An old buddy of mine sent me the below links recently and was curious for my opinion on the matter.
Essentially what happened is a student, Charles Whittington, wrote an essay in an effort to deal with his wartime experience. In it he graphically describes his so called addiction to killing. It was published in a student newspaper and soon after college officials barred him from campus citing their concern for the safety of other students.
My first knee jerk reaction was outrage at the campus. Upon reading the article further as well as Whittington’s paper I tend to agree more with the Second Opinion piece.
My personal take: As a military professional I am unimpressed with Whittington’s remarks and consider his paper a complete work of fiction. His statements about training and what combat is like are, at best, immature. It makes me question how much combat he saw, particularly close hand to hand fighting. I do not doubt the extent of wounds he received from three separate road side IEDs. However, I do doubt he has ever used a knife on his enemy. Whittington’s writing more resembles violent porn than a reflection of his experience. None of his statements reflect core values of the military and certainly not those of a warrior ethos. He basically claims to have killed at least three people with a knife stating it gave him a feeling he cannot explain having pushed it “…through his stomach or his ribs or slice his throat…” This sounds pretty questionable. He also asserts he was doing what he was trained for. I suspect the number of hours used to train for knife combat in the U.S. Army are minimal before deployment.
Veterans legitimately raised concerns about this guy as there is enough stereotyping going on without him painting vets as sociopathic killers waiting to happen. I’m not convinced it required barring him from campus as I don’t think his paper means he is some kind of danger to his fellow students. At no time did I read him describe wanting to kill anyone but his enemies in combat. He doesn’t talk about stalking professors by the soda machines or even Middle Eastern students on campus. As a matter of fact, if the university seriously thought Whittington was a dangerous killer it doesn’t make any sense to me why they would provoke him with a suspension?
Whittington may have problems with PTSD but if he is addicted to killing it is something he had in him before he joined and not due to his military experience. His drinking issues and DUI are classic signs of PTSD (three roadside explosions and missing body parts will do that) but doesn’t remit questionable actions or a lack of integrity. PTSD isn’t an excuse for bad behavior; doctors I have talked to have all stated PTSD does not affect a person’s ability to distinguish between right and wrong. So merely being diagnosed with combat related PTSD doesn’t seem to make you a danger to anyone.
In my experience, Marines with PTSD are usually dealing with issues related to having nearly lost their lives or losing close friends and not issues related to killing their enemy.
Kanani writes on this very story over on the Kitchen Dispatch. I think her take on the subject is correct. My concern here is the contrived nature of his writing and the additional negative impact it has on the perception of returning vets.
The answer is for fellow veterans to write of their own experiences and thus refute what Whittington and no doubt others remark about. Indeed, he claims there are “…hundreds of thousands of soldiers like me who feel like me and want their revenge as well.” No, there are not. Revenge is not our business nor fundamentally part of what we are professionally.