In all of the panoply about "supporting the troops" there is rarely any discussion about the cost of being a soldier. Sure, President Bush has equated the loss of loved ones with him foregoing playing golf for months, but beyond the absolute disgusting quality of the man's morality, even this statement doesn't point to the troops themselves, only their families. There is talk of sacrifice and it is usually couched in terms of familial attachment being lost, time spent away from children, etc. Where is the talk about the soldiers themselves, the inner destruction going on when they are asked to kill?
Let us make no mistake about this; to be a soldier means to place oneself in the position of having to take another human life, often with only the word of a superior officer's command as a means of moral justification. To be a soldier, whether on the front line or in a support capacity, is to place yourself among a social grouping who's sole purpose is the destruction of life and the structures that support it.
Now, before going forward, I'll address the obvious criticism that is popping up, namely that armies also serve as a means of constructing things, or, to use the politically nebulous term, nation-building. There are two problems with this point. One, armies and its personnel go about the business of building, but it is more correctly termed RE-building, as it was they who destroyed the very thing that they are now creating. So that doesn't get away from the fact that the primary goal of being a soldier is destruction. Two, it is a very rare situation where an army is called in to help rebuild initially and, even when this is done, it's primary role is for the protection of the construction personnel and therefore they must as a primary objective, be capable and willing to destroy the living.
When in this social group, the soldier is, to use conservative rhetoric, in the position of "dying for his country" to "ensure the freedoms that we all take for granted." Indeed. At face-value there is no disagreement here, but unlike the obsequious quality of Bush's skin-deep caring for others, there is more going on here than mere freedom fighting. One of the cornerstone's of representative democracy is debate, civil debate for the purpose of getting to the best solution of a problem via the usage of reason. Democracy accepts implicitly the thought that anybody could be wrong and a majority should be capable of being questioned. Without this aspect of democracy, it would not be a democracy, it would be an oligarchy or dictatorship.
The role of the soldier is not debate, it is not reasoned discussion. Arguments are taken care of by bullets and finalized by the final spurt of arterial blood. Hence, the soldier, while certainly fighting for the freedoms of democracy (at least in the case of America) is not doing so with the freedoms of democracy. In other words, the soldier operates from a contrary position to all that he is fighting for. In any other social context, people who argue with guns are put in jail. But the soldier is not and yet he is lauded for it. This disjunction in the mind has a cost.
I am not dismissing the usage of the military, it is an unfortunately needed aspect of national government. My point is not to discuss the existence of a military, but what it is that as a nation, we are asking people to sign up for.
The numbers for Army suicides were released for 2007. They show a 13% increase from 2006, among active duty soldiers and National Guard and Reservists. As noted by Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, "the army has lost over 580 soldiers to suicide, the equivalent of an entire infantry battalion task force," since the beginning of this so-called Global War on Terror. Also, during the same period of 2007, 10 to 20 times as many soldiers sought to harm themselves or attempted suicide. And these numbers are only for active duty soldiers. The VA says there have been "144 suicides among the nearly 500,000 service members who left the military between 2002-2005 after fighting in at least one of the wars." In addition, it should be noted that suicides are difficult to isolate, as there have been repeated stories of soldiers over the years who have been involved in murder-suicides of their own families and accidents via the usage of drugs like alcohol. None of these would be counted as suicides for statistical purposes and yet only a truly cold-hearted bastard would say they were anything but.
If the data is stretched to include soldiers who have fought in any wars, the VA estimates that nearly "18 veterans a day - or 6,500 a year - take their own lives."
6,500 lives a year are lost of those who lived a life they would be shunned for living in the very democracy they are defending. Does it at all cross the minds of those who blindly "support the troops", who support the recruitment of soldiers from colleges and small towns with lies, who are ready to fling themselves on the bandwagon of totalitarianism with a war in Iran, what they are asking of the men and women who serve? Ah yes, a curious word there, "serve." The soldiers serve at the behest of the public who support the policies of the administration putting them in harm's way. There is a responsibility involved here by the public itself, all who don't wear a uniform, to remember that these people give their lives on and off the battlefield at the request of the voting public.
6,500 lives a year. That is double the number lost on 9/11. And this number in no way addresses the damage to families and communities by these soldiers who took arms.
The army thinks to address this growing problem by hiring more therapists. True, that is a good start. But it ignores the fundamental issue at the heart of being a soldier, that to become one means to look upon another human being with no more emotional connection than one would look at a rock in the middle of a road, as simply an obstacle to be removed. That quality of mental disengagement is frightening, troubling, and yet we blindly support it's usage.
This systematized brutality, this worship of carnage ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/05/27/iraq-soldier-discusses-hi_n_103698.html ), this anti-life stance of the pandering politicians (of both left and right) who throw people into harms way often for the purpose of supporting their own dogmas and machinations, has a cost. That cost is the mental well-being of the citizens they swore to support. We, the voting public, the bulwark against ideological hegemony spoken of by Jefferson, should remember to look beyond cute slogans and empty platitudes and remember the cost of our decisions.