Suicide Among Soldiers

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Several stories are out today about how there were more deaths by suicide in the U.S. military than by combat in 2012.  Stories can be found at Salon, CBS and others I’m sure.

The facts say that 313 soldiers (I assume that means Army and doesn’t include Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, etc.) successfully committed suicide.  Comparably, 212 soldiers (again, this implies only Army) were killed in Afghanistan combat.  Both articles also imply that the suicide rates are on the rise in the military.

Rifleman

Now, I am a peacenik.  I think war is a tool of the state, and the state represents the most unrestrained form of violence.  There is very little that can justify war, particularly when it comes to the United States and the past 100 years (World War II was the last war that even came close to being “justified” for U.S. participation, but even that is arguable).  There certainly can be times when an individual “person” must fight for himself when they are threatened, even with lethal force.  Likewise, there MAY be a time when a fictitious organization (i.e. government) that falsely claims to represent 300 million people may have a reason to kill the population of another geographical land mass because they are subjects of another illegitimate authority, but I can’t think of any.  The bottom line is that war is quite literally, stupid.

However, I caution those who are anti-war from jumping on any suicide statistics to make a case for anything.  These news stories got me to thinking, and of course they got me to trolling for thoughts and facts.

These 2 sites alone helped to come to some conclusions about why these suicide rates are inconclusive.  Here’s the list:

  1. The data comes from the government.  They can cook the books any way they want.  In other words, the data is being released to the funding source, as well as the opinion source.  There are many agendas driving the release of these statistics.  One must always ask, “Why are these statistics being released?”
  2. The numbers are comparable to civilian population…maybe.  The comparable rate of suicide to the civilian population is inconclusive.  The Johntreed site says its 140/100,000 for military and 124/100,000 for civilians.  It is unclear whether this data filters for age, race, gender, etc.
  3. The numbers are really small – In any case, what is not emphasized is that this rate is miniscule for either population.  In other words, 303 suicides in a population of 1,129,283 (this includes reserves) can hardly be considered an epidemic.
  4. Again, the numbers in/out of military are comparable…maybe.  The freethoughtblog site shows different numbers released by the Rand corporation, which also show lower raw rates in the general population.  Of course, this is until they adjust for population factors that they can determine, which of course makes the rate higher in the civilian population.
  5. No data exists for populations comparable to the military-screened population.  The freethought site brings up a good point.  Military members are pre-screened for mental illness, drug use, competency, debt and criminal history.  Then, on top of that they are put through a strenous test of basic training, which thins the “population herd” even further.  It might be extremely difficult to control for this in a general population study.  Intuitively, you might think that the comparable rate of suicide among soldiers might be more frightening after you consider that individuals who are prone to commit suicide have already been weeded out.
  6. What about the military mind?  No data exists, as far as I know on how a population with the psyche willing to kill another in combat (i.e. sign up for military service in the first place) affects the propensity to take one’s own life.  This is regardless of whether or not the individual is in the military or has seen combat.  I think this could be important, although I await data.
Politics by Other Means

Politics by Other Means

A final note for the anti-war crowd (and I’m with you):  a large proportion of these suicides (miniscule already) appear to be from personnel who have never seen combat.  Hardly a hard-hitting case for the effects of the trauma of war.

Bottom line: The news about suicide rates this year in the Army don’t really amount to much as far as evidence for or against war.  Furthermore, I have my doubts about whether there is even a story here.

I’m sure there is much more data, but these stories aren’t it.  Please feel free to contribute to the discussion.

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