Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
“There were 154 suicides among active-duty troops in the first 155 days of the year, according to a recent report from the Associated Press, a number that is 50 percent higher than the number of U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan over that time period. It is the highest rate in 10 years of war.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/federal-eye/post/panetta-calls-rise-in-military-suicide-troubling-and-tragic/2012/06/22/gJQAnQSPvV_blog.html
The above quote was taken from an article in yesterday’s Washington Post. The article was about a statement made by Defense Secretary Leo Panetta http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Panetta speaking to a Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs annual conference on suicide prevention in the military.
“Panetta called suicide in the military “perhaps the most frustrating challenge” he has faced since becoming secretary of defense last year.
There are no easy answers, but that is no damn reason for not finding the answer to the problem of suicide,” Panetta told attendees at the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs annual conference on suicide prevention in the military.
The conference heard Thursday from a panel of family members who spoke of what they said was the military services’ failure to provide appropriate and timely mental health care to service members who had sought help.”
“The stories told by the family panel members run counter to the prevailing wisdom that the biggest hurdle in trying to prevent suicide in the military is the stigma associated with seeking help, noted Bonnie Carroll, president and founder of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a military family group that organized the panel.
“We were hearing about folks who said, ‘I want to get help, I want to be better, I have a lot to live for,’ but were not getting that help,” Carroll said.
“In his address Friday morning, Panetta said that it is the responsibility of leaders from non-commissioned officers on up to ensure that troops showing signs of stress be “aggressively” encouraged to seek help. “We have to make clear we will not tolerate actions that belittle, that haze individuals, particularly those who seek help,” he said. Panetta said concerns about access to behavioral health care prompted his decision earlier this month to order a service-wide review of mental health diagnoses. The action followed an Army investigation into concerns that some soldiers had their diagnoses reversed because of the costs of caring for them. “
Let me be fair and say that I have no doubt as to the sincerity of Secretary Panetta in wanting to deal with this issue and I approve of all efforts to get treatment both psychologically and emotionally to provide our troops with all the assistance they need. However, as much effort as is put into solving this problem by the powers that be, the essential issue is that war is horrible and our country has now engaged in two wars that have lasted almost a decade. Beyond that, as these wars have worn on it has become increasingly obvious to all concerned that there was no need to fight them in the first place. Our troops are not stupid and I believe despite the great efforts to indoctrinate them with purpose, they recognize the futility of their efforts. If I’m correct then how does a rational human being connect the constant dangers and bloody revulsion they must feel, with the reality of their service?
My sense is that the connection, as many in our Armed Services have stated repeatedly, is to the other members of their squad. Nothing establishes a bond between human beings as strong as that of shared hardship and danger, save for perhaps sex and as we know that can be temporary at best. If the good of ones immediate comrades then become one’s motivation for survival, how is that individual affected by their injuries and deaths? Concurrently though, if ones immediate comrades bond to form a strong cohesive unit, where in their hierarchy of feelings do they place their spouses, children and other family?
Over and again, in interviews and in literature, the experience of war as related by those involved in its prosecution, is that they have never felt so alive in all their lives. While I’ve thankfully never had the experience of combat, as a human being I think I can understand what that emotion must be like. Most of us can in fact understand that. Think of the times in your life when you have been faced with danger and the heightened feelings that are associated with it as our body produces adrenalin and goes on the alert. Take those times, with for must of us have been relatively brief and imagine spending six month tours of duty, where these experiences are ongoing. What then does someone do when you juxtapose returning home to ones loved ones to that feeling of “aliveness”. My guess is that life must seem almost empty when returning to the safety of their “normal” lives. We humans, due to our self-awareness thrive on “purpose”. Since we are mortal and since we really don’t know if death is an ending or beginning, we all must find a purpose to our existence, or it becomes meaningless.
