Psychiatric Errors in Judgment


Minna vander Pfaltz

In a commentary in The Psychiatric Times by AR Greenburg, MD, “Delayed Suicides of the ‘The Forgotten Battalion’,” he makes numerous errors in judgment and, even, of psychiatric assessment. Including the ridiculous, “at home, they enjoyed satisfying family and social lives, good jobs, and excellent educational prospects.” This comes after noting that all of these listed items were problems from the moment they landed; and it comes in the face of reality. Especially that this author–and by extension other psychiatric practitioners–has not read much that’s been written outside of medical journals, as if such were not worthy. He should have tried Vanity Fair: William Langewiesche, “How One U.S. Soldier Blew the Whistle on a Cold-Blooded War Crime.” Well, Vanity Fair is only about fashion and vanity, no? But Dr. Greenburg has not read Joseph Campbell or Otto Rank or–here comes the vanity!–Jimsecor’s own A Note Upon Returning, which is available online.

But it is not Dr. Greenburg’s utter ignorance of the socio-cultural world that awaits any returnee, military or not; as psychiatrists ignore the socio-cultural world their patients live in and must deal with. Not so surprising: RD Liang noted that psychiatrists don’t listen to the insane because, well, their world is “made up” and they are, uhhh, insane. What have they got to say that’s worthy, eh? Their experience, Dr. Greenburg, their experience. They are living it. You are not. You even deny their experience.

No. My comment on Dr. Greenburg’s self-important judgment resides in the first paragraph of his commentary:

In 2008, the Second Battalion of the Seventh Marine Regiment was deployed to root out an entrenched Taliban occupation of mountainous territory in Afghanistan. The environment was unremittingly harsh; enemy resistance implacably fierce. Combat conditions couldn’t have been more unfavorable from every strategic and logistic perspective. The battalion was strung out in small outposts like the frontier forts and outposts of the Old West Indian wars. Viable connecting roads were virtually absent. The Marines endured daily attacks on their positions as well as close engagements with the Taliban in nearby villages.

Dr. Greenburg’s implied assessment of this situation is that the US Marines were right and the people who lived there were wrong. It is this assumption that I find putrid.

How can people who live somewhere be wrong in defending themselves against invasion?

Answer: they can’t.

And the Marines should have expected this as they, themselves, would protect their own turf. The insurgents, the threats to American security, were none such. Those people were protecting their own life, their own ground. It is the Marines, America, who invaded the land. It is the Marines who are the insurgents. It is the Marines who are threatening the people’s security. Yet, it is the Marines are a passive military force filled to the brim with the necessary propaganda that makes it okay for them to kill and mutilate and engage in inhuman behavior. As they are “a few good men,” they would not cotton to such an assessment. However, it is truthful. A predecessor of Dr. Greenburg’s, Erich Fromm, would have the same opinion Jimsecor and I have, albeit not as caustic.

The Marines were (are?) engaging in the story of the British in South Africa dealing with the slaves: punish all for the one until the one breaks for freedom and then shoot him or let him become the object of everyone else’s anger at being punished for his infraction. In American society, we do this all the time in the name of justice: we punish everyone for the sins and infringements of one or two, of the few. This is a violation of the Constitution and all manner of Freedom: all are guilty. You must prove your innocence and, even if you do, nothing will change. . .because the bad guys are still out there in your midst.

They will ever be within or amidst.

Which is why guerrilla warfare is almost always successful and invites making everyone pay for the few, regardless of whether the many support or agree with the few. More likely, they do. But not everyone is a hero; not everyone is a fighter.

America has fucked up the entire Middle East. America has made us hated. And, more to the point, America doesn’t give a fuck.

Which is why America, even down to the smallest unit, the family, doesn’t give a damn about its returning soldiers. Thank you for protecting us, serving the US, is not enough. Thank you for your legs and arms and PTSD. Put a bandaid over the gaping hole and wonder why they continue to bleed, wonder why they take the suicide way out. No one who has not suffered to the point of death could understand.

Life is not easy. Everything around you is new and unusual. Everywhere you go, you are inappropriate. How do you let go of the long lived fact that everyone around you is an enemy? Where the hell are your buddies, the people you depended on for life and liberty?

There is no one to talk to. And no one wants you around, for adjustment to–re-acculturation to American life is so damned difficult and you’re so outré. They–anyone who has been living abroad for a long time–are foreigners, they are not American any more. How much more so when you’ve been out killing people and defending yourself against those who want to kill you? And you see the same slaughter that you saw abroad, though people call it isolated and insane and, thus, play the denial game: mass murders. How do you live the good life when all around you are not only people who don’t care but people who are killing, killing, killing and demanding that this, via a perverted interpretation of an Amendment, is a right? Who the hell are they defending themselves against?

It’s just possible these soldiers, who are instruments of government/national intrigue and conquest, did not suffer from PTSD until after they returned to the America they thought was right and mete and would be their safety net. They are all considered heroes even though they did nothing other than protect themselves, aggressively or not. Heroes are not often welcome upon their return (cf. Joseph Campbell and fairy tales).

Psychiatrists don’t listen–hell! they don’t listen to themselves! As evidence, AR Greenburg, MD. Priests don’t listen. Families don’t listen. Friends don’t listen. America doesn’t listen. It’s too busy running after one or another of pablum offered to assuage lost self, lost identity.

A Note on Returning


James L. Secor

After years of travel, wandering in foreign lands, I returned to

My home—or so it was called, this place I grew in, and left for adventure,

But, in fact, was not my home, not a real home, this place I recognized

Showing little change for the years passed but now an effaced place of people living

In cells, cocoons isolated and without touch from other cocoons

Without touch—had touch been reduced to a sin, a perversion, human

Made to be inhuman?

True, a face was on it, all pasted on as

Hollywood, political smiles are, the stuff of cartoons, eyes dead in

Faces of plastic doll heads blurting sound bites of recognized syllables, but

All empty words divorced of any emotion, devoid of sentiment.

So misleading, hearing I behaved, as social, civilized man might and

Became an inappropriate one, my conduct that of a foreigner, lost in

My own land that truly was not my land, or my country, not my home,

Home being a place of welcome and warmth and support, with

Family and friends, but now no more than Odysseus’ isle of coldness and

Treachery calculated and so, fit only for a battle, a battle

I am too old to fight, too old to withstand the volcanic hatred

And killing, for surely some must cease breathing for life to once more break ground.

So I knew why, with more conviction than when I began my return,

I felt that I did not wish to come back to this, my country—a lost place

With no connection to me or anyone else. I knew there was nothing,

No life, no soul, no waiting arms open and welcoming, like the place

I had grown to love, with family and friends and support for a life

Far from the abuse and oppression of the people who called me their own

Only to find nothing had changed but everything had worsened and I

Was wanted less than I was before.


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