Tim caffery (02/09/1978 / San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, CA)
Soldier Suicides, American Patriotism & Hell (Short Essay)
The casualty rate of the War on Terror gets little press. Maybe a little mention of a soldier killed in action. Sometimes killed in an accident, just helicopter crashes for the most part. And I haven't figured it out yet, but on some occasions there are even names and pictures of the soldiers who died. Then there is the seemingly rare report of a contractor killed (it seems to me these reports are always about truck drivers for some reason) .
Numbers hit headlines, depending on the political atmosphere and pressure from nongovernmental organizations that independently monitor the military. Or when the media determines that a milestone has been hit, like 4,500 or 6,000.
But really for the most part American society, as proud they are to go to war (as it is always to defend freedom in one way or another) seems to struggle with facing the effects of wars and the tolls they take on the home front just as much as on the frontline.
I guess it is to be expected that a society that holds the wars they have waged as supernaturally noble to hold their soldiers that have committed, or attempted, suicide to be less than war heroes at the very least. I could push it farther, justifiably, and say that it very possible, very likely, those soldiers are actually considered disgraces by the civilian population as well as the military class.
Obviously my perspective can be easily challenged and a counter argument presented to provide evidence of my error. And it will of course be a very well spoken case citing statements made by one official or another and some reports that were made public showing concern by some department. There might even be a fund of some amount that would be said to show an effort to provide help.
But, perhaps I have gotten ahead of myself, and need to step back and set the stage for the discussion that will be given as much attention as those it concerns. Towards the end of 2008, I sat down and did some research. At that time the media was infatuated with rising suicide rates in the military and it caught my attention. I actually believe that when the media bites hold of a story it inevitably distorts it, whether maliciously or by sheer stupidity I haven’t figured out, so I wanted to find out what was behind these rising suicide rates.
I used a search engine to pull up as many news reports and official reports as I could to gather a tally.
I found that the army had the most news stories followed by the marines. There was very little on the air force and navy. I went back to 2001, because my starting point was I believe that the rising rates are echoes of the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan, looking for yearly totals by branch and monthly for 2008 (since it was October and it appeared that the numbers for 2008 would probably jump 30-60) .
One of the first things I noticed was that every news report only cited, or reported on, one branch of the military. It seemed strange to me, and maybe I am still ignorant as to the reasoning behind it, but I couldn't understand why not one, corporate or independent, media organization reported on the 'military' suicide rate.
I wasn't sure if the 1,300 plus confirmed active-duty military suicides I calculated from this mosaic of information was a topic too taboo for American society. I never found out if there are statistics for non-active-duty veterans or if they are somehow included in the numbers these reports represented. Not knowing the answer, creating an air of mystery, my imagination ran a little wild and I considered that it was possible that just as many non-active-duty veterans had likewise committed suicide. It remains speculation to me, as it is very difficult to compile data that simply states the number of total suicides of current and former military personnel. So, in my mind the total number of suicides, of active and non-active duty U.S. military personnel, was at least 2,000. And if my calculations were correct that meant that soldier suicides were actually en route to surpass KIAs, which were just over 4,300.
I have to admit the irrelevance of what I am saying, as I don't have any significant evidence to present a case. And what case am I trying to present? Most Americans might just say in any event that war IS bad, and brutal and that all this only proves it but that is about it. Mentally, and maybe even spiritually, categorizing soldier suicides as some sort of collateral damage, a cost of war. Some might find the static information and speculative ramblings of mine as offensive attempts to smear troops and lower their morale, showing contempt for the efforts they are making for my freedom.
I recognize this freedom, being a sort of history buff, I know that such accusation alone have carried with them the enforcement of capital punishment in other societies. While in America, I can raise these questions. I can use a freedom of speech to challenge my society, whether for good or bad, and not have to anticipate state prosecution. I can actually depend on state protection if my words were so offensive, whether by revelation or deformation, that another entity sought to retaliate by utilizing violence.
But these freedoms don’t appear to extend to soldiers who fall victim to the atrocities of combat that primarily result in civilian deaths. Who ravaged by the aftermath of the military’s training, designed to create killing machine from human beings, are left to psychologically and spiritually rot in a world within them that they feel they can not escape or return from. Their freedom of speech is only a rubber band freedom. Soldiers that strive to actually defend life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for themselves and fellow soldiers, “soldiers” being merely the word to reduce the value of these young women and men’s lives to a commodity, are met with vehement slander from politicians, religious leaders, and families unable to cope with the realities of their loved ones’ murder. This relationship I find to be best described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence”, what he called “this cruel manipulation of the poor.”
So these youth, female and male, all colors, creeds, sexual orientations but disproportionately lower economic classes, or to Americanize the term classes: “statuses”, abandoned by blind patriotism and religiously perverted security policies that associate being human as being inherently evil, learn to self medicate. Much like millions of U.S. civilians addicted to prescription pain-killers, anti-depressants, alcohol and food. Though these may fill the voids of common society such vices fall somewhat short of soothing the hollowed out wounds left by the military’s psychologically charged combat training. So whether it is ironically, poetically or disturbingly, these people are left nowhere left to go but back to war. To that place where even the highest ranking officers refer to as “hell”. And beyond this point I can only say if the United States’ most efficient institution is one that rotates its young women and men in and out of hell then where else do we as a nation deserve to be but with them?
Until the lives and wellbeing of the youth of the U.S. are valued above the political hype of the elite corrupt and civilians believe that human sacrifices are still required for the gods’ protection and blessings our country will die with every life lost, foreign and domestic. Military technology that makes war seem less dangerous is like that prescription of oxy-contin that a doctor gave your mother for back pain, or you husband for a twisted ankle, or the McDonald’s that you feed you a kid that in reality is more dangerous than second hand cigarette smoke. It still kills them just as much as the enemy, but if we use soldier suicides to determine the worthy heroes and the worthless washouts then it doesn’t matter. We’re good.
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