An Intimate Portrait of the Human Cost of War

Losing Tim is a memoir of the deeply personal costs of war, written by a mother about her son, Timothy Eysselinck, that son’s suicide, and an attempt to come to terms with what drove him to such a dark place that he felt that suicide was the only way out.

Tim worked in mine removal for the Army until they contracted the work out to private companies. He hired on with just such a company, RONCO, and in 2003, made the decision to work in Iraq. His experiences in that hellhole, and his disillusionment with those who were complicit in instigating the Iraq disaster, combined to set Tim on a path that led to him taking his own life.

War is almost always portrayed in a way that glorifies the Warfare State, at a safe distance. The carnage is ignored, the killing, the costs in blood and treasure are downplayed. A patriotic cacophony drowns out the images and stories of the tragedy and loss that could weaken the support for continued militarism.

This memoir is different. Janet Burroway brings the story of her son’s suicide, and the toll it took on his family and friends, up close. His pain, his death, his mother’s pain, his father’s, his family’s. This is the type of story that warmongers wish to be kept in the shadows. This is all the more reason why Tim’s story needs to have a thorough hearing.

"Every suicide is a suicide bomber." And so Burroway sets the tone of her memoir. Family and friends are affected, the tragedy ripples outward. But it all traces back to Tim, his character, and how the moral order within responds to the experiences from warzones.

A key element to the book’s narrative is the way that "normal" people grope in the dark for understanding, when someone who has experienced what Tim experienced finally snaps, and takes their own life, and the lives of others, in some cases. The initial denial, the acceptance, the grief, the searching for an explanation. What to tell the children, the funeral arrangements to be made, all are set in motion by the single act of self-destruction.

Tim was a patriot who would willingly die for his country. "Unenlightened chivalry" is the phrase used in the book to explain Tim’s attitude. He jumped at the opportunity to go to Iraq, believing it was a just war. But his experience was not to align with his expectations. The description of his disillusionment with his government has the tone of one who has a crisis of religious faith. He trusted in his government, and the nobility of its intentions. Such a closely-held faith in his government being so viciously crushed by the realities of Iraq make up a part of Tim’s story. This was also a fork in the road for him, he could have become less human, more savage, to quell his crisis of faith. He could have embraced war in all its bloodthirstiness in the way that Chris Kyle did. Tim’s character was such that that path was not an option.

The author describes how stories about Tim’s life in Iraq had slowly trickled in: riding with an Army security convoy that fired live rounds into the homes of Iraqis, flying out of Baghdad for the last time only to believe that their plane was taking missile fire and that he would finally die. Stories of the all-too-familiar behavior of a veteran weeks before ending his life: behavior that is "too cool, too relaxed for someone just out of a warzone", being hung up over a hunting trip that ended with a gazelle being severely wounded but not dead, and Tim blaming himself for not being able to track the animal down. The description of Tim being shaken from climbing just a few rungs up a ladder, who had previously loved the exhilaration of great heights.

"I’m tired of being the bad man", a statement made by Tim shortly before taking his life seems to reveal more about the engulfing prison of the mind he had become ensnared in after his experiences in Iraq than anything else he did, leading up to his demise. The despair, the hopelessness, the isolation, the guilt encapsulated in that short sentence should be enough to bow the heads of those who are responsible for the plight of these veterans.

The description of the moment Tim shot himself, in front of his wife, is the hardest to take in. It must be read, and absorbed in every detail, to understand that this is what war does to good people. Tim, shattered, and knowing he cannot escape his mind or conscience, and knowing that no one around him can understand or help. This good man, who was "…tired of being the bad man".

It is scenes such as that that kindle rage against the monolithic State that drapes the flag and "freedom" over foreign slaughter, and rage against the nation that can safely ignore their veterans and their wars with a "thank you for your service"

In Chapter 12, she takes on the "support the troops" mantra:

"To "give support" to a widow or a cancer victim means to empathize with a state of loss or fear, whereas to "support the troops" means to cheer them uncritically on their mission. More: rhetorical voices are raised to reassert our democratic right to impugn the government, whereas we still fear as unpatriotic examining the motives of many thousands of teenagers with multifarious backgrounds, intelligence, proclivities, and rates of maturation who may or may not have understood what they were getting into."

