Join the Army – Kill Overseas – Become a "Hero" and then Kill Yourself
December 14, 2010
By Marti Hiken and Luke Hiken
"More than 1,000 troops have killed themselves over the past five
years in a suicidal wave. The steepest hikes have been in the Army
and Marine Corps, the two services providing most of the troops for
nation's two wars. A recent independent report ordered by Congress
found the Pentagon's suicide prevention efforts inadequate."
-- MARK THOMPSON, "Top Admiral: Military Suicides Will Keep Rising,"
Time Magazine, 9-30-10
Given the high number of military suicides, it is important to
understand the context for these tragic deaths.
The holidays frequently evoke symptoms of depression and an
escalating sense of hopelessness with marital, economic, or other
personal problems. So, as the holidays approach, a joyous time of
year with family gatherings, Chanukkah candles, dreidels, Christmas
trees, snow falling, wreaths, and Kwanzaa celebrations, reflect on
the fact that it is also the time of year when more Americans and
especially American service members and veterans commit suicide than
any other time of the year. The numbers of those who will end their
lives this season will be high as Americans face foreclosures, high
rents, loss of jobs, recession, no food, and strong consumer sale
pitches to spend, spend, spend.
THE ROLE OF THE U.S. MILITARY IN CREATING PTSD
The U.S. military, of course, is directly responsible given that the
service members are under its jurisdiction and command. The U.S.
military also is responsible to its veterans for providing the needed
care because the vets suffering the PTSD are a result of what
happened to them during the wars. Ultimately, however, it is
Congress, the ever-conservative judiciary and President who are
responsible for the suicides. Every death should be laid at the feet
of our elected representatives and the appointed judges. If the wars
are so unpopular and disturbing to the point that self-inflicted
death becomes the standard, then there is something incongruous and
pathetic about the fact that American soldiers are being told they
are "heroes" for murdering Muslims throughout the Middle East.
"War is hell" remains the common command justification for the high
suicide. Don't buy it. The suicide rate is higher with the wars from
this decade than during any other war, including Vietnam.
"Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was
talking of the military's ability to fight future wars Wednesday when
he suddenly changed gears. 'We had five suicides in the Army last
weekend,' the nation's top military officer abruptly volunteered.
And, he warned, such horrors are only going to grow."
"All of the pathologies of war – PTSD, crime, domestic violence,
suicide – are tolls that must be paid long after troops have left the
battlefield. It has become obvious that mere billions of taxpayer
dollars cannot really blunt war's psychic trauma. It's almost painful
to watch senior military leaders -- so used to prevailing -- try, and
fail, to defeat this latest scourge. And warning it is only going to
-- MARK THOMPSON, "Top Admiral: Military Suicides Will Keep Rising,"
Time Magazine, 9-30-10
Even those who have not engaged in direct combat suffer from PTSD
symptoms. They have killed by missiles dropped by remote-controlled
drones, in hand-to-hand combat; they have engaged in varied forms of
training and combat; they have seen members of their units killed
before their eyes; they have killed civilians, including children;
they have raped and tortured; and, they have been pushed to the limit
by stop-loss, by regulations, fragos [in the military, a (hasty or
sudden) change or amendment to a previous operational order] and directives.
PTSD grabs hold of an individual with its tenacious tentacles,
encircling not only the individual, but also the family, the loved
ones and the extended support group, if the sufferer is lucky enough
to have one. PTSD has symptoms that don't go away; on the contrary,
they hide and surface at unexpected and vulnerable times. Something
moves, the light changes, a memory escapes from the depth of the soul
and grabs hold of the mind and switches it back to another time. A
world is brought forth where the experiences meld into the present,
but not completely because the mind is in limbo with dangerous and
violent remedies that are out of place.
I have witnessed the immediate aftermath of a GI's suicide. I was too
late to stop it. Everyone was too late to stop it. The GI suffered
from PTSD and wasn't able to bring together the reality of the moment
with the crimes of the war. He was fragile and he had a very sharp
knife that was his constant companion.
What I saw and focused on was the blood spewed everywhere. It was on
the walls, on the rug, in the bathroom, under the chairs, and on his
wife's blouse and jeans. It was the color of red – the same color of
the bright ribbons that adorn so many presents wrapped for Christmas.
The same red color as the blood he had seen when he had cut the neck
of a small boy in a small town in a small country.
He was dead, but the rest of us, including his wife, will never be
able to wash the blood off.
PTSD can erupt as early as Basic Training when an individual is
subjected to the arbitrary and brutal abuse associated with that
stage of training. It sometimes endures a lifetime. While the
military acknowledges the lack of control and remedies for suicide,
allocating a miniscule number of programs for it, it still refuses to
take responsibility for it by giving service members straightforward
medical discharges rather than giving them personality disorder
discharges and discharging them for various sorts of misconduct
(which are an inevitable outcome of PTSD).
