Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Medals for suicide?

A new first for Canada: now we will be giving out medals to soldiers who commit suicide.
Soldiers killed in service-related accidents or suicides will now qualify for a newly created medal intended for military casualties, the Canadian military announced Monday.

The Sacrifice Medal was first unveiled in 2008 to recognize only those killed and wounded by hostile action.

The Department of National Defence said Monday it expanded the criteria to include all service-related deaths after concluding a review this month, which was launched in response to criticisms from the families of slain soldiers and peacekeepers.
There's no indication that this will be for cases of "altruistic suicide" - where a soldier heroically flings himself on a grenade to save his comrades. No, this will be when a guy gets depressed and offs himself - but because it happened while he was engaged in military service, we are now going to consider this deserving of a medal.

I don't want to increase the pain of the families left behind by such suicides, but this whole approach is just wrong. It's an example of the "therapeutic approach" to life which is seeping into everything. Now we no longer give medals because a man's actions are intrinsically admirable; we give them in order to "mean a lot" to the families - to make them feel better, in other worlds.

Medals used to be to acknowledge GOOD things - heroism, bravery, skill. Now they're to be consolation prizes for people who have been victimized by their experiences. If they hadn't gone to a combat zone, this wouldn't have happened, so now Canada has to make it all better. I'm sure there are sad and pathetic stories behind each military suicide, but the same thing is true of EVERY case of suicide. We help nobody by pretending that there's no difference between dying at the hands of an enemy and taking one's own life. The first is endured, even though it's the last thing a soldier wants, for the sake of a greater good. The second is sought out, at the price of rejection of every other good. G.K. Chesterton wrote the definitive description of suicide, and why we must harden our hearts and reject it, no matter how compelling the sob-story that accompanies it:
Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world. His act is worse (symbolically considered) than any rape or dynamite outrage. For it destroys all buildings: it insults all women. The thief cannot be bribed, even by the blazing stones of the Celestial City. The thief compliments the things he steals, if not the owner of them. But the suicide insults everything on earth by not stealing it. He defiles every flower by refusing to live for its sake. There is not a tiny creature in the cosmos at whom his death is not a sneer. When a man hangs himself on a tree, the leaves might fall off in anger and the birds fly away in fury: for each has received a personal affront. Of course there may be pathetic emotional excuses for the act. There often are for rape, and there almost always are for dynamite. But if it comes to clear ideas and the intelligent meaning of things, then there is much more rational and philosophic truth in the burial at the crossroads and the stake driven through the body, than in Mr. Archer's suicidal automatic machines. There is a meaning in burying the suicide apart. The man's crime is different from other crimes--for it makes even crimes impossible.

About the same time I read a solemn flippancy by some freethinker: he said that a suicide was only the same as a martyr. The open fallacy of this helped to clear the question. Obviously a suicide is the opposite of a martyr. A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything. One wants something to begin; the other wants everything to end. In other words, the martyr is noble, exactly because (however he renounces the world or execrates all humanity) he confesses this ultimate link with life; he sets his heart outside himself: he dies that something may live. The suicide is ignoble because h has not this link with being: he is a mere destroyer; spiritually, he destroys the universe.
I notice that Chesterton contrasted the suicide with the martyr, not the soldier who falls in battle. Because this was written in 1908, he was closer to an age where war was regarded as a common hazard of life, and was not sentimentalized. Today, in Canada, not only do we want to honour suicides, some want to give medals to everyone who has the bad fortune to die:
"I have always felt that all soldiers that have fallen in Afghanistan should receive it," he said. "It certainly means a great deal that this will be received."
And another person is quoted as saying
"If a person has forfeited his natural life expectancy in the aid of his country, recognition should still be there."
So now the "All Must Have Prizes" mentality has crept to the point where medals are to be routinely given just for the bad fortune of dying. I'm sure in a few years, we'll have the "Participation Medal" for those who just packed a suitcase and had to leave home for a few months. Why should "recognition" be withheld from those who left friends and family behind, even if they eventually came back?

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