FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Depression, Suicide, West Point, the French Foreign Legion and Afghanistan

Since I read the New York Times article yesterday, I have not been able to stop thinking about the story of West Point grad Lawrence J. Franks Jr, a young man so steeped in the abyss of depression, in such a struggle with suicidal urges that he deserted to the French Foreign Legion where he served a 5 year contract with distinction.  Upon completion of his service there, he turned himself in at a US military base in Germany.  He was recently sentenced to 4 years in prison.

Franks as a West Point Cadet

There is likely much nuance to the facts stated above and I hope that there is an industrious journalist or screenwriter that is visiting Franks in prison and allering his/her way over in France to do some in-depth research to answer the million questions that come to mind.  I am certain, for example, that Franks' roommates at West Point have some insight into his psyche.

I will say this.  IF the facts above are true and accurate, IF Franks was truly on the precipice of suicide--I do not fault him for taking care of himself and staying alive.

Do I necessarily agree with the choices that he made?  No, but then I have never struggled with depression nor battled against suicidal thoughts--I don't know those dark solitary corners--nor will I pretend to.  So I won't pass judgement on one man's particular method of fighting back and beating back the depression.

For Franks, the deprivation and challenge of misery and hardship actually elevated his spirits.  In his case, he faced a year before his upcoming deployment with the Army and he craved something more difficult and immediate--so he went after it.

I do not believe the miltary then (or now) was administrately,bureaucratically or professionally equipped to aid a soldier with severe depression.  Our government is still failing its veterans coming back from war today--why do we have any reason to believe they are better equipped to screen and assist soldier before they deploy?

Now, all of IFs may prove to be false.  In that case, a much more shameful analysis is necessary but until then I look forward to more reporting on this.

Some links for the ride home: 
A great follow-up article from the WaPo on the case
Vice's Tale of a Canadian in the French Foreign Legion
RAND study on French military in Mali--to include role of FFL
Vice's Tale of a Redneck's Failed Attempt to join the Legion
Vanity Fair's In-depth look at the FFL
Letter to the editor from Franks' parent when he went missing

That's Franks in the green beret

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