Take Jeff Lane. He isn't contemplating suicide, or at least, not
much; he's not contemplating running somewhere, because running
conjures thoughts of being alone and running down a long tunnel into
an unwelcoming void. He's not about to pick up his gear and walk to
the base or even to ask the counselors to drive him; instead, he has
taken all his medals and pinned them up on the wall beside his bed.
He has taken great care and gone to great strides to do this just
perfectly. He placed each one in the order that he had received them.
He stares at each medal as he remembers the valour, courage, and
fortitude that he had shown. Indeed, for each action, he had been
rewarded with a ribbon, some metal, and as a result, great pride took
over his heart. He had saved the life of more than one of his buddies
and he had shot and killed people who didn't wear a uniform.
Then the evil thoughts begin; the ones that drag him down. He doesn't
want to go there, but his mind won't release him. The pride begins to
lose control and he freezes up. He hears a car go by the window and
he wants to get up to look at it, but he is unable to. The medals
become a blur.
She was a young woman inside the house. He felt like a robot with all
his gear on and given what he was carrying. Her parents had already
been killed. It was she and he in the room, alone. He didn't want to
shoot her, but what purpose was there in leaving her to face all that
had happened -- that he had caused. If he killed her, and he looked
into her eyes stricken with fear, he wouldn't have to make judgment.
She would just be dead and he could forget about her. It was the easy
way out. Her eyes closed, ready for the death that would come.
On to the next medal as Jeff tries to focus: there is no meeting of
the two worlds, the one of war and the other of the present. Jeff
realizes that he is slipping into the vague world of the battle
between the memory of it all and the present. It is as though he is
drowning and he knows he is slipping into the tunnel that takes you
to the place of the void where there is nothing.
He listens to the gunshots ringing everywhere around him. He wants to
save his medals – the ones that envelope his pride and valor. He
looks up at them, grasping for them as they were the life buoy that
would bring him to safety. But, they are an illusion riding high in
his mind. He sees blood on his legs and hands. His hands have been
gouging rivers in his legs. He wants to feel the pain, but he can't,
no matter how hard he tries. He sees rivers of blood. He wants to
drip the water from the rivers on his medals and he stands on his bed
to perform the ceremony. He suddenly stops, similarly as his dreams
always end. He is unable to mutilate his medals. They are he; they
are one. He can't touch them and he is to be the only sacrificial lamb today.
Jeff Lane collapses onto his knees, grabs the pillow, and cries,
sobbing into its comforting softness as he folds into a fetal
position on the bed.
THE U.S. MILITARY RENEGES ON ITS RESPONSIBILITY
The military needs the cannon fodder, although it certainly doesn't
need the support of the American people to wage the wars. And, if the
result is that suicides kill a greater percentage of our soldiers, so be it.
Bill heard the bell ring and immediately rose from his work to run to
the counseling room. He joined Dan who was counseling and evaluating
a vet who had retuned from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and who been
inside Iran for a while. Dan knew both territories well – the
geographical and mental ones -- but in such cases when a counselee
became violent, reinforcements per program rules were required immediately.
He sized up the situation quickly. Not good. The counselee had
returned to the war zone. He was being shot at. His buddies were in
danger or dead. He was probably wounded, shot. Maybe he had gone
through an IED or sniper situation. Maybe he had killed innocents.
"I killed them all, you know!" he yelled. His eyes were wild, glazed over.
"We gotcha covered," Dan yelled.
"I'm over here," Bill yelled. "We're safe here," he yelled, coming up
behind. He knew that Dan was more able to physically get the guy
under control. Another counselor entered the room.
"I killed all the motherfuckers. I got 'em. I had to kill 'em, you
know. What could I do? Everyone of them." He circled the room, his
eyes darting every which way. His arms were in front of him as though
he were looking for something to grab, maybe weapons or someone to
fight. His feet were doing a dance like a boxer. He was wild and it
was a dangerous situation. He tried to edge past Dan, trying to push
him aside. That was a mistake. Dan grabbed his farthest arm, swung
him around, twisted and locked his arm against his lower back, and
grabbed him around the neck from behind with his other arm. He had
control of the guy's entire body. The guy was kicking and stomping,
trying to throw Dan over his shoulder. Dan was too firmly rooted for
that and he was braced against the wall. The guy turned his head and
looked up at the ceiling as though he expected bullets to be coming
from the buildings at any moment. Bill and the other counselor were
on the guy in another split minute. The guy was screaming bloody
murder. "You're all going to die. Don't you see. I had to do it. I
gotta save ya. I had to do it."
"Calm down, Tony! We're taking you out to the back room where you can
simmer down," Bill said. "You're at our office here in the city.
