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Monday, May 28, 2012

Soldiers who died by their own hands

On this day we remember and honor soldiers who have been killed. Does that include those who killed themselves? I certainly hope so, given that the stress and horror of warfare is almost certainly responsible for creating the mental conditions that produce the desire to end one's own life as much as they are responsible for physical injuries. At Big Think, Rin Mitchell writes:
In a recent blog post, Major General Dana Pittard described suicide as “an absolute selfish act.” The post came after Pittard attended the funeral of a soldier who had committed suicide. He later recanted his statement, but others believe that he is not the only one that probably views veteran suicide in this light. However, what draws concern for some is that no higher ranking army officials stepped in to publicly respond to Pittard's comments. Pittard's views in no way represent army policy and views, but now that it is out there—it raises the question as to whether senior military leaders and The Department of Defense will ever speak out about what suicide among veterans means—and determine some kind of perspective on it as a country. It was unacceptable and unfortunate for Pittard to take it upon himself to shed light on the subject, especially around the holiday when soldiers of the war are remembered the most—Memorial Day. It isn’t something people want to think about and probably should remain as it has remained—an “unseen tragedy.”
I don't think the number of suicides in the Army has increased by 80% since the invasion of Iraq because at that point, Army soldiers became 80% more selfish. I also don't think that the solution is to not think about it. Rather, I think we should acknowledge that depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are common in veterans, and it's not at all unusual for a person experiencing such to contemplate ending his/her own life, and even to eventually follow through with it. To pretend otherwise is to deny the reality of psychological damage caused to soldiers, to count the harm of forcing them into combat in terms of how it breaks their bodies but not how it breaks their minds. A soldier who commits suicide is also a casualty, and should be remembered and grieved alongside his/her compatriots whose deaths were more directly caused and less easily dismissed.

ETA: Big Think has edited their article to note that it was authored by Mitchell and not Orion Jones, so I've edited my post accordingly.

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