Johnny Got His Pills (and So Do We)

After U.S. Army Sgt. Douglas Hale, Jr. finished fifteen months in Iraq for his second combat tour, it was obvious that things in his life were awry. In 2007, he was diagnosed with severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He began drinking heavily and his marriage fell apart. In early 2009, Hale abandoned his post at Fort Hood. This past May, he was arrested for being absent without leave and returned to Fort Hood. Before the month was out, he tried to kill himself.

The Army sent Hale for treatment at a psychiatric hospital in Denton, and it seemed to help. He spent the 4th of July weekend with his mother and she drove him back to Fort Hood on July 5th. On July 6th, his mother received a text message from him that said “I love you mom im so sorry I hope u and family and god can forgive me.” She immediately contacted Army officials at Fort Hood and started driving back. But Hale had already shot himself in the head.

Our Army brass is looking for answers regarding the suicides of soldiers like Hale, but not under their noses. War is insane. It isn’t hell; it’s a planned, coordinated communal psychosis. If you take a normal, all-American boy or girl and plop them down in a psychotic situation for months and years at a time, tour after tour, psychosis or extreme disturbance are not abnormal responses. And they can lead to suicide. Especially when the nation who sent these men and women into harm’s way still hasn’t clearly justified why this madness was necessary. It’s hard enough to maintain your sanity in a war zone when you’re fighting the good fight. But when you’re risking your life or limbs or sanity simply to fulfill the “wartime president” fantasy of an imbellic, oil fund aristocrat or to enable a rich, pasty-faced assembly of stuffed shirts look “tough” on terrorism, your outlook on things isn’t going to be positive. Or healthy.

I read an AP piece in the newspaper the other day that suggested that one of Big Phama’s wonder drugs was killing American GIs. It said that many of the soldiers serving in and returning home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were taking a drug called Seroquel to help them deal with chronic restlessness, severe insomnia and constant nightmares. If I was a soldier it might have made me laugh.

Seroquel is a “potent antipsychotic.” Instead of reducing combat tours to reasonable time frames, limiting the number of tours a soldier should have to endure or simply removing unstable soldiers from the psychotic environment of these ill-conceived wars indefinitely, the U.S. Military is apparently using our men and women in uniform as guinea pigs for a soldier’s-little-helper pill that will supposedly desensitize them to the insanity around them.

It doesn’t cure the psychosis. It simple allows unstable soldiers to function within the insanity without being terribly bothered by it. And when you combine Seroquel with antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs–something military officials suggest is an acceptable “standard of care” for soldiers or veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder—any semblance of normal sentience is truncated to the point where they walk around in a cognitive fog or detached stupor.

In this regard, is the U.S. military’s pharmaceutical attempt to abridge the humanity of our soldiers not insane? If you have to give someone a “potent anti-psychotic” to help them deal with what they’re doing or what they’ve done for you or God or country—then there’s obviously something wrong with what you’re asking them to do. It reminds of perhaps the grimmest excerpt from Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front: “We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts.”

Thankfully, Seroquel is more than just one of the military’s most frequently prescribed drugs. It’s also the fifth best-selling drug in the nation. So if our psychotic naivete and ignorance ever start to really get to us, we can always knock them back with a brain-fuddling stupefacient. In fact, we’ve already been at it.

In 2008, American emergency rooms treated a million people for abusing prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines, roughly the same number of folks our ERs treated for heroin and cocaine overdoses or abuses of other illegal drugs—and this number doesn’t even factor in alcohol. We’re taking the edge off our insanity any way we can. The only war more stupid and psychotic than the one in Iraq was the one on drugs. But it’s been going on so long its mention no longer even penetrates our daze. The military-pharmaceutical complex is making a killing or, more specifically, making a fortune off the folks we’ve asked to do the killing—and the rest of us. They dope our unruly kids, they dope the young men and women fighting in and returning home from the war; and they dope the rest of us right here at home for being sick of wars overseas and fearful of war on the Middle and Lower Classes and disgusted by Capitalist expediency and dreading the reckonings to come and being ashamed of our own sad, national shadow.

E.R. Bills is a writer from Aledo, Texas and the author of Texas Obscurities: Stories of the Peculiar, Exceptional and Nefarious (History Press, 2013). He can be reached at: erbillsthinks@gmail.com. Read other articles by E.R..

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Freedom Plaza said on September 11th, 2010 at 12:23pm #

    Excellent article. Thank you!

  2. teafoe2 said on September 11th, 2010 at 3:51pm #

    Yes, Johnny gitcher pills. “warondrugs”: what a laff. Join the Army “and gitcher ben if hits”.

    there’s a Schweik born every minute.

  3. joed said on September 12th, 2010 at 10:50am #

    Fine article, thank you Mr. Bills.
    The title of this article reminds me of the bannished Dalton Trumbo’s book and film(1971) Johnny Got His Gun. One of the great antiwar stories of all time.
    If anyone is as interested in drugs as I am then here is a Casandra like Aldous Huxley in Berkeley 1962:
    http://www.archive.org/details/AldousHuxley-TheUltimateRevolution

    “And it seems to me perfectly in the cards that there will be within the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing ⦠a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda, brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods.” — Aldous Huxley

    Again thanks for this timely and neede article.

  4. rosemarie jackowski said on September 12th, 2010 at 1:16pm #

    Very good article. I agree that the country is doped to death. However, I have also seen the rare exception where someone with a full blown psychosis has been brought back to reality with meds. Brain chemistry controls a lot, if not all behavior.

    I also want to add that many other types of profit producing pharmaceuticals have been shown to be dangerous – after they have been prescribed for years. I am thinking of the so called bone protecting meds prescribed to most older women. They are dangerous. The chemistry about how they work is fascinating and should be known be all considering taking them.

    Also, remember when sunshine and vitamin D were discouraged. Now they have been proven to be very beneficial.

  5. David Silver said on September 14th, 2010 at 1:01pm #

    Imperialism is an insane criminal system whic provides fertile soil for
    depression, psychosis and suicide.
    Oi vay we need a Revolution-socialist of course.

  6. mary said on September 28th, 2010 at 7:16am #

    There are three quarters of a million needing psychiatric help as revealed on Channel 4.
    http://www.channel4.com/news/combat-stress-iraq-shock-hits-us-troops

    The US army medical services are overwhelmed. Well well. What goes round, comes round. All interviewed were concerned for the skins of their fellow combatants. Little concern or none for their victims.

    PS The new leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband has just said in his augural speech to the conference that the Iraq war was wrong and that we should not have joined with the US in invading. Rather late in the day when he was part of the previous government.

  7. mary said on September 28th, 2010 at 10:04am #

    s/be inaugural