On May 30, 1962, a modern musical masterpiece premiered in England ’s newest cathedral, built next to the remains of the cathedral that was destroyed when the Nazis bombed Coventry . Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” combines two choirs, two orchestras, three vocal soloists, and the Latin religious funeral text with English poetry. In the final section, the words “Let us sleep now” are slurred over and around the Latin “In paradisum,” in a swirling wash of diatonic sonority, as more staves are added while instrumental and vocal groups softly divide and subdivide, each in its own direction. For anyone unfamiliar with reading an orchestral score, this is virtually impossible to follow. It does not matter. There is no longer anyone for the conductor to cue, nor is one musical line more important than the other. Dozens of meandering phrases are sung and played with essentially the same seven notes, as melody and harmony, English and Latin, become static. The listener may not be aware, but as in every other part of this astounding work, Britten is saying something powerful and direct. Having been schooled in every aspect of the Western musical tradition, as well as being an ardent pacifist, Britten knew exactly what this sort of music would express: Where there is no harmonic motion, musical direction, nor any definitive thematic statement, there can be no resolution. The music may safely remain in a particular key, but having never left the tonic to venture into any related or secondary harmonies, there is no way of telling for certain where the starting point is, nor where the ending point should be. If you think that the “pastoral” finale of this mass for the war dead refers to some sort of serenity after the tumult that went before, you’d be wrong. In so many ways, you’d be dead wrong. This is no peaceful slumber.
According to an article this past  Memorial Day in The Washington Post, the names of military men who commit suicide as a result of the trauma with which they suffer are not being listed on newly-constructed memorials to the ongoing War on Certain Kinds of Terror. The surviving families are quite understandably upset. There is another aspect of this story that is telling:
“Mary Clare Lindberg’s son, Army Sgt. Benjamin Jon Miller, was home in Minnesota on leave [emphasis mine] from Iraq in June when he shot and killed himself…
“Connie Scott, whose son, Pvt. 1st Class Brian M. Williams, also killed himself while home on leave from Iraq… took his life by carbon monoxide poisoning the day before he was to return to Iraq [emphasis mine]…”
These men would rather die than continue fighting for the “liberation” of the Middle East . Could the threat of redeployment conceivably be a contributing factor? What’s so horrible about returning to a disintegrated country filled with men that want you dead? Unfortunately, once a suicidal man has succeeded, he can’t tell you the reasons why he did it, although it seems pretty obvious to me. According to this article (among other sources I have read in the last several months), military suicides are increasing.
I empathize with parents who have lost military children to this war. I cannot comprehend the grief. It is understandable that seeing a son’s name on a plaque would offer some comfort to the living. I, too, am disgusted with the military’s inability to acknowledge, even in this trifling fashion, the horrific sacrifice its warmongering has brought about. But in the end, these suicides speak of the greater evil of war itself, of the lies of numerous presidential administrations and the Beast they serve, and of the agonizing truth that names on a memorial do not even begin to compensate for what has been lost when a single man is killed, moreover when that man kills himself.
Each of these suicides takes from this world a wealth of experience that could have and should have been shared for decades to come. These men are trying, out of fear and incomprehensible suffering, to escape their own worldview, one that is custom-tailored to each man alone. No matter how much homogenization they underwent through nationalized, regulated, corporate/popular culture, sustained by an insidious government schooling system and a complacent media establishment, they can never be denied their separateness from one another. Each of these men dies a unique individual. I firmly believe that such uniqueness continues after this life. In what way, I have no idea. But if it all does indeed end at death, then the deliberate taking of a single life is doubly terrible, even incalculable. Worst of all, it is obvious, given the circumstances surrounding the suicides happening in the military, that these men who take their own lives are dying while still mired in oppression of mind and spirit. They are crying out, “Let us sleep now.” I can guarantee that not a single man who takes his own life in this manner ever knows what freedom really is, nor do any of them know how to be free.
You cannot be free by obeying the rules. You cannot be free by waiting for someone to rescue you. You cannot be free simply by hoping for a brighter day tomorrow. Freedom comes from within. It does not come from without. It does not come from a charismatic leader. It does not come with a set of instructions. It does not come from being raised with doses of discipline and dogma. It does not come from being given your freedom only after you prove yourself to your parents, teachers, pastors, or other authority figures. It does not come from any God who demands obedience before He promises blessings (or threatens curses). It does not come from delineated rights. It does not come from The Constitution. It is you from whom freedom springs. It is you in whom freedom thrives. No one gave it to you. Like Dorothy and her ruby slippers, your way home was with you all the time. You just didn’t realize it. Do you understand? You are freedom. Contrary to that tiresome cliché, freedom is free.
You are free when you join the military. You are free if and/or when you are drafted. You are free when they put a gun in your hand and bark an order. You are free to say, “No.” Even when you are certain that you aren’t, you are free to deal with it internally any way that you wish. If you are falsely imprisoned for rightfully resisting, you are still free. As the example of Viktor Frankl shows us, freedom can exist even within a death camp.
