Here are a few realities to ponder as a follow up to my recent posting of Stanley Hauerwas’ reaction to the moral fragmentation of war. Over the last three years, more American soldiers (enlisted and veterans) have committed suicide than were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. While suicide among active duty soldiers has slightly decreased over the last two years; suicides within the National Guard and reservists keeps increasing. These rates hit their highest levels in July 2011 when 22 active-duty soldiers and 10 reservists took their own lives, the highest level for any month since the US army began releasing monthly suicide figures in 2009. The statistics from the year 2010 look like this:
All of this is particularly troubling when you consider the fact that suicide rates among members of the military used to be under the national average before 2008. Since 2008 the rate has skyrocketed. Studies have been done, fingers pointed, but many military leaders are still confused. The military recently paid the National Institute of Mental Health 50 million dollars to study this phenomenon. As a Christian, I am even more baffled by responses like this from Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli, who recently told the Army Times, “If you think you know the one thing that causes people to commit suicide, please let us know, because we don’t know what it is.” Really?
In 2011 an average of 18 veterans commit suicide everyday, 5 of those will have already been through treatment with the VA. Add these statistics up and an even more sobering fact emerges. Since the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, more than 1,100 soldiers have taken their own lives, with the numbers escalating each year for the last six years.
Christians everywhere need to be aware of this fact, in spite of differing convictions concerning the Christian response to war and military service.
Richard Hays: On Scripture’s Resources for Healing