by Dmitry Orlov
Club Orlov (September 11 2012)
Members of the US military, both officers and enlisted, are dying at a record pace – not at the hands of the enemy (although revenge killings of US servicemen by aggrieved Afghanis do feature prominently) but at their own hands. Suicide rates across all the branches – Army, Navy, Air Force, even the Coast Guard – are all registering large increases. More US servicemen die at their own hands than from any other cause.
The Army’s suicide rate last year stood at 24 per 100,000; this year it is higher. The rate of suicide for all American men is nineteen per 100,000, which is significantly lower, if computed over the entire lifetime. Taking into account the average Army length of enlistment of just under fifteen years and the US life expectancy of 78 years gives us an effective Army suicide rate of 125 per 100,000 – five times the US suicide rate, and three times the national suicide rate of any country on earth.
According to an article in Army Times, the military is responding to the epidemic of suicides in a number of ways:
Since 2008, the Defense Department has invested $110 million into its Military Suicide Prevention Program, including $50 million from the Army for a large-scale study of mental health, resilience and suicide risk.
The Army also has launched numerous initiatives to prevent suicide, including force-wide resilience training to help soldiers handle stress and mandatory mental health screenings.
What seems to elude them is the root cause of the high suicide rate in the military. Yes, there are accompanying risk factors such as drug use and various mental health issues, but none of these explains either the specifically high rate or the large recent increases. And yet the information they have been looking for has been available for over a century now, at any good research library. I am referring to the 1897 book Le Suicide by the pioneering French sociologist Emile Durkheim. In it he compiles tables of prevalence of suicide in various militaries around the world and finds that there is just one correlate so unmistakable that it would be folly not to ascribe significant causation to it. And that correlate is … length of military service. That’s right, the risk of suicide goes up with every year of active service and every deployment.
Durkheim probed deeper into the causes of military suicide, and argued that it is the result of a process of depersonalization, because military culture specifically values individuals in terms of their service to the group, and does not regard individuality as something valuable in and of itself. As a result, a soldier’s sense of self-worth erodes over time. This process begins right at induction: it generally takes a new recruit some 24 hours to realize that “Uncle Sam owns his ass” – from that point on his body and his time are government property. Gone is the special and unique snowflake cultivated by grade school teachers, replaced with a cog in a wheel in a military machine. And once that cog wears out and is replaced with a newer one, what reason is there left for it to live on?
If the Army wished to save lives lost to suicide, it could do it most effectively by reducing the number of deployments and reenlistments. Note that this also explains the recent sudden increase in the suicide rate for the US military: it tracks with the increased number of deployments. Also note that the increased risk of suicide incurred during active service is a lifelong increase which also translates into higher suicide rates among the veterans.
The number of deployments seems likely to fall in the coming years simply because the US is exhausted financially. In the meantime, a large demographic bulge of suicidal or near-suicidal former servicemen – several million of them – will attempt to reintegrate into society at a time of scarce jobs and economic dislocation. Although some money is likely to be thrown specifically at suicide prevention, it must be understood that suicide is just the most extreme in a wide range of possible negative outcomes, all of which result from psychological damage suffered during military service. It is just that other effects – destroyed families, destroyed personalities – are harder to quantify, but they are present nevertheless.
During the recent Republican and Democratic national conventions there was the usual lip service paid to “men and women in uniform” who were said to “defend our freedom”. While it is difficult to detect any positive effect of increased military action on “our freedom”, another effect is rather blatantly obvious: the increase in deployments correlates strongly with an increase in foreign arms sales:
Overseas weapons sales by the United States totaled $66.3 billion last year, or more than three-quarters of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion in 2011. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8 billion in deals.
The American weapons sales total was an “extraordinary increase” over the $21.4 billion in deals for 2010, the study found, and was the largest single-year sales total in the history of United States arms exports. The previous high was in fiscal year 2009, when American weapons sales overseas totaled nearly $31 billion.
Indeed, beyond bumping up the numbers for foreign arms sales, it is hard to see any other tangible benefit from the costly and protracted campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. But even if we overlook the ethical problem with ordering people into battle in order to fatten up the arms dealers, even with the arms sales numbers up dramatically, the investment still doesn’t pay off: the Iraq war cost well over a trillion dollars; in comparison, $20 to $30 billion is small potatoes. In business terms, this is pure suicide and a direct path to national bankruptcy. Maybe this is why a corporate raider like Mitt Romney is running for president: the US government seems ripe for a hostile takeover and a forced reorganization. Maybe Romney could hire Donald Trump to say “you’re fired” to Washington policy wonks and military brass (although he is quite good at that himself).
Of course, Romney could also double down on the failed militarist policy and attack Iran. And then when that gambit also fails (with catastrophic consequences) Romney, remaining true to his character, will claim that he didn’t have anything to do with it, he was just the President (as he did with Bain Capital), have his staff shred all the documents (as he did when leaving the Massachusetts State House) and then retreat to his lakeside mansion in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire and play with his etch-a-sketch. And if the electorate finds Romney a little too obvious a scoundrel and Obama wins reelection, then the whole thing will remain on autopilot – until it crashes. America, the choice is yours.
The following comment from username Luciddreams is being promoted for its obvious excellence.
I was in the Arabian Sea on 9/11 on the USS Carl Vinson as a nuke [nuclear technician]. I hated my life … every second of every day. We were at sea for 115 days, each of which was a workday. You come to the conclusion rather quickly that fluorescent lights are bad for the soul. Combine that with that circulating fart/oil smell that pervades the ship and you have a recipe for miserable toiling. While we were out there, some dude on the Kityhawk threw himself off of the hanger bay and into the ocean. A dude on our ship crawled in a bilge and refused to come out all while starving himself. Me and my buddy told the navy we were gay in hopes we could go home. Some people repeatedly pissed their bed … and some people just killed themselves.
The point is, and I can speak with authority here having experienced it myself, military service sucks. Everybody is miserable; even the ones who continually reenlist hate their lives. They just do it because they know they have lost the ability to make it as a civilian. In the civilian world it’s easy to get shitcanned. In the military any dumbass can hang on long enough and eventually make rank. They usually do, so you end up with complete retards as bosses, further adding to the misery.
Simply put, the reason for higher suicide [rate] in the military, beyond the unique conditions for breeding misery, is the loss of individuality. Those of weak mind forget how to be individuals beyond their military role. Shooting women and babies in the face at point blank range probably doesn’t help matters much either. All for what? Oil? Profit for the military industrial complex? I think the causality for this is rather obvious.