Harsh Environment: US Military Suicide Rate Spike Since 2001

Still think it doesn’t matter whether or not we’re supportive of soldiers fighting overseas? Since 2001, more US military personnel have committed suicide than have died in action in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

These are official figures from the US Department of Defence, yet somehow they have not been deemed newsworthy to report. Last year alone, more than 330 serving members of the US armed forces committed suicide – more than the 320 killed in Afghanistan and the 150 who fell in Iraq (see wsws.org).

Sure, national defense is the quintessential tax-funded resource. But when civilians force soldiers to bear the brunt of cultural prejudice, this takes a mighty toll on battle-weary psyches. These are, after all, human beings.

Since 2001, when Washington launched its so-called war on terror, there has been a dramatic year-on-year increase in US military suicides, particularly in the Army, which has borne the brunt of fighting abroad. Last year saw the highest total number since such records began in 1980. Prior to 2001, the suicide rate in the US military was lower than that for the general US population; now, it is nearly double the national average.

American objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan may be controversial. The necessity to support Americans serving in those countries is not.

These figures become particularly disturbing when you realize that they only include deployed personnel. Because veterans are officially classified as “civilians,” veterans who take their own lives are not included in these dizzying statistics.

Many of these men have come home to a country they have fought for only to find no jobs, their homes repossessed by banks that have enjoyed trillion dollar bailouts, and broken relationships.

For better or for worse President Obama’s Administration has deemed America’s continued presence appropriate in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our purpose abroad is open to debate, but the facts on the ground — the soldiers on the ground — are not.

War is what happens when two parties want something more than they want peace. Perpetuating a war between soldiers and their country will not move us closer to whatever it is that now two Executive Administrations have decided that we want more than peace.

That suicide rates have risen so dramatically even since the post-Vietnam era indicates a sharp decline in Americans’ reception — Americans’ gratitude — to those who defend our country. For civilians and for the media, now is the time to stand and salute. Such somber statistics are evidence that Americans cannot continue to indulge the urge to punish those who choose to protect the rest of us who choose to stay safely home.

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