Enlisted military personnel have the most stressful occupations of all jobs for 2013, according to a work-stress survey done by Harris Interactive for Everest College. Is it any wonder that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicides in the military are on the rise?
One of the most overlooked and underreported stories of 2012 is that more United States service members committed suicide than died in combat. Department of Defense statistics show that, as of December 2012, there were 482 suicides and 310 combat deaths. The number of combat-related deaths has decreased over the past two years, but suicides have increased.
Although there are various reasons for the spike in the suicide rate, one of the reasons has to be the multiple deployments and prospects of multiple deployments today’s service men and women are subjected to.
The all-volunteer military has been stretched to its limit. It is unconscionable to ask members of the military to serve a year in a combat theater, come home for a few months, then be sent right back to the war zone, and to repeat this pattern over and over, sometimes serving five separate tours of duty at a battle station. And meanwhile the folks at home only pay lip service to supporting the military. There has been no real shared sacrifice. The U.S. military has shouldered all the burdens of these wars while the civilian population has taken all the blessings and benefits of remaining comfortably at home. There has been a delinking of those who serve in the military from those who don’t. But It wasn’t always this way.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, all of America was summoned to defeat the imperial empire of Japan and the fascist governments of Germany and Italy. Wealthy citizens like George Herbert Walker Bush were not only asked to put on a uniform but were sent to combat zones. Joe DiMaggio, a baseball legend less than two years removed from his historic 56-game hitting streak, sacrificed three years of his career to serve in the U.S. military.
During World War II ordinary Americans were asked to cut back on or do without nylon, many food staples, gasoline and other consumer items. Americans also were asked to sacrifice financially to help fund the war effort. It truly was a one-for-all and all-for-one enterprise.
Fast forward to 2001 and just the opposite occurred. After the attacks on U.S. soil on 9-11, Americans were asked to do no more than go shopping and pretend things were back to normal. The two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were placed on the credit card and taxes were kept at a lower rate throughout the 2000s than they were in the 1990s. Additionally, the upper classes who were beating the drums for these wars were not required to put themselves in harm’s way, risk anything of their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor,” or lift a finger to help the war effort in any way. And can you imagine a baseball player of today being asked to give up any part of his $100 million salary to spend time helping with the war effort?
If there are three features to the war in Afghanistan, they are that, at 12 years and counting, it is the longest war in U.S. history; it is a war that Americans did not pay for; and it is a war that brought about the biggest separation between those who fought the war and those who stayed home.
If we are going to insist on getting involved in one military adventure after another, the American people should be required to do more. Americans should have to sacrifice some of their creature comforts to fund the wars, and those putting their necks on the line for the nation shouldn’t almost invariably come from the middle and working classes where career choices and financial options are more limited. Also those shrill propagandists and screeching chickenhawks whose jingoism keeps pushing us to war should be required to serve. Maybe they are too old for combat, but they can still find a place in the highly mechanized military of today. Perhaps they could operate a computer or some other type of machine.
Finally there is the recent episode involving Bob Dole, a war hero and former GOP leader of the U.S. Senate and Republican nominee for president. Dole, who literally lost a limb in service to this nation, arrived on the Senate floor in a wheelchair in December to make a personal appeal that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Treaty be approved. He showed up in support of all the disabled, but especially the disabled soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen whose lives would be made a little easier when traveling abroad if the treaty were ratified with the necessary two-thirds majority. Although this was a simple proposition and should have been a slam dunk, 38 senators found an excuse to defeat the treaty. Most, if not all, of those who voted against the treaty never served a day in the military the way Dole, Sen. John McCain and the late Sen. Daniel Inouye served. If they had, they would have obviously supported the treaty.
Because so many Americans don’t have any skin in the war efforts, the disconnect that shows up in this treaty vote and in other areas of American life and culture is more pronounced. And that is why the alarming suicide rate and PTSD among military personnel are largely being ignored.