After seeing what we have seen, more importantly, doing what we have done in the name of this country, who are you to tell us that we can't kill ourselves? We, the American Soldier, supposedly fighting for freedom over there, shouldn't have the freedom of choice to end our suffering? -Iraq Veteran
Everyone has seen the numbers. 22 veterans kill themselves every day. One active duty service-member every 24 hours. Too often we are left with the manifestations of war. We react to the effect, suicide, without searching out the structural causes of what Barack Obama calls an "epidemic." The majority of suicides have been non-deployed soldiers, destroying the myth of only "combat" soldiers suffering from PTSD and depression. Training and indoctrination can be just as harmful if not more so for those who enter into military service.
10,000 years of human warfare have gone into the training regimen we now use on young women and men; to prepare them to kill. No matter what job you hold in the military, from gas pumper to truck driver to door kicker, it comes down to one thing: locate, close with and kill the enemy. We are not a peace keeping force. We do not bring democracy through the barrel of a gun.
According to On Killing : The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Dave Grossman: In World War 2 only 1 in 5 soldiers fired their weapons at the enemy when engaged in combat. The War Department(Now Department of Defense) became very concerned with this and institutionalized a process of dehumanization among its new recruits. Not comfortable with just viewing the "enemy" as undeserving of being a human ("gook," "haji," "camel-jockey") it became necessary to dehumanize the civilian population and finally the self. The first things they do is take your name, your hair, your clothing and your voice. You are broken down and built back up as a Soldier. When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. While quite effective for war, this works only in a kill or be killed environment. When those soldiers come home they find it difficult to live with what they have seen and done. We have spent so much time training people for intensity and violence that we don't know how to find the off switch. Because there isn't one.
While veterans are at best, "tolerated" in this society, the occupied people of Iraq and Afghanistan are completely ignored. They have no VA health system, no matter how backlogged, to go home to. The mental trauma they experience is replicated by walking the same streets in which that trauma was borne. Their tour of duty is their lives. Colin Powell, answering questions about the invasion of Iraq in 2003 said, "If you break it you own it." Well we broke it. Really badly. We have an obligation to these people. Above and beyond the obligation we have to our veterans. We must repair the damages of these wars and prevent the next one if we have any hope of stopping this problem.
When I came home I lived without purpose. I felt life was not worth living. I truly believed others would be better off without me. While the military is a microcosm of American society, it is also a window into the cogs of American empire. Veterans have seen how this system works, up close and personal. We are expected to be the scalpels. When we come home we are expected to zoom out of that focus and go back to our meaningless lives. I learned of extreme poverty and violence "over there" in the Army. When I came home I saw it in my own country. I continue to ask myself, how can we spend trillions to kill human beings and next to nothing on healing them? I joined the military to make the world a better place. Not destroy it.
I want the American people to understand this: When the United States goes to war we will always have suicide, depression, violence and every other negative reaction we now see happening. It doesn't matter if its a "good" war thats "moral" and legally justified. When we go to war we are sentencing our veterans to real permanent trauma for the rest of their lives. If they live. We must ask ourselves always: Is war worth it? Are we ready for the consequences? War is NEVER clean and limited and targeted.
I was taught in the military that asking for help is a weakness. I was told a good soldier controls their emotions. If you tolerate weakness and fear in a soldier they wont effectively kill the enemy. If you want a war then you have to have cold emotionless robots trained to kill. That is the problem with de-humanization. It works. You couldn't have an effective military without it.
Every war produces trauma and when you do not have a re-integration process for returning veterans that trauma is compounded. Native cultures used to welcome back their warriors by sharing circles with the tribe. Those who went to war told about their experience in war and those who stayed at home told of how difficult things were while the warriors were gone. This helps break through the rupture. Makes the society own what is done in their name. The way we conduct war now with technology and overwhelming violence makes this next to impossible.
The idea, that all we have to do is treat this problem without asking where it comes from, is absurd. All war causes trauma. War is trauma. When you send people to war you will traumatize them and everyone they touch. They will have wounds of the heart for the rest of their days. In order to prevent this from happening again: we must find a different way of solving problems. Everyone has an uncle who cant sleep. A sister who sees things. A father who drinks away the day. These wars don't ever end for the combatants who fight them and the occupied peoples who fight back. The only way to prevent suicide of military veterans is to prevent war.
This post is part of a special Huffington Post series, "Invisible Casualties," in which we shine a spotlight on suicide-prevention efforts within the military. Every weekday in September, we'll feature a different blog post by someone who is either an expert in the field, who has been affected by a suicide, or who has contemplated suicide. To see all the posts in the series, as well as original reporting, audio and video, click here.
If you or someone you know would like to contribute to our series, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And please, if you or someone you know needs help, call the national crisis line for the military and veterans, 1-800-273-8255, or send a text to 838255.