There is an incomparable German film that came out a few years ago, about freedom. I’ve mentioned it before, and I believe that I first heard about it from this website. In “The Lives of Others,” there are three characters that exhibit the consequences of knowing or not knowing this essential truth. (WARNING: If you haven’t seen it, the following paragraph contains spoilers.)
The film centers on a playwright who is enlisted by dissidents to surreptitiously write a report on East Germany ’s disproportionately high suicide rate, an exposé that will hopefully be broadcast on television before the government can prevent it. The playwright agrees to the plan, knowing that he is free in his heart, but not knowing that his apartment has been bugged by the Stasi (the East German secret police). His girlfriend, who supports him but does not know this freedom, relents when pressured by the government, and confesses all she knows about the plot. Lastly, the main character of the film, a member of the Stasi, undergoes a remarkable and very moving transformation, having discovered this freedom for his self, and joins in the quest without the knowledge of any of the other people involved. He and the playwright are able to move on after events unfold in the Soviet bloc of the 1980s (in perhaps the most satisfying dénouement in cinematic history). The playwright’s girlfriend, however, gives in to the despair brought about by oppression, suffered in the absence, and ignorance, of freedom.
The men in this Memorial Day article, like the fictitious playwright’s girlfriend, died without knowing this freedom. For them, it is too late to send the message out. Those of us who know freedom from the inside have a tremendous responsibility to tell everyone who is still living. I do so here.
If you are reading this and you are in the military, I say to you now: Suicide will not make you free, nor will it release you from the pain. If suicide was freedom or a workable way around “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” then we are all fools for making the effort to live. I cannot and will not condemn anyone who takes this rash action. But it has to stop. You must not do this thing. You must not kill. You must turn from violence. You are not here to be obedient. You are not here to have someone else take charge of your education. You are not here to simply be entertained. You will not find solace in lobbying the government, or in taking part in Leviathan’s evil to any extent. I can’t tell you to give up your commission outright, but from within the cage compelled upon you, you should be able to see through the bars and think for yourself. Plan out what you can do. Open up to others (if only online) to help you with your freedom plan. You can find your own way to quietly, peacefully walk away from the table government has set. This is a far better choice than running from the problems of your life, whether self-inflicted or not. It’s a hell-of-a-lot better than killing yourself.
If you are actually contemplating suicide, this article, written by a confirmed doofus, will certainly not help much. My effort is meant to help you go elsewhere to the get the help you really need. If you would like an online resource to start with, I highly recommend you try Alice Miller’s website. I know virtually nothing about post-traumatic stress disorder, but I do know something about confronting childhood pain and oppression, and if you grew up in the society I did, you had plenty of it. Unknowingly, your parents engaged in a form of abuse if they sent you to government schools to be educated. Indeed, if they sent you to any school at all against your will, they did you a disservice. The learning process for children is a natural one, and ought not to be tampered with. That is where your intimate knowledge of oppression began. I can assure you of that much.
Your parents most likely raised you to be obedient, with subtle or blatant threats, emotional manipulation, or actual violence if you did not comply. Much of what happened to you probably did not feel like abuse, because it is widespread. When all parents treat their children with such contempt, it appears normal. Worst of all, if you’re a military man, then you’re probably much more of a he-man than I am. Listening to a professional weakling like me tell you that bad parenting is to blame for suicidal thoughts that are directly linked to unspeakable wartime memories, is probably a bit of a stretch for you. That’s understandable. A bomb is far louder and more physically dangerous than a screaming parent.
You must understand, however, that your decision to join the military did not come to you out of thin air, nor does it come from a good place. It comes from years of being lied to by government, government schools, military recruiters, and heavily-regulated “private” media outlets. This war is a lie from the start. There will be more lies, and more wars, to come.
An education in freedom will take time. When I first started, I scoffed at some of the ideas with which I was confronted. I eventually embraced them all. You will follow a logical path that will eventually lead you to the same open air I am now breathing. But killing yourself out of fear or psychological pain will end your journey. I shudder to think what waits for you on the other side, if anything at all. At the very least, you ought to give yourself the chance to follow some of the above links and determine for yourself whether I’m full of shit, before you finally decide to do it.
Lastly, you may come to a realization that you were never given the unconditional love that children require for survival. This still does not justify taking your own life. You are capable, now that you are a grown man, of building your own life, and receiving what love is available. Wait for it. You can find it. It can come to you. You can increase it once you experience it. You will feel more of it when you truly experience freedom in your heart. But you cannot have this love without truth, and truth, like love, is inseparable from freedom. Let the truth make you angry. When I contemplate the number of lies I believed for decades, and how well-meaning people participated in the furtherance of untruth, I get plenty upset. Anger is okay, when you know how to deal with it.
Do not be afraid of the stigma of seeking help. It’s not unmanly. It may also lead to decades more of freedom. The other way out will never lead there. You can sleep later. For now, live and be free.
This article was originally published at “Strike The Root” on June 4, 2009. It has been reprinted here with permission.