It’s difficult to write about horrible things and to expect others to read about them, especially when they are the heartbreaking residues of war. With history as our lesson book, we should by now be rejecting war yet we continue to wage war. We understand now that our emotions were manipulated into supporting the invasion of Iraq, and yet it only takes a few seconds of 9/11 video footage to bring back all our anger and to wonder if we wouldn’t be vulnerable to the appeals and deceptions that were made then to enter us into that war again if somehow the atrocity of 9/11 were to repeat itself. It is another thing completely to witness firsthand what our anger at that time has wrought.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from an old friend. Below is a portion of that mail. I have only omitted names to protect the privacy of those involved.
“We missed going to LA for a rare concert appearance by my brother-in-law because we had a family tragedy. My nephew committed suicide after two tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, couldn’t adjust back to civilian life, was trying to get help via Denver VA. I tell you this as I’ve told other people because I think most of us know someone who’s suffered these terrible wars, and with suicides in the tens of thousands and so many seeking help the Army is not equipped to serve the returned soldiers. However, there is a film The Welcome Home Project www.thewelcomehomeproject.org, and an organization called The Soldiers Project www.thesoldiersproject.org, both of which I want people to know about so that you may refer people to them if needed.”
I am now referring you to those sites, because I agree that directing people to information about this event of soldiers returning home and committing suicide is “needed.” And then with that awareness, we need to make sure that we are vigilant in never again creating wars that are the handiwork of big oil and an insecure and inept son attempting to impress his father after twice being mistakenly and tragically elected to the highest office in the land.
But to grind our teeth about Bush/Cheney gets us nowhere on this. We might be better served by looking at some hard and painfully true numbers. Consider these statistics from Army Times, begun in 1940 and published by Gannett Government Media, which is a subsidiary of Gannett Co., Inc., the largest newspaper publisher in the U.S.
“Troubling new data show an average of 950 suicide attempts each month by veterans who are receiving some type of treatment from the Veterans Affairs Department. Seven percent of the attempts are successful, and 11 percent of those who don’t succeed on the first attempt try again within nine months. In fiscal 2009 there were 1,621 suicide attempts by men and 247 by women who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, with 94 men and four women dying.” These figures were posted in April of 2010.
We are removing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, but clearly there is a level of fighting for life that continues long after troops have returned home. It should be noted that that same article from Army Times cites that the suicide rate is lower for veterans aged 18 to 29 who are using VA health care services than those who are not. That leads VA officials to believe that about 250 lives have been saved each year as a result of VA treatment. Still, the headline on that article reads “18 Veterans Commit Suicide Each Day.”
I find myself writing about this dark vortex of suicides on the very day that it appears my home state of Wisconsin has been unable to repel the plundering of their state government by corporate shills. If you could somehow harvest the energy and emotion that has been expended in Wisconsin state politics since the first election of Scott Walker, you might power a large city. My point is that we do not lack for will or determination.
But I think that we often struggle to re-engage with the dark horrors of war, especially if we have first opposed wars and then emphatically disowned them as they were proceeding. In this horrible cycle of veterans returning home safely only to later take their own lives, all of us are on the same side. There simply isn’t another view on this. No political philosophy frees us of responsibility here. If you paid taxes, you paid for those wars.
We will continue to hear howling over strained budgets, taxes, and smaller government. Would anyone really stand before a crowd and take a posture against more help and resources for returning veterans struggling with the devils and ghosts of war? That seems impossible, and yet in the coming months we are going to hear about committing resources to more war, perhaps in Iran. When those who would send men and women off to war again begin their sales pitch, let’s do some howling of our own and drown them out. Then let’s demand that more be done to heal the wounds still bleeding from the wars we have already waged.