Numbed by War
The pain that crippled one Marine cripples all of us.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Adrian Jimenez accepts his cruel fate with a shrug. Reading his story, that is what’s most troubling. At 22, he is too world-weary to feel even a little bit sorry for himself. It’s as if he doesn’t believe he deserves any better than the sequence of horrors that he lived through while serving in Iraq.
At 19, he found himself in a war zone, the leader of a fire team, responsible for the lives of several men. He saw his best friend shot through the head. Another friend was killed in a car bombing. His squad was implicated in a massacre of civilians. When the violence finally got to him, and he snapped and started drinking, the Marine Corps cut him loose. Back home in Salinas, he found nothing but trouble.
In the face of all of this, Jimenez appears unfazed. Practically abandoned by the leaders he followed into battle, he expresses no anger. Facing an uncertain future, with a pregnant girlfriend, he exhibits no fear. His recent attempts to get himself healed show a great deal of courage, but he does not seem to feel much pride.
t’s just more bad news.Our outrage fades as the outrageous becomes more commonplace.
Emotional numbness is a war wound—a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. This is how human beings respond to profound distress. It’s probably a survival mechanism. We are not wired to handle an infinite amount of misery; at some point we shut down. Tens of thousands of soldiers who’ve returned from Iraq are afflicted with this inability to feel their feelings.
Tens of thousands of others have lost arms and legs, half of their faces, the ability to speak—witnessing such casualties, it’s impossible not to feel sick and sad. Adrian Jimenez’ battle scars are not as obvious; nevertheless, it’s hard to look at his buried pain without feeling deep remorse.
There is also something eerily familiar about this soldier’s affected indifference. His story can serve as a reminder that this war is hurting us all. None of us are immune to the violence he confronted on the front lines, which left his spirit numb. We find ourselves today living in a world where violence is so rampant we just accept it. After reading Jimenez’ story this week, I saw it everywhere I looked, and I found myself thinking that emotional numbness has become epidemic.
~ ~ ~
For those of us who are insulated from the fury of the war zone, and lucky enough to still be able to feel fear and dismay, this was a bad week to read the news. It was a week dominated by disturbing events.
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice traveled to Eastern Europe, pushing a plan for a missile defense system, belligerently ignoring concerns that such a plan could threaten a fragile peace, and fueling fears that the US seeks military dominance.
Meanwhile, President George Bush created a new high-level position, which he pointedly declined to call a “war czar” although that is what everyone else in the world is calling it. The move reportedly came at the recommendation of the stridently militaristic Vice President Dick Cheney, who gleefully boasted that the new war czar would be empowered to “run roughshod” over other (presumably less-hawkish) military leaders.
Finally this week, the trial of Jose Padilla opened, five years after the alleged terrorist was arrested and accused of hatching a plot to plant a “dirty bomb” on US soil. For three of those years, Padilla had been held in solitary confinement with no access to legal representation, in violation of US and international law. The actual charges against Padilla contain no mention of a dirty bomb.
And throughout the week, thousands of US troops swarmed through neighborhoods in a place called “the triangle of death,” engaged in an aggressive house-to-house search for three kidnapped American soldiers. The effort is of course understandable—these men can’t be abandoned—and yet it is no doubt feeding the resentment of Iraqi civilians whose homes are being invaded. Resolution of this war seems more remote than ever.
Watching as these stories unfold, we can do little more than shrug. It’s just more bad news. So we grow more and more insensitive. Our outrage fades as the outrageous becomes more commonplace. Confronted by too many opportunities to experience pain and sorrow, our emotions simply turn off.
~ ~ ~
Adrian Jimenez is on the road to recovery. With the support of his family, his community and his brothers-in-arms, he has made a commitment to heal himself. His story ends on a hopeful note—reading about his plans for the future, we can’t help but sense that hope.
When he begins to open up again, he will probably feel a lot of pain. If he can push through it, with a little luck, someday he’ll be able to face the world and experience its joys and its tragedies. That’s a hard path, and it’s one we all, in our own way, need to walk.