Saturday, April 21, 2007

a nation on edge

On Thursday evening I was working out at the gym on campus when a student worker informed me that the building was being evacuated. No one had any information about what was going on, nor did anyone tell me where I should go. I collected my belongings from the locker room, walked down to my building to pick up my bike, and rode home.

I found out later that a fellow named Michael James Sheriff, a former UNR student and an Iraq War veteran, had sent a text message to his family saying that "the Korean" at Virginia Tech was his "hero," and that he was planning a "mission" that was going to keep him away for a few days. His family contacted the police, and the university canceled classes that evening and sent everyone home. (This was clearly the right decision, by the way, although no one specifically instructed me to leave campus -- only to evacuate the gym.) He was picked up a few hours later after trying to buy ammunition in Carson City.

Sheriff has been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and mental illness since returning from the war. Earlier on Thursday, I had been discussing with my students the effects of PTSD on veterans returning home from the war in Iraq. We were reading this excellent article by Sara Corbett in The New York Times Magazine, which deals specifically with the problems faced by female soldiers fighting in Iraq, and what happens to them when they return home. Many suffer from PTSD, and many have been sexually harassed and/or sexually assaulted. I was reminded of the importance of caring for these people when they return to the States, and of providing services for them -- especially women, who may be having problems that the military never had to face when it was exclusively the domain of men. I highly recommend Corbett's article.

I also think it's important to remember that Sheriff's mental illness is a direct consequence of war. When our country makes the decision to send young people into battle -- and I do believe that sometimes it's necessary to do so -- we must never make the decision lightly, or for political purposes, or on the basis of bad information. At the same time that we should elect leaders whom we trust to make these decisions well, we also must take it upon ourselves as citizens to educate ourselves, to understand the full consequences of war, and to demand the same of our leaders.

Update: please watch this ABC News report about a soldier who hanged himself at Walter Reed Memorial Hospital. It's upsetting, but everyone should know about it. The U.S. Army's neglect of this soldier is deeply disturbing, and the only way things will change will be for citizens to demand it.

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