Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Suicidal Services

Dorothy
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 19 per 100,000, which is significantly lower, is computed over the entire lifetime. Taking into account the average Army length of enlistment of just under 15 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 Émile 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, $20-30 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 Hamshire 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 U.S.S. Carl Vinson as a nuke [nuclear technician]. I hated my life... every second of everyday. 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.

17 comments :

Joe said...

Shed's new light on my uncle's suicide after leaving Vietnam War service in the mid 60's.

dresden black said...

They should do a study on the suicide rates of children of us military. 8 kids offed themselves that i knew as a kid.

Ien van Houten said...

Great topic for today.

latheChuck said...

As tragic as a service-member suicide is, the cold-blooded statistician in me wants to know what the suicide rate is for service-member peers (similar socio-economic background, similar rate of traumatic brain injury, similar education). If you thought that military service was going to be your ticket out of poverty, and then you realized that it wasn't what you expected, would you be more likely to commit suicide than the neighbor who stayed home?

Mike said...

Orlov said:
...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..."

But it did pay off - for those in the military industrial complex whose business it has become to wage war for profit. The only people who lost were the taxpayers.

Jayhawk said...

Have you examined the number of suicides by service members who have never been deployed in a combat theater? It's very high. Deployments is not the answer.

Depersonalization is very much part of the answer. A bigger part lies in the comment by latheChuck. " If you thought that military service was going to be your ticket out of poverty," and then you find yourself stuck, and there is no door marked "Exit."

An even bigger part lies in the way that modern youth are raised. A life of parental indulence and lack of discipline is no preparation for an extended military tour of service.

BruceH said...

This post brings a corollary concern. People often wonder why ours is such a violent nation.

Some people want to pin the blame on the extraordinary number of guns floating around this country. Of course, the pro-gun folks will trot out the statistics that show countries like Canada have roughly as many guns per capita as we do but are nowhere near as violent. That they feel proves their slogan: “Guns don't kill people, people kill people!”

So why do “people kill people” in this country at such an astounding rate? Some liberals will blame it on poverty. But we are still one of the richest countries on earth and other rich, developed countries have no where near our murder rate.

Some conservatives will blame it on violent movies, video game and rap music. But again, these same games, movies and recordings are available in other countries with lower murder rates.

The one cause that I never see mentioned is the fact that we have trained such a large percentage of our citizens to kill as members of our armed forces. Even those who end up at desk jobs must go through basic training where the “basics” of how to kill are taught to everyone.

A few other countries of course have larger armies, but their size is mainly for deterrent, defensive purposes. Our military, however, has had unending opportunities to actually kill people of all races and creeds all over the world continuously since at least December 7th, 1941.

Want a less violent country and lower suicide rate? Stop teaching people how to kill and resurrect that lost clause of the Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State...”

Shrink our military to a tenth of it's current size and focus on civil defense, which requires far more skills than simply knowing how to handle a rifle.

Samantha said...

I am curious to know what the statistics are on fragging. There seemed to be anecdotal evidence that fragging was more popular in Vietnam. Are the troops brainwashed more effectively these days to prevent fragging? If so, perhaps even more brainwashing is in order.

Jason said...

For the sake of pure efficacy, might it be best for us as a conquering power to simply leave deployed soldiers in defeated nations, free to accumulate harems and riches and to engage in behaviors and opportunities unavailable, unacceptable or otherwise prohibited to them in their home country?

Certainly it must stink to otherwise return, naively indulge brief platitudes about "heroism" and "sacrifice" only the next day to find your service forgot and yourself to be likely as not just another redundant job-seeker. With a bit more than the usual baggage, that is.

No, especially with all-volunteer forces and low-recruitment standards, a policy such as the aforementioned would give an equal opportunity to all of age to participate in the plunder and crimes of their nation, and in so doing, perhaps alleviate many of societies ills. Could we lesson the damage caused by crime if ethically-challenged individuals, such as gang-bangers and investment bankers, were given carte blanche to do so (elsewhere) by both government and society? Would you rather rule a street corner or corner office or a weak, resource rich nation if given the opportunity.

Against the current dearth of possibilities suffered by our veterans, I'd argue that such a policy of ruthless conquest (and sharing of spoils by rule of thumb)would grant each at least The Audacity of Hope!

Luciddreams said...

I was in the Arabian Sea on 9/11 on the U.S.S. Carl Vinson as a nuke. I hated my life...every second of everyday. We were at sea for 115 days each of which was a work day. 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 shit canned. In the military any dumb ass 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 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 roll. 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.

piano4tay said...

There might be a straight forward correlation between longevity of service and suicide rate in the armed forces, but I do wonder what it's like for someone brought up on notions such as the invincibility of their nation, the absolute rightness of their cause - (and the obvious wrongness of the 'enemy'), and the universality of their perspective, to be so savagely disabused by ungrateful and rebellious allies and a not-quite-so-dumb foe such as those to be discovered in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention most of Europe.....Then back home everyone tells them they're in an unwinnable war and should all come home...That must be such fun...

