The Sad Suicide of Admiral Nimitz

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– January 18, 2002

The name of Chester W. Nimitz is legendary in the annals of naval warfare. In June 1942, Admiral Nimitz commanded the U.S. forces assigned to block a Japanese invasion of Midway.

In the Battle of Midway, Nimitz’s fighter-bombers caught the Japanese fleet off guard, as its carrier aircraft were being refueled on deck. His pilots swooped in and sent to the bottom four of the Japanese carriers – Hiryu, Soryu, Akagi and Kaga – that had led the attack on Pearl Harbor. Midway broke the back of Japanese naval power and was among the most decisive battles in all of history.

Nimitz’s son and namesake, Chester W. Nimitz Jr., would rise to the same rank of admiral and become a hero of the Pacific war – a submarine commander who would sink a Japanese destroyer bearing down on his boat by firing torpedoes directly into its bow.

But Chester W. Nimitz Jr., achieved another kind of fame on Jan. 2. In a suicide pact with his 89-year-old wife, the 86-year-old hero ended his life with an overdose of sleeping pills.

Having lost 30 pounds from a stomach disorder, suffering from congestive heart failure and in constant back pain, the admiral had been determined to dictate the hour of his death. His wife, who suffered from osteoporosis so severe her bones were breaking, had gone blind. She had no desire to live without her husband.

So, as the devoted couple had spent their lives together, they decided to end their lives together. The admiral’s final order read: “Our decision was made over a considerable period of time and was not carried out in acute desperation. Nor is it the expression of a mental illness. We have consciously, rationally, deliberately and of our own free will taken measures to end our lives today because of the physical limitations on our quality of life placed upon us by age, failing vision, osteoporosis, back and painful orthopedic problems.”

According to The New York Times obituary, “The Nimitzes did not believe in any afterlife or God, and embraced no religion. But one of Mr. Nimitz’s three surviving sisters, Mary Aquinas, 70, is a Catholic nun. … Sister Mary said that she could not condone her brother’s decision to end his life, but that she felt sympathetic. ‘If you cannot see any value to suffering for yourself or others,’ she said, ‘Then maybe it does make sense to end your life.'”

No matter the admirable life he led, the admiral’s suicide is a victory for the Hemlock Society over a sanctity-of-life ethic. From the Times’ obit, Nimitz appears to have laid aside any Christian beliefs and embraced a post-Christian moral code like the Roman Stoics who opened their veins or Japanese warriors who committed hara-kiri in atonement for the ignominy of their defeat.

Under the Christian moral code, God is the Author of life and no man has a right to take his life. The Everlasting, said Hamlet, “hath set his canon ‘gainst self slaughter.” In the Catholic Church, suicide remains a grave sin, and the admiral would have been denied a Catholic burial. But this clearly mattered far less to Nimitz than that he and his wife die in what he believed was dignity.

The admiral’s suicide is a moral tragedy. As a war hero who carried a great name, Chester W. Nimitz Jr. was a man whom it is natural to admire and emulate. Yet, many of those who read of how he ended his life will conclude that this is the course of dignity and honor for brave men. Many will take the final step the admiral took – not out of calculation, but depression, loneliness, despair and fear.

Unfortunately, we are headed for a world where the admiral’s way will be considered not only reasonable, but commendable.

By 2050, half of all the people of European descent will be over 50, with 10 percent of Europe over 80. With Christianity fading away in the West, with 60 million aged Europeans over 80 to be cared for, the course set by the old submariner will be followed by tens of thousands. Indeed, one must ask: If the admiral’s decision to commit suicide was rational, intelligent and humane, does it not logically follow that those who cannot make this decision for themselves should have it made for them by doctors who are equally rational, intelligent and humane?

A prediction: In coming decades, involuntary euthanasia will be commonplace in Europe, and Gen-Xers’ battles to stay alive into old age will be treated with the same cold contempt as they treated the silent screams of the unborn. Millions will be put to sleep like aged and incontinent household pets.

Since the 1960s, the radical young have pleaded for a world free of the strictures of the old Christian morality. They are close to getting what they have demanded … and my sense is that they will not like what they get. We are heading into Bladerunner Country.

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