street bankers, high-ranking military officers and ex-senators constitute TAPS’ board of directors.

Its chairman, John Wood, is a former investment banker and current CEO of Telos Corporation, a defense-contracting firm that provides the Pentagon with network security consulting assistance. Its vice chairman, Charlotte Tsoucalas, is a former Pentagon attorney and lobbyist, and currently the director of the Washington DC office of TriWest Healthcare Alliance, a company that oversees health benefits for nearly 3 million veterans. The list is long and it is almost a who-is-who of the military-industrial establishment.

TAPS tried to limit the coverage of Somers’ death on the ground that the suicide note might drive other veterans to kill themselves. In fluent Orwellianese TAPS wrote,

“While the note highlights important issues, portions of the note may also pose risks to vulnerable people who may be struggling with mental health fitness or post-traumatic stress … the risk should be minimized in accordance with safe messaging guidelines.”

This organization has sought to prevent Somers’s note from reaching wider sections of the population because it is an unanswerable indictment of the US government, the Armed Forces and the American ruling class.

And just as the wars are waged to make the world “safe for democracy”, preventing Somers’ note to gain national attention would “save lives”.

Clearly, Somers felt unbearable guilt for having been a witness and a reluctant participant in the destruction of an entire nation and the murder of large numbers of its people. He was also a husband, a musician and a man who felt sympathy for the Iraqi victims of the war.

In the circumstances, the words of US Army Maj. General Dana Pittard, on the subject of the hundreds of veterans who committed suicide, do not need any comment.

“I have now come to the conclusion that suicide is an absolutely selfish act… I am personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess. Be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us.”

“Like the rest of us….” my foot. The “rest of us” do not kill people by the hundreds of thousands to steal the resources of their nation. Nor do we pulverize people with drones. Or gun down civilians in a square of Baghdad laughingly shouting, “Kill those bastards.”

On the other hand, Pittard openly expresses the criminal outlook that pervades the American political and military executioners.

In the Play.    Cleopatra talks to her ladies in waiting after Antony just died and prior to her poisoning herself with an aspid. ‘Ere’=’Before’.

Image Source (the suicide of Seneca & Paulina)
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/52/Woodcut_illustration_of_the_suicide_of_Seneca_and_the_attempted_suicide_of_his_wife_Pompeia_Paulina_-_Penn_Provenance_Project.jpg

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  • Thank you, Jimmie, for reminding us of this. Shakespeare knew about this topic but what would he say today? “The travesty of war is very strained.” Can anyone help these veterans who have given their life’s blood for the world’s sake? They are the pawns in the Chess game where King and Queen survive to the end. Let their stories unfold and their healing begin. What can I do? I know, “Lend a veteran my ear.”