In 2009 it was first reported that more American soldiers were committing suicide than civilians for the first time in decades. (New York Times, January 29, 2009) In February 2010, the Peace and Justice Resource Center reported that suicides among American troops had reached 1,000 at a rate greater than fatalities in either the Iraq or Afghanistan Wars. Once again this week, the Pentagon acknowledged an Associated Press report that suicides were at record levels, 18 per day, and an 18 percent increase in active-duty suicides over last year. (New York Times, June 9, 2012) Those should have been warnings enough.
The time is long overdue to say out loud what no one seems willing to admit, that the American officials responsible for this decade of unwinnable wars also are responsible for the rising American suicide rates. Whatever happened to the leadership creed, "the buck stops here"?
When so many of our troops are killing themselves, despair is the trigger. No increase in mental health counseling or treatment, no anti-hazing programs, no amount of financial counseling for families back home - however worthwhile for many individuals - can prevent the relentless demolition of the human spirit that comes from unspeakable experiences in incomprehensible war zones repeated over and over for purposes that cannot be explained. The “war on terrorism” keeps spreading the terrorism. The purpose of the US government’s Long War, or that of any superpower, is finally not to lose – either face or reputation – even if soldiers must suffer as pawns.
Since our leaders can never appear to make a mistake that costs American lives, the wars therefore must continue beyond any rational purpose. In the end, the wars will end badly for all, as we already know but rarely admit. The survivors, including at least 250,000 Americans with traumatic brain injuries and many more with post-traumatic stress, will hope for rehabilitation while the government that sent them into battle cuts the budgets for treatment of their wounds. Or, in the alternative, the outsourced war leads to the outsourcing of veterans’ services. As his private foundation raises one hundred million dollars for veterans’ treatment centers, the millionaire developer Arnold Fisher says, “the signature wounds of these wars are traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress, and to this day, we are not treating these people well.” (New York Times, June 13, 2012).
The Pentagon’s annual budget for public relations - $4.7 billion in 2009 alone, according to the AP – will keep spinning fairy tales to recruit more young people into being “all that they can be.” Hollywood will supply the necessary propaganda films. Hawks in their think tanks will keep blaming the anti-war movement and the media. No one will be held accountable. A few will even become celebrities. Cowards who never fought because they were busy making money or pursuing office are among the loudest to welcome home the “wounded warriors.”