Friday, February 20, 2009

A Deluge of Greed II

(Continued from the February 18 Blog)

It was June 5, 2005, just over a month before he was due to return home, that the body of Colonel Ted Westhusing is discovered in his trailer at Camp Dublin, Baghdad.

Some immediately suspected murder. But this death was neither assassination nor accident. Official Army accounts said nothing about signs of a struggle or thrashing about. Everything was orderly and neat, just like the officer himself when he was still among the living.

Everything, that is, except for the fatal wound behind his left temple.

If one is to believe the profile in the “Texas Observer,” Colonel Ted Westhusing was an idealist, even a perfectionist when it came to the ethical standards to which he held himself. The profile suggested a man who literally lived day-to-day according to the maxim “everything in its place and a place for everything.” As for the moral order, he thrived on the principles of his Roman Catholic upbringing that drew strict lines between good and evil, grace and sin, heaven and hell.

Given the close parallels between the rigid hierarchical structures of the two institutions and their equally strict and uncompromising moral codes, it is not surprising that Westhusing was attracted to military life in general and to West Point in particular. The Academy’s strict honor code – “a cadet does not lie, cheat, or steal or tolerate those who do” – matched his concept of the perfect – because it was a statement of the perfected life.

Westhusing entered West Point in the summer of 1979 in the class of \ 1983. One can imagine him soaking up the idealism that permeates life at the Academy. Living West Point’s motto – Duty, Honor, Country – in companionship with 4,000 other cadets would be the nearest thing to Nirvana on this earth.

I never met Ted Westhusing. I was too far ahead in time as a cadet (1962-1966) and then as an instructor (1972-1975) for our paths to cross at West Point. By the time he was commissioned I was in the intelligence world overseas and by the time he was teaching at West Point in the English Department I had retired. But I think I understand a little of how he thought and what drove him as a cadet and officer.

Like Westhusing, I taught in the Department of English. But the subject matter I taught in the mandatory senior year survey course was not grammar or even literature per se but philosophy, comparative religion, the philosophy of science, aesthetics, and fundamental psychology.

Westhusing would have been in his element while taking this course. He must have excelled here as he did in other fields, for he graduated third in his class. Moreover, he later went on to earn his doctorate in philosophy and returned as a full professor to teach in the English department. He undoubtedly could have applied for appointment as a permanent professor and never have to move again until retirement.

But on “examining his life” as Socrates counseled, Westhusing must have felt that he had not “lived” life to the full extent necessary for authenticity. He could talk the talk but apparently felt that he had not walked the walk demanded by the military’s code of honor and the Church’s moral code.

Iraq could do that for him. But after five months on site, he died. With assassination, accident, and (obviously) natural causes eliminated as the proximate cause of death, all that remained was suicide. For a devout practicing Roman Catholic, such a finding should have given pause to investigators and military superiors – an urgent message that some aspect of Ted Westhusing’s mission to train Iraqi security forces had gone awry and was deeply flawed.

Westhusing arrived in Iraq in January 2005 on a six month tour. That this was to be a “hands-on” field assignment might be inferred from his official title which could not easily fit on a door: “Director, Counterterrorism/Special Operations, Civilian Police Training Team, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq.” Under Saddam Hussein, the police were more often than not instruments of oppression, a force feared by the population. Westhusing’s title defined the dual challenge facing his team: invert the deep distrust of the Iraqi people toward the National Police by re- ordering the psychology of citizen-police relations to produce a highly disciplined unit that upheld principles of good governance and the rule of law.

It was a tall order, but Westhusing, as was typical, tore into the challenge with great zeal.

In his own way, Westhusing was as much a “fundamentalist” when it came to ethics, honor, and honesty as were the Islamists among the insurgent population. He simply assumed that everyone, whether part of the coalition forces or an Iraqi, were intent on creating a democratic Iraq whose population and government would embody the values and the morality that he esteemed and practiced himself.

Unfortunately, his expectations for the Iraqis and even for his fellow officers, American civilian contractors, and Pentagon contracting officials were not reciprocated.

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