She notes the barrage of propaganda aimed at young men, seducing them into joining up to pursue honor, heroism, duty, etc. Impressionable, eager to prove their masculinity, many do join up. And, having joined up, become expendable.

The endless calls from military recruiters are the first thing to come to mind. These used car salesmen of military slavery will say anything to get new recruits. Pay for your school, work experience, adventure! Most boys know what it’s like to turn eighteen and have these cretins buggering you until you say NO enough times. The lowest of low, among the military echelon. And many boys are unfortunate enough to have parents that actively seek out a recruiter for their child, and side with them. The otherworldly horror of one’s parents siding with the State, against the child, is the ultimate victory of State propaganda. On the same order as the child siding with the State against the parent.

It is worth noting the dichotomy represented by Timothy Eysselinck and Chris Kyle. Two soldiers, the same experience, but two divergent paths. Two stories, one that flatters a militaristic nation, the other that insults the conceit of warmongers. The American Sniper narrative is popular, and useful, it can be woven into that vague American Mythos that can be used to cajole the next generation into becoming killers for the State. Tim’s story, and others similar because there are so many, has been ignored because truth hurts. And in Tim’s case, its truths, when confronted honestly, obliterate the God and Country language that interventionists make use of to get their war.

The praise poured upon Chris Kyle, his memoir, and the movie depicting him, is evidence of how America likes to view its wars, and its veterans. Kyle’s story is flattering to this nation, and is a useful story in the cause of continued militarism. But there are many stories among US veterans that have a much different tone. Stories that, instead of flattering the Warfare State, forces it to look on inconvenient truths about the toll these wars take on minds and hearts of these veterans.

Chris Kyle seemed to relish his transformation from man to beast in service to the State. Other humans he might have enjoyed getting to know, instead became "savages" to be exterminated. Those who held up Chris Kyle as a "model soldier", or as one who "defended his country", cheered his willing transformation from man to murderous beast.

There are other soldiers who resist this transformation, and whose inner moral order rebels at what is committed by their government, and what their government compels them to do. This is much less glamorous than a story such as Kyle’s. Instead of flattering the nation, Tim’s story throws cold water on the flag-waving pomp of militant patriotism. His story is one of the intimate, human toll that war takes on the individual, and the individual’s family in the aftermath of suicide, or murder.

The man who said, "I’m tired of being the bad man", isn’t of the same cloth as he who said, "I hate the damn savages…I could give a flying f**k about them".

War, and militarism, seem to be at once both natural and unnatural to human nature. Natural in the sense that our innate savagery is drawn toward it, natural in that we erect great States that engage in bloody wars and militarism. But immensely unnatural to the "moral law" within us. But the degree to which one binds him or herself to this moral law points to how one will experience and process the mindless slaughter of war. Some are able to silence their conscience in order to cope with the death, murder, and fear they experienced while playing their part in the theater of war. But some cannot silence the moral law within themselves, and the inner storm that emerges from the conflict between what they experienced during war, and the judgment that their moral self passes upon them, is too much for many to bear.

Tim’s story is one of pain unendurable, of things seen and never to be forgotten, of experiences to be relived day after day. The isolation that comes with this, knowing that no one around you can even begin to comprehend the waking nightmare, becomes too much to bear.

Rage is the appropriate emotion upon hearing stories such as Tim’s, rage directed at the nexus of interests that set events in motion that result in tragedies such as this that ripple out and cause so much pain.

Losing Tim is a heartbreaking reminder that war is unnatural for noble, moral souls like Tim. "I’m tired of being the bad man" has a harrowing clarity to it, when attempting to come to terms with veteran suicide, PTSD, and the range of other afflictions that soldiers experience on a day-to-day basis. If every American forced themselves to understand the human toll that war takes on an individual, family level, where a person is driven inside themselves, held prisoner by their nightmares, both sleeping and waking, to the point that living itself has become Hell, then war would be at least slightly more difficult to engage in.

On the eve of the next war, it would be wise to remember Tim’s story, what gave rise to it, and take a moment to ponder the colossal swindle that is war. We could then turn to lies told to expedite the bomb-dropping, the fantasies and prejudices appealed to when a war is being sold.