Friday, September 19, 2008
By: Michael Prysner
Suicide rates among active duty soldiers to surpass general population
The author, an Iraq War veteran, is the candidate of the Party for
Socialism and Liberation in Florida's 22nd Congressional District. To
learn more about his campaign, click here. To learn more about other
PSL candidates running in national and local elections, click here.
So far this year, 93 active duty soldiers have taken their own lives.
The figure puts the suicide rate on course to exceed that of the
general U.S. population. Such a phenomenon has not occurred since the
brutal war in Vietnam, which to this day still yields high suicide
rates among its veterans. These men and women, too, are casualties of war.
Suicide figures for the military have consistently risen: 67 in 2004,
87 in 2005, 102 in 2006, and 115 in 2007. Col. Eddie Stephens, the
army's deputy director of human resources policy, predicted that
"with four months left, we're probably going to surpass 115" in 2008.
The figures show that the majority soldiers committing suicide are
young and of low rank. The underlying factors in this grim statistic
First, high school youths are among the top targets of recruiters.
The U.S. military sponsors video game and paintball tournaments to
entice young students with a fantasy world of glamorized combat. It
has even gone so far as to create its own video game, "America's
Army." The horrors that recruits as young as 17 will see in Iraq and
Afghanistan are inconspicuously absent from the game.
Second, the fact that the majority of suicides are among low-ranking
enlisted soldiers reflects the existing class divisions within the
military. Enlisted soldiers are predominantly from poor and working
class backgrounds, with a growing number not even having a high
school diploma. Officers are generally of a more privileged stratum
of college graduates.
In peacetime, the lives of officers and enlisted soldiers are vastly
different, with the officers enjoying an extremely high standard of
living, spending most of their time behind a desk. Enlisted soldiers
are paid drastically less, live in substandard barracks and are
responsible for all manual labor, such as mowing lawns and janitorial duties.
In wartime, however, the relationship between the enlisted soldiers
and their officer bosses takes on a new, criminal dynamic. For
officers, their career is furthered by the success of their unit.
Enlisted soldiers are typically sent on missions that have no purpose
other than to invite an attack. Sometimes called "draw fire"
missions, soldiers are sent to patrol an area with known
anti-occupation sentiments to intimidate and provoke the Iraqi people
into a fight. While the enlisted soldiers are killed, maimed and
traumatized on these pointless missions, their commanding officers
have another battle to put on their promotion paperwork.
Other than being forced to take part in these types of missions,
enlisted soldiers overwhelmingly bear the brunt of normal combat
operations. The poor and working people in this country have always
been the ones used as cannon fodder for the imperialist goals of the
Across the board, experts attribute the rise in suicides to lengthy
and frequent deployments. These deployments have no end in sight,
with the occupation of Iraq planned to continue indefinitely and
another potential troop surge in the horizon, this time in Afghanistan.
The U.S. military has responded to the suicide epidemic by planning
to hire more mental health specialists and increasing the use of
anti-depressants. These "solutions" aim to keep soldiers stable
enough to continue to be deployed over and over again, ultimately
exacerbating the resulting disabilities. The Pentagon has nothing to
gain from properly caring for veteransits only interest is having an
unlimited supply of bodies it can ship to other countries to do its biding.
As long as we live under a system whose wheels are set in motion by
profits alone, the military will be a used as a tool to secure
foreign markets, regardless of the effect it has on soldiers or the
peoples targeted by war. A complete overturn of this system and a
restructuring of society are in order if we wish to see no more human
lives thrown to waste onor offthe battlefield.