Friday, January 30, 2009

Bush Legacy Watch: Military suicides on the rise

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(Here's the first installment of our BLW. We have many ongoing series here at The Reaction, and this will be one of them.)

According to the AP, "U.S. soldiers killed themselves last year at the highest rate on record, the toll rising for a fourth straight year and even surpassing the suicide rate among comparable civilians."

By "highest rate on record," the AP means since 1980, when "current record-keeping began." Still, needless to say, this is a horrible development, with at least 128 soldiers killing themselves last year -- or 20.2 per 100,000 soldiers. Hopefully the military is serious that "fresh prevention efforts will start next week" and that, generally, a more aggressive approach will be taken to address this growing problem.

But... is it Bush's fault? Is it -- does it deserve to be considered to be -- part of Bush's legacy? Obviously, it isn't all Bush's fault. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but there were undoubtedly high suicide rates in the past, and during past wars. Furthermore, there may be a number of reasons for the recent rise.

However, as the AP notes, "[o]fficials have said that troops are under unprecedented stress because of repeated and long tours of duty due to the simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," and the number of suicides has risen yearly since 2004, when there were (just) 64.

While "[o]fficials said they found that the most common factors were soldiers suffering problems with their personal relationships, legal or financial issues and problems on the job," there may be more to it than that: "[T]he magnitude of what the troops are facing in combat shouldn't be forgotten, said Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., a former Navy vice admiral, who noted he spoke with a mother this week whose son was preparing for his fifth combat tour. 'This is a tough battle that the individuals are in over there,' Sestak said. 'It's unremitting every day.'" Plus, there is the additional issue of suicides among those who have left the services: "The Department of Veterans Affairs tracks those numbers and says there were 144 suicides among the nearly 500,000 service members who left the military from 2002-2005 after fighting in at least one of the two ongoing wars."

It would be wrong, and irresponsible, to assign too much blame to Bush (and the other architects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), but it does seem to me that some of it, the rise in suicides, is Bush's fault, given the gross mismanagement of the Iraq War, a war of choice, a war the Bush warmongers so badly wanted to fight, even at the expense of the truth, and, with that war going on, the gross negligence of the war in Afghanistan. And it is the conduct of those two wars, notably the Iraq War, a disaster almost from the very start, and certainly once the insurgency and sectarian violence began, that has required extended tours of duty and that has put so many servicemen and -women in such difficult situations both personally and professionally. Is it really any wonder that many of them, having been pushed so far, have broken down and given up?

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