Our troops, usually at an age where they are just becoming adults, find that purpose in their military service. When sent to combat their purpose narrows into one of survival of themselves and their comrades. Many marry young and begin families, only to be separated for long periods from those families. In relationships, despite the cliché that “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, propinquity is really the glue that holds relationships together. Young children grow quickly and need the presence and constant bonding of parenthood. So too that bonding holds true for the parent. Extended absences loosen that bond. Returning home, as joyous as the initial feelings may be, can also be trying on those reuniting.
This though isn’t really about the specific why of this terribly alarming rate of suicide among our troops. Millions of words, thousands of studies have been completed and yet suicide is still a human behavior that both mystifies us and fills us with disquiet. What I can state definitively is the obvious. Suicide is the act of someone who has found that their life is no longer tolerable and feels that there is no chance of future improvement. There is no one size fits all solutions to why someone kills themselves, because the reasons are unique to the individual. When we talk of our troop’s participation in a never-ending war, in a foreign culture where we are rightly seen as invaders, isn’t the root cause of suicides rather obvious, even if each person’s act is unique to them.
If we were really serious about ending the alarming, increasing suicides among our troops, then perhaps we should end these purposeless wars, that have far outlasted any wars in this nation’s history, save for Viet Nam. In Viet Nam, where fifty thousand died and hundreds of thousands were injured both physically and psychologically, this nation learned the lesson of the destructiveness of a purposeless war of choice. The difference now is that our news media shared the horrors of Viet Nam with us. Now the deaths and the destruction are barely reported upon and no doubt the anonymity of their sacrifices also plays a role in the obvious despair that those led to suicide feel. This doesn’t even begin to take into account those who don’t choose that final option and yet whose lives have been broken by the devastation they’ve experienced.
While we may tepidly applaud the efforts of Defense Department to ameliorate this problem, the fact remains that the most obvious, yet unaired way to stop these suicides is to end the wars immediately and unequivocally. Yet obvious as this may be, we all know that the U.S. engagement in all parts of this world will not end soon under our current national predilection. With the buildup of the U.S. military under the necessity of World War II, those profiting from it and the military itself, found that America as the world military power kept them employed and wealthy. Having a paranoid, psychotic like Stalin, leading the Soviet Union provided an excellent excuse to engage in continuing to build American military strength and proclaiming a Cold War. The collapse of Chiang Kai Shek’s despotic rule of China, succeeded by Mao Tse Tsung’s communist regime, gave the appearance of an epic struggle between the “good” of Capitalism and the “bad” of Communism. To the mutual content of these opposing powers militarist leadership this “War” was fought on a global basis. As the beloved Dwight Eisenhower was retiring from the Presidency, this great former Five Star General was so bothered by the entrenchment of militarism in the U.S. that he cautioned its citizens to “beware of the Military-Industrial Complex”.
Ultimately, my point here is that the suicides of our troops is precisely related to the waging of endless wars, which have no real relationship to issues vital to our country. A person will, given the threat to their family and to their country, be willing to risk their very existence to stave it off. When that “threat” begins to assume a never-ending continuity and ones sacrifices are given lip service for those they purportedly are fighting for, can we doubt the onset of despair?
The ability to express ideas and come to conclusions regarding problems is limited by the language available. The power of our Military Industrial Complex to frame the foreign policy debate has lasted in this country for almost seventy years. With that power has come what I see to be their freedom from restraint by the three branches of our government. http://jonathanturley.org/2012/03/17/a-real-history-of-the-last-sixty-two-years/#more-46802 It is therefore no surprise that talk as we may about the causes of and the dealing with, our troop’s tragic suicides, the obvious causation is overlooked. Stop the damn wars and bring our troop’s home. Use the positive skills taught them to help rebuild this countries economy and I believe they will flourish, rather than wither. This is easy for me to say, but the reality is that too many of our elite, whether corporations or military leaders, flourish under this mad system for them to relinquish it voluntarily. Until we as a people rise to impose our will upon those who have exploited our fears for their profit, I say please spare me your cant, or your sorrow for those driven to death by their despair in pursuit of your pointless wars, against chimerical foes, for the sole purpose of personal greed and status.
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger