Small Wars Journal

Army's 'suicide watch' report is spineless

Tue, 06/16/2009 - 1:09pm
The Pentagon's public affairs office has a new monthly report: a tally of the Army's suicides.

This new report, issued on June 11, listed Army suicides (confirmed and potential) by soldiers on active duty and reservists not on active duty for May, April, and for 2008 and 2009 year-to-date. By implication, the Army intends to release monthly updates of its suicide statistics, joining other regular statistical releases such recruiting and retention and mobilized reservists.

The Army's leadership appears to have succumbed to pressure to do something" about its suicide problem." All of the military services should vigorously fund and implement suicide prevention programs. Commanders at all levels should give sincere attention to the issue. And as a general matter, the Congress should fully fund Secretary Gates's priorities to improve the welfare of the troops and their families. Gates is right to express his concern about the potential fragility of the all-volunteer force and the imperative of preserving it. Attention to suicide, its causes and prevention, is part of this.

The Army's response is typical for any bureaucracy: collect the statistics, slice them up, and tabulate them in a recurring report. Regrettably, on the matter of suicides the Army's bureaucratic response is misguided.

First, by collecting up these individual tragedies into summary statistics, the Army is showing disrespect to these soldiers and the personal circumstances that led to each dreadful ending.

Second, by submitting to the pressure for regular reporting on suicides, the Army is ratifying the entirely false notion that those who volunteer for military service are victims, and that suicide is one of those terrible ways that these ostensibly misguided volunteers occasionally pay for their victimhood. The Army apparently won't dare defend the notion that military service may have saved some of its soldiers from suicide by affording them a meaningful life they may not have found in their civilian youth.

Finally, the Army's summary statistics on suicide are presented without any attempt at context. For example:

1. What is the suicide rate (suicides per 100,000 per year)?

2. How does this rate compare to the 18-24 year old civilian cohort?

3. What are the suicide rates of those who have deployed compared to those who have not? Combat action versus no combat action?

4. What is the Army's suicide rate in 2009 compared to 1999, 1989, and 1979?

The Army's monthly suicide watch" report reflects a bureaucracy entirely on the defensive. It is disrespectful to the slain soldiers and ratifies a false narrative about military service. Most tellingly, it shows an Army leadership un—to defend its institution.

Categories: Army


Kelly Porter (not verified)

Mon, 12/14/2009 - 4:31am

And by the way. This is not a new report. The Army has published this monthly report for many years. I would suggest you do a little more digging before making wild accusations and off-base comments.

Kelyy Porter (not verified)

Mon, 12/14/2009 - 4:27am

Spoken like a true outsider who really has no clue of life and leadership in the Army. If so, you would have known of all the work chaplains, mental health specialists and commanders are doing to change the perception of suicide and provide tangible support to Soldiers and family members at their most critical moments. Your condemning remarks paint the picture of a military mutually exclusive from society. The military is simply a microcosm of society. We receive individuals whom you and others spent 18 years developing (or should I say warping). What do you expect us to do in a few short months? If anyone is to blame this is more a reflection on the state of our nation than today's military.

Ken White

Tue, 06/16/2009 - 3:17pm

It does show a bureaucracy entirely on the defensive. I do not agree that it's disrespectful to the soldiers who slayed themselves -- not slain soldiers, a different category of decedents -- <i>if</i> they were all in fact suicides. Nor do I think it particularly ratifies a false narrative about military service; I'd say rather it simply confirms a narrative that is firmly embedded in the minds of a number of people. I also think that part of that narrative, military service particularly in wartime can be hard on the psyche, is absolutely correct. Few can predict breaking points, their own or others -- and everyone has one.

You say<blockquote>"Most tellingly, it shows an Army leadership unwilling to defend its institution."</blockquote>Not sure that's correct -- seems to me they are in a position where they cannot win -- how do you 'defend' suicides (collective) when there are so many varied reasons for them? How do you 'defend' them when there is an obvious spike and no one is sure why that has occurred? You offer the alternative of the Army presenting more and different numbers about things that are immaterial to the dead folks or their families which is perhaps more disrespectful of the suicides as that could be seen by some as implying that comparing numbers makes the deaths better or less onerous...

Not to mention that I'm not at all sure the parameters you suggest present any meaningful data and if presented, that data could and likely would be misused by many.

I suspect the Army considered those fact in fashioning their press release.


Tue, 06/16/2009 - 2:07pm

The report needs to be seen in the larger context. It is part of the ongoing, politically-motivated narrative that (1) Soldiers are vulnerable members of our society, representative of the downtrodden serfs whom the left-wing must cradle in their bosom; (2) the wars we are fighting are wars of choice; (3) the choice was made by George W Bush; (4) his choice was a bad one, made in bad faith and sold to us with lies; and (5) the result is has been harm to the most vulnerable members of our society (our Soldiers). This suicide report is nothing more than the left-wing's version of a body count to generate numbers that quantify that narrative. It is a disingenuous metric for them to use as a gauge of the harm done by George Bush.

I agree that the report is spineless, though I think that a better descriptor would be "garbage." Getting reports like these published satisfies the goals of people who, for the most part, don't really care about our Soldiers and see them as an end to a means (using their misfortune to further a political agenda). Publishing this report accomplishes nothing more than giving the media a story to report that pushes the narrative ("... in other news, the Pentagon released a report showing x trend in suicides among our Soldiers..."). It was published by people who do care about our Soldiers, but who are part of a bureaucracy that is so tangled in red tape and immobilized by bureaucratic inertia that they lack the ability to do anything more than spit out data. Garbage. But it makes for some great news fodder for people with a political agenda.