A Scary New Way of Looking at Military Suicides – In the Mirror

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Is there a connection? / Parameters

Two Air Force researchers are suggesting it’s not the soldiers who kill themselves who should shoulder all the blame for their deaths. We – all of us, society writ large – may also be responsible.

“There appear to be systemic factors that play an important role in the rise in military suicides,” says George Mastroianni, a behavioral-science professor at the Air Force Academy. “It appears the increase is related to broader changes in the services themselves — and in civilian society — that have been wrought by a decade of war with an all-volunteer force.”

Mastroianni and a colleague, Wilbur Scott, write in the latest issue of Parameters, the Army War College journal, that:

Civilian control of the military means that each of us is ultimately responsible for what happens to our military members, whether or not we ourselves have served, and whether or not we feel qualified or comfortable to have that responsibility. That responsibility includes the obligation to publicly examine our wars, the military asked to fight them, and those doing the asking in the fullest and fairest way possible, following the facts wherever they may lead…

By reframing the problem of military suicide more comprehensively to include the considerations outlined above, we are forced to confront the consequences of choices we have made more generally as a society. We have chosen to maintain an all-volunteer military force; that choice affects not only the composition and character of the military itself, but also the relationship of its members to cultural expectations from within and without.

We have chosen to ask and allow a few to shoulder voluntarily the burden once shared by all. We have chosen to permit our leaders to involve us in wars the majority of citizens do not support. These choices have consequences that may include the creation of a constellation of social, cultural, and political conditions which conspire to elevate the rate of suicide in the Army and Marine Corps.

Ponder those words this Veterans Day.