Military ethicist indicted Gen. Petraeus in suicide note
New evidence has come to light about the suicide of Col. Ted Westhusing a military ethicist who committed suicide in Iraq in 2005, asserting that he would rather die than dishonor himself any further in a profit-driven war:
Now, a new article reveals -- based on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act -- that Westhusing's apparent suicide note included claims that his two commanders tolerated a mission based on "corruption, human right abuses and liars." One of those commanders: the new leader of the "surge" campaign in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus. [E&P]
Robert Bryce of the Texas Observer obtained Westhusing's suicide note which reads:
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.
COL Ted Westhusing
Life needs trust. Trust is no more for me here in Iraq.
Bryce confirms earlier reports Westhusing was particularly distraught by the corruption of the private military contractors.
Here's what I wrote in 2005 about Westhusing's death:
Military ethicist Col. Ted Westhusing, 44, committed suicide in Iraq earlier this year. He was apparently distraught over allegations that American contractors under his supervision committed human rights abuses.
Westhusing held a doctorate in philosophy. He wrote his dissertation on military honor.
In the months before his death Westhusing had been locked in a bitter struggle between his superiors and military contractors. He suspected the contractors of gouging the government and abusing Iraqis, but his superiors were unwilling to take action.
In his suicide note, Westhusing concluded that there was no place for honor in a conflict like Iraq because profit had eclipsed duty.
"I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied," the note says. "I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored.
"Death before being dishonored any more."
The military psychologist who helped investigate Westhusing's suicide or less proved his point about profit-driven war:
She said that Westhusing had placed too much pressure on himself to succeed and that he was unusually rigid in his thinking. Westhusing struggled with the idea that monetary values could outweigh moral ones in war. This, she said, was a flaw.
"Despite his intelligence, his ability to grasp the idea that profit is an important goal for people working in the private sector was surprisingly limited," wrote Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach. "He could not shift his mind-set from the military notion of completing a mission irrespective of cost, nor could he change his belief that doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do should be the sole motivator for businesses." [LAT]
Is it wrong of me to regard Westhusing as something of a heroic figure? I don't believe that he was dishonored by his service. On the contrary, he went with all the best intentions as a soldier and a scholar; and he did his best in an impossible situation.
Westhusing took his life only a month before he was scheduled to go home. As a high ranking dissident officer, he could become an influential critic of the war. Why did he think that death was the only way to restore his honor? Maybe depression clouded his judgment or made him feel so hopeless that he couldn't envision anything constructive endeavor. Maybe Westhusing saw his suicide as the only kind of protest he could bear to make.
Westhusing wrote his doctoral dissertation on military honor. I would be curious to know whether the view of military honor that he argued for in his thesis would be compatible with suicide before dishonor.
The idea of suicide as a way to restore honor strikes me as a bit of magical thinking. What's so special about death? If you die, you can't make any further amends for your shortcomings.
Yet, I'm awed by someone who took his ethics so seriously he was willing to die rather than live in what he considered to be a dishonored state.