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A Review/Essay

LOSING TIM: A Mother Unravels Her Military Son's Suicide

This kind of profit-focused, corporate dishonesty and lawyerly manipulation is, in fact, the real problem. The Iraq War was a great shining moment for corporate/finance war profiteers like Dick Cheney. Military tasks were privatized, which meant they became morally unaccountable profit centers that fell outside the public radar. Privatized war employees were/are, it’s true, well paid, but more important they became unseen and expendable. In such a cold-blooded, bottom-line oriented world, an employee’s PTSD diagnosis becomes something for lawyers to argue ad-nauseum into meaninglessness.

What Tim Eysselinck suffered from is called a “moral wound” that, in his case, ended up being fatal. Take a highly moral, idealistic young man with dreams of doing good in the world and set him down in a moral cesspool of corruption like the Iraq Occupation under Henry Kissinger protégé Paul Bremer and you have all the ingredients for a festering psychic wound. In Tim’s case, in a moment of family stress and weakness, he snapped.

In her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein writes about “disaster capitalism.” She traces her idea to the thinking of conservative economist Milton Friedman, who wrote, “only a crisis -- actual or perceived -- produces real change.” The most natural and logical extension of this thinking is, if there is no crisis to catalyze the change you want, you induce a crisis. In Iraq, “shock and awe” threw that small nation into a state of shock. Even the Viet Minh when they beat the French kept the French governing structures in place. Instead, the Bremer gang absolutely dissolved the existing Bath Party political structure and disbanded the entire Iraq army. It’s akin to the basic training idea of breaking a young man down completely, then building him back up as you want him to be. “Next came the radical economic shock therapy,” Klein writes, “imposed while the country was still in flames.” This shock therapy was unfolding in late 2003, early 2004, the point Tim was wrestling with disillusion.

In an introduction to Losing Tim, Jonathon Shay, author of Achilles in Vietnam, writes, “Moral injury occurs when there is a betrayal of what’s right in a high stakes situation by someone in legitimate authority.” (Italics in original) That’s the Iraq War in a nutshell, though with the 2000 election we might quibble over the adjective “legitimate.” Dishonest leadership inexorably leads to moral casualties, especially in a context where leadership has so cynically unleashed the dogs of war. I submit the only way a young man like Tim Eysselinck could have avoided his fateful disillusion is if he had been more of a sociopath, in which case he might have thrived.

The power of Burroway’s spare memoir is in her determination not to indulge in hand-wringing pathos or to worship the idea of the fallen “warrior.” Her grief is of the order found in Greek tragedy. And like all classic tragedy, the final tragic act hinges on decisions made by the protagonist. Whether seen as a thought-out conscious act or as an irrational momentary impulse -- in Tim’s case it’s impossible to be certain -- shooting himself was Tim’s decision based on a complex and ambiguous web of factors. Burroway does her best to peel back these layers of the onion. Like the good imaginative writer she is, she even envisions Tim having too-late second thoughts in the final milliseconds of his act.

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