published Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

The military and suicide

The tradition is part of national ritual. When a member of the U.S. military dies in a combat zone, the president acknowledges the loss with a letter of condolence to the family of the deceased. There was one exception. No letter was sent to the families of those who committed suicide in a war zone. President Barack Obama reversed that policy earlier this month. Thank goodness.

The new policy acknowledges a hard truth — that suicides increasingly are a problem in the military and that a family’s loss is not diminished because of the manner of death. Indeed, the president directly addressed the nation’ complicity in the suicides when he announced the change in policy.

“The issue is emotional, painful and complicated, but these Americans [who committed suicide] served our nation bravely. They didn’t die because they were weak. And the fact that they didn’t get the help they needed must change.” His words are a wake-up call to a nation that sends men and women to war, but then fails to provide adequate services to help them cope with the mental stress the duty can produce.

The number of military men and women who commit suicide — 295 last year — is not large, and the number that killed themselves in a war zone — 30 last year — is smaller. What’s disturbing, though, is the rise in the number of military suicides.

Before 2008, the military suicide rate was lower than in the overall U.S. population. Since then, it has remained above the norm. The military and others have studied the problem, and there is growing agreement that repeated and longer tours of duty and family problems at home are potent factors in suicide rates. Little has been done to relieve those pressures.

The suicide problem defies easy resolution. It is, in fact, two problems. One involves personnel in combat zones. The other occurs when military personnel return home to face the difficulties of post-traumatic stress disorders and a return to family routines. The president acknowledged both.

Sending letters of condolence to families of all U.S. military personnel who die in a combat zone removes the stigma of suicide by acknowledging that mental stress faced by those in uniform can be as deadly as enemy fire. The change in policy, however, only alludes to the other problem.

The president admitted that suicides often occur because members of the military are reluctant to admit they need help, and then find it difficult to get it when they do. The United States should do a better job of providing such assistance. The president, legislators and military leaders will have to unite — difficult to do in the current political atmosphere — to develop and fund the services necessary to properly address the issue. Surely, that’s not too much to ask on behalf of the nation’s fighting men and women.

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Rational1 said...


It is that kind of attitude that exacerbates the problem. Suicide in the military is a complex problem: one which requires serious attention, and consideration. Your cavalier comment makes it obvious you have never seen combat.

July 20, 2011 at 5:38 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

"A soldier is trained to fight and kill the enemy." Therein lies the rub. It is not surprising to see so many of today's soldiers committing suicide after they return home to civilian life and have time to reflect on the number of innocent lives they have had to take in these meaningless wars. For every known enemy combatant (who is most likely an "enemy" only because we are there occupying and destroying their country in the first place) we capture or kill, dozens of innocent lives have been taken. Or an innocent life has been snuffed out because the soldier had to develop the kill-or-be-killed mentality, just to stay alive. A good rule of thumb for engaging in all-out war is: if we don't have a clear picture of who our enemy is, or if our known enemies are outnumbered by innocent civilians by a zillion to one, then we don't need to be there.

Every new military recruit comes from a background where they have been taught that killing is morally reprehensible, many of the more devout Christians thinking they will surely go to hell for doing so. Then they are brainwashed to kill and they think, or like to think, that because we are in a war and because the military says that it's okay and in fact you MUST kill or be killed, then they can somehow live with it. It's hard enough to justify taking a human life, even a known enemy, but when you know that you have killed someone completely innocent it's even harder to come to grips with. When you are in the throes of battle and just want to get out alive you don't have much time to reflect on the right or the wrong of what you've done, but once back home, those innocent lives taken come back to haunt you.

It's indicative in the comment from L4F that he is totally incapable of empathy or understanding. Of course, from the many other posts that he has submitted in the past I knew this already. To call these suicide victims cowards is disgusting. And, yes, they are victims... of our military/industrial/corporatist complex and America's collective delusion that our country is "exceptional" and somehow blessed by god and that any war we fight must be a good and necessary war, 'cause the old man in the sky is on our side.

At least someone who takes his own life shows signs of still having a conscience to struggle with. It is the ones who follow like sheep and blindly do the bidding of their corporate or military masters that lack true courage or integrity.

July 20, 2011 at 5:52 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

L4F, I am disappointed in your post. How unfeeling. Suicide is a tragic outcome of a very complicated set of circumstances, but any death, regardless of the manner, is sad for all involved, especially the family. I am surprised that you have not educated yourself better on this issue. It's beneath you.

July 20, 2011 at 6:23 p.m.
amnestiUSAF84 said...

I was about to post a response to another one of Lib4s senseless and disconnected rants, but the three following posts after took care of the problem. I especially admire Rickaroo's response.

An individual can't be told one minute it's wrong to take a human life, then in the next minute told it's alright to take a human life because it's war.

July 20, 2011 at 7:56 p.m.
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