I was surprised by some of the comments on last week’s post. First, as the fond aunt of two terrific young men in the military—one recently returned from Iraq, the other now serving in Afghanistan — I puzzled over what I might have said to suggest less respect or consideration for the young men and women who are serving our country than for those who are in college.
More troubling is the apparent confusion, among educated people, between expressing compassion for fellow imperfect human beings and advocating exemption from the consequences of their actions.
Most of the people who participate in this forum are parents. As such, we know that when little Jeanie hits Ruby over the head with her dump truck, or Charlie excludes Billy from the lunch table because of his lisp, immediate and serious consequences are called for. But we don’t condemn Jeanie or Charlie as hopeless sociopaths. We understand that maturing entails making mistakes that would be unpardonable in an adult.
I interned at a VA Medical Center where I co-led a support group for Vietnam veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Many of the vets had been roughly the ages of the Rutgers perpetrators when they were sent overseas. A few of them had committed atrocities there that are too disturbing to describe here.
There were reasons for their actions — they were following orders, they had been raised not to question authority, they were frightened, they were young. None of these conditions justifies what they did. Their victims suffered terribly, and then either died or, probably, wished they had. But are we to feel no compassion for these men, who were still haunted over twenty years later, and who swore, to a man, that they would have died rather than commit these acts as adults?