A Nation of Grinning, Gun-Loving Fools

For almost anyone, anywhere in our country, a gun is easier to get than treatment for mental illness…

(CNN) — The gunman who killed two others before police ended his life in a shootout near Texas A&M University had been battling mental health issues on and off for years, his mother said.

Police say Thomas Caffall, known to his family as “Tres,” killed a constable and a bystander and injured four others Monday before police fatally shot him.

His mother, Linda Weaver, said the family became worried after Caffall quit his job in January and announced that he would never work again.

“We had been very concerned about him,” Weaver told CNN.

Caffall had withdrawn from the family, and the fear was that he might attempt suicide, his mother said.

There are many parents who fear for a child who can’t get help anywhere. It’s rightly difficult to involuntarily commit a person who refuses treatment, and the abuses of the past are something we shouldn’t repeat. But the bar to help is more financial than legal. Decades of cuts to health care have reduced the options for people with mental illness and strained the organizations that offer help.

On the other hand, decades of lobbying by the NRA have removed restrictions, such as the assault weapons ban, from anyone who wants to be their own loose-cannon militia.

Jesus’ General, a satirical site that tracks the extreme right, posts page views from Thomas Caffall’s Facebook page. Did anyone who knew him see this and figure out where he was headed? It’s all too clear now.

Where are we headed, a nation served violent images– real and dramatized– every day from every screen. We’re promised war without sacrifice, where the volunteer military suffers the wounds and our smart weapons kill only the ones who deserve it.

We’re at a point where stay at home spectators get to play war games on a new reality show– a concept so imperial that a group of Nobel Peace Prize laureates have petitioned NBC to cancel this embarrassment…

Signers of an open letter to the network include Nobelists Desmond Tutu, Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Jose Ramos-Horta, Jody Williams, Mairead Maguire, Oscar Arias Sanchez, Rigoberta Menchu and Betty Williams.

“That might seem innocuous since spectacular, high budget sporting events of all types are regular venues for airing new products, televisions shows and movies,” the Nobelists’ letter explains. “But ‘Stars Earn Stripes’ is not just another reality show. Hosted by retired four-star general Wesley Clark, the program pairs minor celebrities with US military personnel and puts them through simulated military training, including some live fire drills and helicopter drops. The official NBC website for the show touts ‘the fast-paced competition’ as ‘pay[ing] homage to the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and our first-responder services.’

“It is our belief that this program pays homage to no one anywhere and continues and expands on an inglorious tradition of glorifying war and armed violence. Military training is not to be compared, subtly or otherwise, with athletic competition by showing commercials throughout the Olympics. Preparing for war is neither amusing nor entertaining.”

Glenn Greenwald at Salon brings back some journalistic cautions from the Iraq War, and the circular relationship between bombs and ratings. And a voice from the past…

Experiencing great fun and pulsating entertainment from sending one’s military off to war is hardly unique to our time. Adam Smith lamented this warped dynamic back in 1776 in his Wealth of Nations:

In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies. To them this amusement compensates the small difference between the taxes which they pay on account of the war, and those which they had been accustomed to pay in time of peace. They are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory from a longer continuance of the war.

Now even the taxes don’t inconvenience us, unless we are of the class that is taxed by cuts in ‘entitlements’ like disability, education, and, yes, mental health.

‘Stars Earn Stripes’ cynically pretends to be a tribute to ‘our troops’. It’s better for ratings to have a celebrity wave a gun than to interview a veteran, as
Nicholas D. Kristof does in this past Sunday’s New York Times…

IT would be so much easier, Maj. Ben Richards says, if he had just lost a leg in Iraq.

A car bomb in Iraq in May 2007 left Ben Richards, then a captain, with a severe concussion. A second concussion left him with debilitating injuries.

Instead, he finds himself losing his mind, or at least a part of it. And if you want to understand how America is failing its soldiers and veterans, honoring them with lip service and ceremonies but breaking faith with them on all that matters most, listen to the story of Major Richards.

For starters, he’s brilliant. (Or at least he was.) He speaks Chinese and taught at West Point, and his medical evaluations suggest that until his recent problems he had an I.Q. of about 148. After he graduated from West Point, in 2000, he received glowing reviews.

“Ben Richards is one of the best military officers I have worked with in 13 years of service,” noted an evaluation, one of many military and medical documents he shared with me.

Yet Richards’s intellect almost exacerbates his suffering, for it better equips him to monitor his mental deterioration — and the failings of the Army that he has revered since he was a young boy.

The fact that ‘homeless veteran’ is a cliche says a lot about how we support our troops.

Just like the war tax went under the radar to be exacted in the most destructive way– eroding the foundation of social equality– the cost of war falls on a volunteer military. Traumatic brain injury is the signature wound, mental illness the invisible scar. And every year less help and more guns.

For anyone who follows the links, Salon and Jesus’ General,the picture of gun-waving celebrities grinning like fools is interchangeable with Thomas Caffall’s Facebook page. These violent outbreaks are not random and not unexplainable.

Cranking up the fear helps to sell guns, helps to build walls, helps hate groups and extremists justify their invitation to circle the wagons and retreat from a free and open public life.

Whether there’s intention, or toxic philosophies growing in a toxic spin of addiction to violence, we need truth tellers to remind us that it is a violation to put a bullet into a human being, and that war is not glorious for those who know firsthand the cost.