The U.S. government is guilty of a cover-up reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s longstanding denial of a nexus between smoking and disease.
The government conceals from its soldiers the risk of suicide or self-destructive behavior connected with fighting in our nine ongoing presidential wars not in self-defense that entail grisly killings of women and children: Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, al Qaeda and ISIS.
Statistics are a starting point. But they are misleading or worse when divorced from the human element.
Touring Vietnam early in his tenure, then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara cheerfully assured a reporter that “every quantitative measure we have shows that we are winning this war.” Echoes of McNamara are heard today from the Pentagon and the intelligence community testifying to Congress in effect that by every quantitative measure we have we are destroying ISIS.
According to estimates of the National Alliance to End Veteran Suicide and the Department of Veterans Affairs, 7,400-8,000 veterans are committing suicide annually. Their risk is said by the VA to be 21 percent higher than among the civilian population.
VA estimates place the annual risk of PTSD among veterans at between 10 percent and 20 percent depending on the war.
These naked statistics are given flesh and blood by studying the anatomy of the days of 20-year-old Sam Siatta during his service in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan as reported in The New York Times Magazine (Jan. 1, 2017, “The Fighter” by C.J. Chivers).
Soon after he was deployed, Mr. Siatta was shaken by the sight of a child in a wheelbarrow with a bullet that had penetrated above his left eyebrow and severed the back of his head. The young Marine told the NYT Magazine reporter, “During all of our work-up, shooting targets, throwing grenades, doing all that, you never once saw kids mangled.”
Mr. Siatta participated in a festival of killings in the ensuing weeks. He wrote in his diary in the manner of Anne Frank:
“I go to sleep every night knowing I have the blood of so many on my hands and no amount of soap could ever wash these stains away.”
At about the 100-day mark of his service in Afghanistan, Mr. Siatta continued in the same vein in a companion diary entry:
“Sitting on post and not in firefights is really starting to f*** with me. Its making me rethink all the [decisions] I’ve made here and making me question if they were the right ones to begin with. The men I’ve killed well 15-year-old boys with Guns is more like it but did I deserve to kill them did they deserve to die.
“I mean I’m 20 years old I know damn well the risks of [joining] the Marine Corps in time of war. But did these young boys, Boys that I’ve killed know what the f*** there were [doing] or even fighting for, these are questions I ask myself.”
When Mr. Siatta returned to civilian life, he turned to self-ruinous conduct— including drinking and a guilty plea to a charge of attempted home invasion.
He is the soldier’s Everyman.
No human can avoid traumas or nightmares caused by participation in gratuitous wars that turn children into orphans, wives into widows, and have fathers bury sons rather than sons bury fathers.
Every recruiting poster or presentation featuring Uncle Sam’s “I Want You For U.S. Army” or otherwise should thus be required to include a prominent warning: “Participation in wars not in self-defense will implicate you in the killings of women, children, and youths and heighten your risk of suicide or self-destructive behaviors.”
For the U.S. government to lure men and women into the armed forces without full disclosure of the hazards of service is morally indefensible.