Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Hate The War

At a time of record-high military suicides, commanders are ignoring the mental health problems of American soldiers and not winnowing out enough of those with records of substance abuse and crime, a United States Army report has concluded.

That's the opening paragraph to Elisabeth Bumiller's "As Military Suicides Hit Record High, Pentagon Report Faults Commanders" (New York Times) and there are many reports on the topic but Bumiller has the strongest one.

For fiscal year 2009, the report found that there were 1,713 attempted suicides and 160 Army soldiers took their own lives.

There are objections to the Army's report. Gen Peter Chiarelli feels that there are a number of factors at play including repeat deployments. He's probably correct on this. He was on NPR (hourly news report) noting that, finances and family life and, actually, all three are connected. (If he realized that, he didn't point it out.) If you're doing repeat deployments you are limited in how far you can get ahead in a job that i not the US military due to the fact that you're constantly deployed. Constant deployments also affect your family. So the three are interrelated.

The report finds that commanders are not aware enough or committed enough to stop the problem at present. And why would they be? They refer to PTSD in hearings as "PTS" to run it down and indicate that it's just stress. They regularly downgrade the seriousness of this issue. (Which is why it's good to see Chiarelli attempting to pull together the loose ends.) From day one, commanders could have set the tone and made it clear that those struggling were to be helped, not shamed. They failed. They failed to do their job.

And that sent a message that the military now has to attempt to overcome. But it's a message that's well established. It says that suicidal thoughts are 'your problem' and something must be wrong with you if you're feeling that way, something so wrong that you need to hide it, not seek help for it.

Again, the commanders had the ability to set the tone. They refused to do so. And a bunch of tacky PSAs can't take the place of a fully committed commander.

The main point the report misses is: This was completely expected.

It's over, I'm done writing songs about love
There's a war going on
So I'm holding my gun with a strap and a glove
And I'm writing a song about war
And it goes
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Oh oh oh oh
-- "I Hate The War" (written by Greg Goldberg, on The Ballet's Mattachine!)

Last week, ICCC's number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war was 4412. Tonight it's 4413. [7-30-2010, number corrected. Thanks to Henry for catching that and e-mailing.]

The e-mail address for this site is