As human beings, we instinctively understand the violence of war. After all, war carries with it by its very nature the implications of death and destruction, usually for an ostensible purpose, often for no reason at all. And from even ancient times we have understood that this violence perpetuates itself after the fighting has stopped, even among the survivors of the victorious nation. We have metaphorical language to describe the aftermath of such violence, analogizing it to results of physical force in terms such as “moral injury” or “post-war trauma.”
What happens when we continue to inflict mortal harm against wartime victims that is physical as well as mental and social? Mark Meincke gave a stirring answer to that question before the Veterans Affairs Committee of the Canadian House of Commons. Meincke is a veteran of the Royal Canadian Infantry Corps, and the host and founder of the Operation Tango Romeo Trauma Recovery podcast, a project that developed out of his experiences peer counseling other traumatized veterans. He weaves a harrowing story that proceeds from his service as a United Nations peacekeeper as a part of Operation HARMONY. HARMONY involved the deployment of thousands of Canadian troops from 1992 to 1995 to police the fallout of the breakup of Yugoslavia. The result was so bloody and fraught with ethnic and religious conflict that it is the subject of two competing claims of genocide. The things that Meincke experienced in the Balkans, a subject he is understandably hesitant to address in detail, have imprinted themselves upon both his body and mind. “Genocide will do that to you,” he says without a hint of irony. He was sufficiently injured so as to qualify for veterans benefits and lived with post-traumatic stress disorder for 23 years of his life before being diagnosed.
Meincke describes the shared experience with veterans of the wars in Korea and Vietnam, who similarly suffered in silence in the days before PTSD was widely understood diagnostically, now reaching out for help. He helped fill the gap by becoming a peer support facilitator. Through this work with other veterans, he came across the tragic story of an anonymous veteran who, instead of being offered help or services by his VA caseworker, was pressured to take his own life. According to Meincke, this veteran was offered MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) completely unprompted and persistently after refusing twice.
On the Rehumanize Blog, we have discussed Canada’s pressure on the indigent and the disabled to accept legal suicide in lieu of even minimal services necessary to improve their quality of life, but the incident described by Meincke has a particularly grotesque quality. There can be no pretense of “dying with dignity” in this case; the implications of the state sending a man to his death, only to offer him nothing but death upon his return, is inexpressibly ghastly. The message it sends to its injured veterans is clear: “it would have been better for everyone if you had simply died in the field.” It is a horrific vision of human lives that sees them first as a fungible resource, then as a little more than a liability. Meincke even offers his testimony in trepidation, for fear that it might affect his ability to receive benefits, implying that the state knows that what it is doing is immoral and would simply prefer its victims to keep quiet. With the eligibility for MAiD being expanded to include the mentally ill early next year, this incident is simply a window into Canada’s future.
Famed labor historian and philosopher of nonviolence Staughton Lynd once described the cycle of violence that follows from participation in warfare. “Modern warfare,” he stated, “requires of the infantryman the gift of his or her life, if not in the form of death in combat then in the form of personal disintegration when the warrior comes home.” Canada’s increasing preference for medicinal murder over support for the most vulnerable gives that disintegration a shockingly literal character.