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More troops lost to suicide than enemy fire

Congress.org:

Overall, the services reported 434 suicides by personnel on active duty, significantly more than the 381 suicides by active-duty personnel reported in 2009. The 2010 total is below the 462 deaths in combat, excluding accidents and illness. In 2009, active-duty suicides exceeded deaths in battle.

The post goes on to methodological issues. To me, there are strange numbers indeed:

First, whatever kind of wars we're fighting these days, they aren't Homeric. Even accepting warfare as "natural," suicides equal to combat deaths means the kind of war that we're asking them to fight must be, in some sense, different and wrong in a new way. Are there other wars where this statistic is true? Surely not. And what does this mean for the small group interactions among the troops? A Congressman or a President helicopters in and has dinner at the base; does anybody think that the chances of a soldier at the table killing themselves, and not being killed, are even? This is Banquo's ghost with a difference....

And the numbers are so small. Not to trivialize, but the deaths in World War I totalled around 9 million. British deaths on the first day of the Battle of the Somme were 19,240. Now, perhaps I should be grateful that our fabulously expensive military doesn't kill soldiers in proportion to dollars spent (leaving civilians aside). I suppose I should also be grateful that the relatively small size of our armed forces makes their successful domestic deployment less likely (modulo drones). On the other hand, if we moved the death decimal point three or four digits to the right, resistance to the war wouldn't be marginal, even with a state that has as little democratic accountability as our own.

I don't know. There seems to be something both hypertrophied, cancerously large, and yet impotent and sad about these stories. The military cannot be said to have "won" either of the last two major wars in which it has engaged (three, counting Vietnam). Yet, it's more powerful, and respected, than ever.

But if you join the military, your chance of killing yourself are the same as your chances of getting killed. Why? How can we not already know the answer? It's very, very strange.

NOTE In case I'm not clear, "war is hell" is a constant. So it can't account for the strangeness. What has changed? Or are casualties on the field so light (for the military) that they're just noise, and the normal reasons for suicide have not changed?

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Submitted by wlarip on

My godson is on his third tour in Afghanistan. He was gung-ho the first tour, ambivalent the second, and reluctant the third. Just recently, he was was splattered by the remains of his best friend who was killed by an IED.

War is brutal. No one can take it when it is endless. How long it takes you to give up depends on how(and of what) you are made. No matter what happens, you are never the same after it is over. That assumes you survive.

You can count on comradeship and a new perspective on patriotism.

But one thing you can not count on is the son or daughter of a politician in a foxhole beside you.

Submitted by Lex on

I can't say for sure, but i've read more than a couple of accusations that the DoD is not being exactly forthright in how it classifies casualties these days. I've heard that wounds resulting from combat that don't kill a soldier until hospital don't always count as combat casualties.

Also, the difference between wars past and today is that medical and evacuation technology employed by the US exceeds much of the killing power of the opposition. We'll see more amputations and disfigurations than flag-draped coffins. And the psychological damage to soldiers is going to be a massive bill to reckon for decades to come...especially after the US leaves without having accomplished a damned thing, leaving the guys who left their buddies there to wonder what the fucking point was.