Stanislav Datskovskiy said...

To Jason:

The skill set possessed by a typical American soldier is rather different from the one needed by a "soldier of fortune" to end up with loot and harem - rather than a quick and painful demise at the hands of the locals.

Some US servicemen may have the experience and personality needed to adapt to living the life of just another Third World man blessed with owning a rifle. Others will find it impossible to function without clear orders, unfailing supply lines, high tech perimeter sensors, and air-conditioned tents.

If the US abandons its men in the (formerly) conquered territories, as seems likely, I expect to see rather few harem-enabled warlords - and a great many corpses.

k-dog said...

I remember during my experience that I recalled high school and learning the term brutalization. To turn one into a brute. Military service does this, it is ugly.

parkslopegigilo said...

I spent four years in the Army and I distinctly remember the bleakness of that life. The loss of identity is one thing, for sure, but there is also the sheer grimness of military environments and the constant barrage of abuse from one's superiors and peers. Alcohol abuse and the threat of physical violence are everywhere. A variety of predators await you after training: money lenders, used car dealers, professional military wives, traffic cops and credit card offers. Commanders that don't seem to notice problems with their junior enlisted until someone gets hurt or does something stupid, then it's the hammer.

A quick anecdote sums it up: When (IIRC) 3rd Armor left Louisiana in 1993 to come to Ft. Hood,TX where I was stationed, a real nightmare ensued for the junior enlisted of 3rd AD. Officers and senior NCO's had guaranteed housing so they could make the move with relative ease. Single junior enlisted could just be stuffed into a bunk somewhere. If you had a family and no guaranteed housing, you had to come to the area around Ft. Hood on your own and find a place to live. Oftentimes this meant leaving family in Louisiana while Dad or Mom searched for an apartment during a pricey motel stay.

When the good landlords of Killeen heard about the orders to relocate, the rents jumped up considerably at the prospect of desperate apartment seekers flooding the town. The divorce rate went up almost as much as it did right after deployment to Iraq. Soldiers who failed to find a solution could find themselves facing punishment for failing to accomplish the impossible; the 1st Sgt doesn't care why you missed your first formation on your first day in your new unit, he just hates you for it and will make you pay. So too the captain, especially since we are downsizing anyway at the moment and I've been told to get rid of soldiers who stick out in any way....

Paul said...

BruceH, someof the points you make simply don't hold water:

'Some people want to pin the blame on the extraordinary number of guns floating around this country. Of course, the pro-gun folks will trot out the statistics that show countries like Canada have roughly as many guns per capita as we do but are nowhere near as violent. That they feel proves their slogan: “Guns don't kill people, people kill people!”

Canada is (still) less of a 'dog-eat-dog' society than that of the US, in which economic oppression of the poorer folk is peddled as virtually the supreme virtue. Most people in every country are unworldly, but their leaders culdn't have got away with what your leaders have: best, if elliptically, expressed by John Steinbeck, when he opined, 'Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.' Dark humour of a high order on a, nevertheless, lamentable truth - if not quite as brutally as brutally humorous as that of Dmitry and James at their best.

The piint is that 2000, nay, 3000 years and more ago, that silly old book, the Old Testament linked economic oppression, indeed the opressors, with violence. That is the primordial cause, the cause of all causes of your country's violence.

'So why do “people kill people” in this country at such an astounding rate? Some liberals will blame it on poverty. But we are still one of the richest countries on earth and other rich, developed countries have no where near our murder rate.'

That is just too facile for words, Bruce. You seem to forget that the 1 percent own most of ypur country's wealth. And its leaders are still ceaselessly whining about the already scant economic safety-net provided for the ever-increasing number of destitute or near destitute Americans. Don't even think of a free national health service!

Ironically, the unavoidable perception of this scandalous economic polarisation to their own detriment, makes the poor much more susceptiable to sickness, too.

http://www.zcommunications.org/health-and-poverty-in-the-us-by-stephen-bezruchka

'Some conservatives will blame it on violent movies, video game and rap music. But again, these same games, movies and recordings are available in other countries with lower murder rates.'

'... and less of a prior disposition to violence,' you omitted to add.

Maybe their mre purposeful about killing people in hand-to-hand combat in the infantry, but I was no wiser or less wise about how to kill, than when I joined, after 4 years 300 days and an early breakfast. A four-year old girl with a pistol in her hand can kill as easily as you or me.

Who could argue, though, with your final point, the issue you were leading up to, namely, the need to decimate the size of the military and stop attacking the rest of the planet.

nickt1y said...

What is the suicide rate in Switzerland? Where military service is required and you take your weapons and ammo home. Mass killing etc seem to be arare thing.

Stanislav Datskovskiy said...

To nickt1y:

Switzerland is a non-mystery, because: mass suicidality comes from ennui and anomie, and not from stress, deprivation, or access to lethal weaponry.