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Shrinks for Saddam
by Stephen Rittenberg, M.D.
26 October 2002

Representative Jim McDermott, who has based his opposition to Bush's stance on Iraq partially on his own experience as a "Vietman war veteran," actually served as a psychiatrist in a California naval hospital during Vietnam.

As bona fides for his Baghdad caper, Rep. Jim Mc'Dermott cited his
Vietnam vet status. As it turns out, I like Mc'Dermott, was battle
hardened-stateside, and fought off the Viet Cong from the redoubts of St.
Alban's Naval Hospital in Queens, New York. I too was a Navy shrink, from
'67-'69. It was a piece of luck that placed me there as a Lieut. Commander
after my psychiatric residency. Not as lucky as Mc'Dermott who was assigned
to a California Naval Hospital, where the surf and sun could provide regular
relief from the rigors of war. What were the duties of a Navy psychiatrist? I
drove to work from my upper East side apt. arriving at 9AM, conducted rounds
on the psychiatric ward, which consisted of the patients all standing at
attention next to their neatly made beds while I walked past each one
inspecting the neatness of their uniforms. If any had complaints they could
speak to me for a few minutes after rounds. The staff then met for coffee and
the nurses described any problems overnight. We then adjusted psychotropic
medications and began to interview new arrivals. This took approximately 2
hours per morning. Most of the patients were marines who had gotten into
trouble with their c.o.'s in 'Nam and who were shipped stateside as 'head
cases'. They had no interest in psychotherapy and were quite happy to be back
in the states. Some chronic trouble makers were shipped to the brig in
Brooklyn, but most were quickly discharged to civilian life. Another duty we
had, which Dr. Mc'Dermott must have had too, was to interview civilians who
were claiming psychiatric problems in order to get out of the draft. These
were, most often, Ivy League students who were eager to protest the war and
cite the unfair burden falling on the lower classes, but who, when it came to
their own skin, were all too eager to let the uneducated poor die in their
place. Often they would feign psychosis, or homosexuality to get their
exemption. This is where I learned first hand the hypocrisy of the left, a
lesson that has stayed with me over the years.

By 4PM I was done with my day's work and headed back to Manhattan. I was able
to begin my private practice in the hours after my Navy stint. It was an
amazingly easy time, complete with dinners at the elegant Officer's Club-the
Navy was known in those days for the excellence of its cuisine, shopping at
the PX, where I could load up on cut rate necessities for my growing family.
It was with very mixed feelings that I concluded my 2 years in the Navy. I
now joke with friends who didn't serve about how I was defending the country
during those years. Thus to read Mc'Dermott linking himself with those who
actually fought in the jungles of Vietnam while he was California Dreamin'
was a bit much.

One thing I doubt Mc'Dermott is dissembling about: he is a shrink, one of the
modern type, for whom bad behavior is the result of misunderstanding. Thus
Saddam, while acknowledged to be a behavior problem, is to be understood as
craving kind treatment and understanding. We are to blame for not according
him sufficient respect, not acknowledging how he feels. The usual mindless
cant of the therapeutic culture, much of it imbibed in the '60's when
psychiatry was infected by counterculture gurus like R.D. Laing and Tim Leary
asserting that we would all be happy if only our parents had been kinder and
not driven us crazy. I suspect he heard the same tales of woe as I did from
the psychopaths he interviewed in the Navy and listened with sympathy, like
Officer Krupke, to their laments, before he turned on the Beach Boys and
headed off to catch some rays.