You're with friends." "When he's okay, take him out to Livermore
facility," he said to the counselor.
THE MILITARY MAKES IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE GI TO HOLD ONTO HIS/HER HUMANITY
The fact that the military establishment is trying very hard to deal
with the high suicide rate just doesn't pass muster, and it must be
held responsible for each and every death of its service members.
Unpopular wars are unpopular for a reason. The strategies and
tactics, the training or lack of it, in which the U.S. military
engages lead its members to rot in hell due to their cruelty and
disdain for human life. Drone warfare and house-to-house searches
create more enemies and more problems, and it is inevitable that the
casualties will be those who directly and indirectly inflict the wounds.
It was late at night -- too late to be standing and crouching outside
the modest home. The soldiers were hunched over, weapons in their
hands. It was a dark night and the soldiers waited in anticipation.
They had their orders; they just waited for the command. It came.
They rushed the door. The second in line kicked it down, not wavering
for a second. The noise woke the family. The father reached for the
gun beside his bed. He was too late. One of the soldiers kicked it
across the room that served as a living room, dining room, kitchen
and bedroom. The wife started to scream and ran toward their baby.
The two older children cried. They looked toward their parents for
directions as to what their emotions should be. All the faces showed fear.
The soldier shouted that they should get on the floor, face down.
They did as they were told. Their arms were roughly brought to their
backs and tied. The mother tried to pull down her nightgown. Two of
the soldiers noisily and roughly went through the room, knocking over
what scarce furniture there was. They searched the chests, through
the kitchen pots, breaking the dishes, throwing clothes around and
rustling through papers. The father yelled, begging the soldiers not
to kill his family. The soldier kicked him in the side. Blood ran out
of his mouth. The elder brother's eyes turned from fear to anger; he
would seek revenge. The other child tried to squirm to the corner as
though that would hide her from the ugliness. Her father's eyes told
her to remain quiet.
The soldier in command asked him where the papers were; they pulled
him to his feet roughly and butted him in the stomach. His legs
collapsed. The mother screamed that there were no papers or weapons
other than the one weapon. The soldiers talked among themselves. One
by one they took the family outside and threw them against the side
of the small house. They threw out names, one after the other, and
the father replied that he didn't know who they were asking about.
The soldiers hit him in the head. One of the soldiers began slowly to
hike the nightgown up to the thighs on the wife. The soldier in
command eyed him viciously and ordered that the father accompany them
as they pulled him away from the house and his family. The wife
screamed and screamed to no avail holding the baby to her body. The
middle child wailed. The older boy was silent.
The location was Boston in the 1770s and Iraq and Afghanistan in the
2000s and, as John Adams stated, that with blanket search warrants:
"then and there the child Independence is born." House-to-House
searches, whether in times of war or occupation or against dissidents
and their supporters, and since before the Magna Carta, are not games
that wise citizens should allow their kings to play.
PERMANENT WAR ENSURES CONTINUED SUICIDES
The only way to prevent the current high rate of suicides and PTSD is
to end the wars. A reasonable foreign policy would alleviate the
deaths that too many American families are facing. There are many
support groups available, yet, you, the soldiers and veterans must
take the first step – to live. To save your lives, and to end these wars.
•INDEPENDENT VOTER NETWORK (IVN)
"the toll of military suicides last year was the worst since records
began to be kept in 1980."
"The surge in suicides, which have risen five years in a row, has
become a vexing problem for which the Army's highest levels of
command have yet to find a solution despite deploying hundreds of
mental-health experts and investing millions of dollars."
"Military suicides make up about 20% of all suicides in the U.S.,
suggesting that the problem is worse among the armed forces than in
the general population since veterans make up only about 7.6% of the
"The suicide rate among soldiers who have deployed to [war zones] is
higher than for soldiers who have never deployed"
"For every death, at least five members of the armed forces were
hospitalised for attempting to take their life."
•WORLD SOCIALIST WEBSITE
More than 1,000 veterans in California under 35 died after returning
home from Iraq and Afghanistan between 2005 and 2008 - three times as
many California service members who were killed in conflict overseas,
according to a recently published Bay Citizen report.
•Kennedy, Kelly, Army Times," Study finds 'hidden epidemic' of female
vet suicides," 12-2010: Female veterans commit suicide at a rate
three times higher than women who never served, according to a new study.
Marti Hiken is the director of Progressive Avenues. She is the former
associate director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and former
chair of the National Lawyers Guild Military Law Task Force. She can
be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 415-702-9682.
The Progressive Avenues website, www.progressiveavenues.org, is
updated regularly in the "What's Added, What's New" link on the Home
page, at http://www.progressiveavenues.org/Whats_New_Added.html
Luke Hiken is a former supervising attorney at the California
Appellate Project, and has engaged in the practice of criminal,
immigration, and appellate law.