RANGER AGAINST WAR: Primer Therapy <

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Primer Therapy

 ~We gotta play with more bullets
~How many more bullets?
~Three. That means we gotta play each other 
--The Deerhunter (1978)

 Some day you'll return to
Your valleys and your farms
And you'll no longer burn
To be brothers in arms 
--Brothers in Arms,
Dire Straights 

 She went to Berkeley, did primal therapy
She wrote the music for a series on the TV
She studied Rumi and Ibn'Arabi
She meditated every summer in a teepee
--The Girl's Got no Confidence,
 Gerry Rafferty

So that we would feel good about the protagonist of the film American Sniper, Chris Kyle's killing back home by a brother in arms on the shooting range was omitted from Eastwood's film. However, Kyle's killing is perhaps the most poignant part of his story.

At Eddie Ray Routh's trial last week, his father testified that he had smoked dope with his son earlier in the day of the killing; it seems that the participants in Kyle's non-profit veterans program were not observing good range etiquette. Perhaps the only requirements for participation were having worn BDU's and knowing how to fire a weapon, and having some vague need for rehabilitation.

And what was Kyle's qualification to run this wounded warrior non-profit? Why are there so many shooting therapies for returning veterans? It seems like every town has one. Some are run by well-meaning people while others are strictly cash cows, but what does putting a gun into the hands of a traumatized soldier do for him aside from validating his skill in the killing arts?

Ranger can guarantee you there was no shooting therapy for him and his fellow Vietnam veterans. The American public did not seem to think that would have been a great idea.

The questions is simple: If shooting caused the trauma, why would shooting be a fix? Yes, it will reinforce a sense of expertise, but in a destructive skill. Going a step further, shooting is a skill which was exploited by and for governments, leaving the soldier to cope with the trauma earned via his expertise.

The zeitgeist of the time affects public attitude. In the late 1960's, National Guard riflemen opened fire on United States citizens who were exercising their 1st Amendment Rights, and the public distrusted the image of the returning drug-addled, alienated Vietnam vet. Even the most highly-decorated ones might go Rambo on them (the character "Rambo" was a Vietnam veteran Medal of Honor recipient.)

Then, the threat for the average American was not the small yellow people oceans away. When the U.S. left, they did not follow in vendetta. The Vietnamese who did come to the United States hoped to relocate peaceably here.

Today, the threat is vague, ambiguous, terrifying and omnipresent, and the media is complicit in forefronting it. In a commonly held view, when the U.S. failed to retaliate for the 1979 Iranian Embassy takeover a cascade of various Islamic extremist attack scenarios against the United States and its citizens followed, culminating in the second attacks on the World Trade Center (2001). The threat came to get us, having been heartened by their success against a nation which seemed to have lost its heart for the fight.

Post 9-11-01, the U.S. is more sensitive to acts of Islamic violence worldwide. Despite the fact that our society has grown more violent in terms of random indigenous shooting events, arming the "right" citizens does not seem as scary as it once did. Our society seems to be growing more tolerant of even open carry laws, presuming that the licensed gun bearer is not the source of mayhem and his vigilance might provide a mayhem deterrent quotient.

"Shooting therapy" makes sense in such a climate. Of course, the gun will not protect us from the threat, which is random acts of terrorism.

Today's veterans seem a more known quantity as they are self-selected and presumably do not hold the grudges of the draftees. Enter Mr. Routh -- the troubled combat vet on trial now for Kyle's killing. Routh said he shot Kyle because he felt he was not being listened to and felt marginalized, perhaps exploited yet again, this time as just another screwed up vet being used by a non-profit to justify its existence.

All the facts will not be known as the two witnesses are now dead, but if Routh felt as though he was not being listened to, perhaps a different sort of therapy might have been more appropriate. Why not something like "Non Violent Communication" (NVC), which fosters empathetic listening and communication skills?

Now Ranger loves guns and shooting, but shooting guns is not the therapy of choice for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In fact, it is not until the PTSD is resolved that any of the former pleasures can be enjoyed again with the proper gusto. Ranger has some training in counseling education and never encountered vocational rehabilitation for combat trauma that involved rifle range activities.

What qualified Kyle to counsel troubled veterans with the tool of the gun? Was anyone involved with his non-profit credentialed to provide counseling services?

We should be wary of how we counsel fragile and fractured vets. Putting them on the firing line is counter-intuitive; why resurrect traumatic memories to no useful purpose? While there is a modality of therapy which involves re-creating the traumatic scenario in the safety of the of the counseling room, that is a safe re-creation, sans live rounds.

A soldier is more than a shooting automaton. We need to reach the troubled soldier on a level deeper than recognition of his skill with a weapon.

While Kyle might have been a killing machine in the military, he was also just another damaged soul looking to turn a profit trading on his "warrior" title. We are not ancient Greece, Rome or Japan and our society does not support a cadre of full-time warriors on the home front. Effective counseling involves integrating the returning soldier back into his human incarnation.

But none of this translates well into two hours of a red-white-and-blue Hollywood honorarium.

--Jim and Lisa

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