When Military Suicides Become Personal
“I’m going to kill myself. Tonight.”
This wasn’t the first time I’d heard my son, a mid-level Army NCO, say he wanted to end his life. The previous time was right after the divorce when his wife moved away and took their daughter with her. After some anxious hours, that incident had ended on a hopeful note, to the relief of all involved.
This time was different. He stated clearly that he was going to do it that night. Why? To escape his troubles. Was it another episode of his PTSD after multiple combat deployments?
What alarmed me was his determination. He was at emotional rock bottom, looking for escape from his demons and not seeing a path forward in life. Hearing him speak that way frightened me to the core of my being. My wife and daughter were hearing my side of the conversation and quickly became alarmed. Over the next hour and a quarter our phone connection was broken several times and each time I feared he was taking the action he was threatening. I took advantage of those interruptions to call the local police and when they arrived one of them took his phone to ask me some questions and help determine the seriousness of his threat. Our prayers for his rescue had been answered.
I am happy to report that our son is on the upswing and becoming hopeful for his future. Unfortunately, for a large number of families, including one several doors down the street, the ending is tragic. Military leaders are trying to find solutions. Each year another report is written about it and soldiers must participate in suicide prevention classes but the suicide rate remains high.
What is driving soldiers to kill themselves? I think the psychologists and other analysts have put their finger on a number of contributing factors. Even so, speaking as the father of a soldier who has served honorably and is suffering the scars of war, I see a causal factor heightening the impact of all the others. Worst of all, it is something the analysts are prohibited from identifying and commanders are powerless to correct because their hands have been tied by the rules and regulations imposed on them.
I blame the high military suicide rate on political correctness, how severely it was imposed on our nation by the Obama administration, and how wildly it is still promoted and defended by liberal politicians. PC has directly and substantively attacked the foundational principles of Judeo-Christian teachings that form the emotional underpinnings of individual self-worth. Weaken those underpinnings and a person is left emotionally disarmed and less able to see past any trials confronting him. At the same time, I also place a portion of blame on the faith communities in America that have become shells of tradition rather than promoters of actual faith in God that helps a person survive trials.
How has the promotion of political correctness directly impacted the military? I see four primary ways.
First is requiring the military to teach and enforce “progressive” social concepts. This has particularly impacted promotions where, while they are not a listed criteria, all of a candidate’s other skills and qualifications can be negated if someone has complained that they have done or said something that offended them. Thus the leadership skills of an NCO or officer that are essential for unit cohesion and combat effectiveness have been reduced in importance. This inversion of priorities has facilitated the promotion of individuals into positions of greater responsibility who are more politically correct instead of effective and degraded the larger capabilities of the military to effectively wage war, which is why we have a military. This has even had a dispiriting impact on some special forces units.
Dispirited troops have a reduced sense of purpose and accomplishment and become more likely to abuse alcohol and illegal drugs, which increases the probability of someone committing suicide.
Second is the requirement that any allegation of offense filed by a member of an identified or protected racial or ethnic group against another service member or civilian must be regarded as factual even when they have an obvious agenda because of their sexual orientation or racial attitude. The accused have no recourse but to accept the punishment that is decided for them. One such complainer in any unit can utterly destroy the trust fellow soldiers have in each other as they act defensively to keep from being that person’s next victim.
Facing such a situation one year into a four-year enlistment means a soldier will have to tolerate the politically correct abuse until he or his accuser is transferred to another unit or discharged. This promotes a feeling of entrapment and the desire for escape can make suicide seem more appealing.
The third impact of political correctness I see is diverting mission purpose away from combat effectiveness against our nation’s enemies. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 our nation was galvanized in support of the Global War on Terror. Then the politically correct began accusing us of waging war against Muslims instead of the radicals in their midst who were seeking to destroy us. They took advantage of the growing numbers of those soldiers killed and wounded in combat to question if what our military was doing was worthwhile or moral. While support for the military remains high, it has been significantly diminished and morale has paralleled that decline. It has become easier for soldiers to view their enlistment as just a job instead of serving the higher purpose of defending their homeland against our enemies. The risks, burdens and sorrows of combat are more tolerable when war is fought for a noble purpose, but when a person is sent into combat without this sense of purpose it becomes easy to think his nation views him as worthless. This diminishes the collective dedication of soldiers to carry out their assignments so they train with less intensity, complex weapon systems are no longer maintained in peak operating condition, and unit effectiveness diminishes. Soldiers who derive little satisfaction are at greater risk getting drunk, getting high on drugs, and of committing suicide.
The fourth impact is the unapologetic PC attack on anyone who professes any faith in God and the restrictions placed on chaplains, limiting their ability to teach belief in God. Christianity and Judaism have been the focus of the PC war on faith, while Islam has been unchallenged, if not promoted. Faith in God and trusting in the forgiveness He offers those who ask for it is a powerful factor in helping soldiers cope with the horrible memories of combat. Making it difficult for a person to practice their faith or preventing them from finding faith leaves them less equipped to deal with PTSD and thus leaves them at greater risk of suicide.
Reversing the damage done by political correctness to our military requires that we reject it with vigor and aggressively uproot it. Doing this will not be easy. It has been around long enough to become dyed into the fabric of how the military operates, so eradicating it will be a long-term challenge. Unless we do this I do not expect the suicide rate in the U.S. military to decline.