The final episode of this season's Frontline looks at PTSD and the Army's policies on mental health care through the experience of the third platoon, Charlie Company of the First Battalion,
506th Infantry, based at Fort Carson, near Colorado Springs. Members of the third platoon suffered unusually high rates of suicide and violent crime upon their return from Iraq.
This unit had been assigned to find and detonate roadside bombs. They were recognized in Iraq as a very effective team. But with shortages of troops, questionable decisions were made about sending traumatized soldiers back into combat. Problems were compounded when waivers were provided to individuals who would ordinarily be rejected for military service.
And, for the first time ever, solders were permitted to take prescription psychotropics while serving in combat roles. Over 20,000 troops were on antidepressants. Ambien was being popped like candy by soldiers with sleeping difficulties.
Not long ago, a team of researchers watched a 1-year-old
boy take justice into his own hands. The boy had just seen a puppet show
in which one puppet played with a ball while interacting with two other
puppets. The center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the
right, who would pass it back. And the center puppet would slide the
ball to the puppet on the left . . . who would run away with it. Then
the two puppets on the ends were brought down from the stage and set
before the toddler. Each was placed next to a pile of treats. At this
point, the toddler was asked to take a treat away from one puppet. Like
most children in this situation, the boy took it from the pile of the
“naughty” one. But this punishment wasn’t enough — he then leaned over
and smacked the puppet in the head.
This incident occurred in one of several psychology studies that I
have been involved with at the Infant Cognition Center at Yale
University in collaboration with my colleague (and wife), Karen Wynn,
who runs the lab, and a graduate student, Kiley Hamlin, who is the lead
author of the studies. We are one of a handful of research teams around
the world exploring the moral life of babies.
Yesterday, I was thinking about my post on Laura Bush's involvement in an auto accident that claimed the life of one of her friends. In that post, I wrote:
To feel responsible for the death of another human being is an awful burden. I've seen a few people in therapy with similar stories. Unlike most other experiences that may cause us to feel guilt, there is no way to make the victim whole; no reparative effort can ever be adequate. There is atonement, but death can never be undone. The reaction to such an event varies from one person to the next. Some become self-sabotaging, inflicting a lifetime of punishment upon themselves. For others, the reaction is more positive and creative. I worked with a man who was transformed by his guilt, becoming a truly exemplary spouse, father, friend and citizen.
As I thought about this, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini came to mind. I hadn't thought about him in many years and I wondered what became of him. Mancini was a lightweight boxing champion who, in 1982, defeated South Korean challenger Duk Koo Kim. What is notable about the fight is that Kim died of a cerebral hemorrhage caused by blows sustained in the fight. Mancini, who was by all accounts a very decent young man, was horribly shaken by the death of Kim.
I Googled Mancini and found a youtube clip of the fight, including what was probably the fatal blow at 6:25. Watching it, knowing what was going to happen to Kim, was very disturbing. Tragically, both Kim's mother and the ref committed suicide in the months after the fight. It's impossible to dismiss the role of guilt in these suicides. Kim was fighting to lift his family from dire poverty and the ref had been criticized for failing to stop the fight sooner. Perhaps these suicides were self-inflicted death sentences.
But, again, I wondered about Mancini. What happened to him in the years after the tragedy? What did he do with his life and how had he managed the guilt? This is from an article written 25 years after the fight:
Mancini is 46 now and lives in Santa Monica, Calif., where he acts in and produces movies and owns a cigar company. He remains haunted by what happened on that sunny Saturday afternoon 25 years ago. He does not run from it, because there is no escape. He can't accept it, either. He has to live with it as best he can. "It's been hard," Mancini says. "There have been a lot of prayers, a lot of thoughts. But you never get over it. You never understand. You move on. You look to the future. But that is a part of my life, unfortunately. "I wish it wasn't. But it was."
Last night, I was having difficulty sleeping and was doing a little channel surfing. I watched David Letterman for a few minutes. I rarely watch late night talk shows. Letterman was interviewing a comedian. The two were discussing an incident that occurred several years ago in the lobby of a Chicago hotel as the comedian was leaving the hotel to go to church. The comedian ran into former LA Dodger manager, Tommy Lasorda. The two had been friends, but had had a serious falling out. A fuming Lasorda confronted the comedian, poking him in the chest. Tempers escalated quickly. Ray Boom Boom Mancini was also in the hotel lobby and he jumped between the two men, talking them down from a physical confrontation.
Funny that I was thinking about Mancini yesterday, wondering what happened to him, and then, coincidentally, I heard a story about him last night. And that story was about Mancini stopping a fight before physical harm occurred. Here, I return to my thoughts about the different ways people handle guilt over a sense of responsibility for a death. The ref in the Mancini fight pronounced a death sentence upon himself for failing to stop the fight, while Mancini became a peacemaker, stopping two men about to come to blows. Of course, I don't know if Mancini has become a peacemaker, in general. I'm just speculating and this is a possibility I was pondering.
I also wondered how often guilt, whether conscious or unconscious, is a factor in the character formation of the peacemakers among us.
Michelle Obama unveiled her plan to reduce the childhood obesity rate from 20% to 5% by 2030. Good luck with that. I predict that unless we find an effective, relatively safe and convenient medical intervention to reduce obesity, the rate of obesity will still be 20% or higher in 2030. There is talk of food industry regulation, specifically regulation of advertising that targets children, but the problem extends far beyond marketing. Lifestyles have changed radically in the past 30 years. Cheap fast food and microwave meals that appeal to the juvenile palate will not vanish with advertising regulation. And as life revolves more and more around electronic gadgets, children will only become more sedentary.
I also wonder what percentage of kids are on medications that cause weight gain--antidepressants, atypicals and steroids for asthma. It's probably not a negligible number. I know several children who have packed on weight while taking these medications, but maybe their numbers are offset by the kids on Adderall/Ritalin.
Several months ago, I wrote about my own effort to lose a few pounds. Most recently, I've been cycling through a course of interval trainingat the gym. Workout sessions last just 25-35 minutes. 2 days per week are devoted to interval training on the elliptical machine and on the other four days it's interval training with weights. The workouts are intense, but the results have been spectacular. I was in good shape to begin with, but even I've been impressed with the rapid physical transformation that has occurred. The best part is that the workouts are over quickly. I like to get in and out of the gym fast.