In the Arena

Military Suicides

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During the month of January, more soldiers committed suicide (24) than were killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan and Iraq combined (16). This is unusual, but–amazingly–not unique. In fact, the problem of military suicides is growing much worse, as Army Chief of Staff George Casey said yesterday in Hawaii.

Casey claimed to be mystified by the suicide rates:

“The fact of the matter is, we just don’t know” why suicides have increased, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said Friday. “It’s been very frustrating to me with the effort that we made over the last year, and we did not stem the tide.”

Which I’m sure is a matter of discretion being the better part of valor.

Undoubtedly, the soldiers are suffering the effects of repeatedly being deployed and redeployed into a war zone that–in Iraq, at least–is only peripherally related to our national interests. The rationale for the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, though certainly more plausible, is becoming less comprehensible as the years pass.

At an exceedingly iffy moment for our country–a moment when the people seem to have lost faith in the government (a staggering 56% believe the federal government is a threat to their rights, according to CNN), a moment when deficits are piling up–it is a good thing that we’re finally leaving Iraq. And President Obama’s rationale for setting a time limit for the Afghan surge certainly makes more sense every day.

I hope our effort in Afghanistan succeeds–but not if it crushes our Army. I hope Iraq limps toward democracy–but there is no way that a democratic Iraq can be worth the losses that we, and the Iraqi people, have already sustained.  The debacle inflicted upon our military by the Bush Administration’s feckless lack of attention in Afghanistan and its historic neocolonial foolishness in Iraq remains a staggering indictment of that benighted Administration. It should not be forgotten.

Update: Dexter Filkins is always worth reading, especially here on Afghanistan.

And furthermore: Commenter Capanson raises a sort of valid point–the level of suicides is higher than the number of combat deaths because combat deaths are down, especially in Iraq (they’re up in Afghanistan, of course). The commenter attributes this to Bush Administration policies, notably the 2007 troop surge. To which I reply: yes, but. We should not have been wasting American, to say nothing of Iraqi lives in Iraq in the first place.

See pictures of suicide in army recruiters’ ranks.