Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Killing Fields

Trey Smith

In 2012, for the first time in at least a generation, the number of active-duty soldiers who killed themselves, 177, exceeded the 176 who were killed while in the war zone. To put that another way, more of America's serving soldiers died at their own hands than in pursuit of the enemy.

Across all branches of the US military and the reserves, a similar disturbing trend was recorded. In all, 349 service members took their own lives in 2012, while a lesser number, 295, died in combat.
~ from US Military Struggling to Stop Suicide Epidemic Among War Veterans by Ed Pilkington ~
There are many things one could say about these gruesome statistics and, maybe, I will choose to address the more expected ones some other day. What jumps out at me is not that suicides outnumber combat deaths, but that the combat death figures are so low. It goes to show that the innovative America has discovered a method of war that is far more sanitized than it used to be.

In the days of yore, going to war meant massive deaths and casualties for your side as well as the people you were attempting to defeat. This is why jingoistic rhetoric was so important. Politicians had to devise ways to get their own citizens so whipped up emotionally that they would accept thousands of body bags and funerals. War was hell for all concerned.

Vietnam was the last such war the US initiated and for good reason. Owing to extensive news coverage and massive protests all over the country, US leaders were forced to get out of Vietnam before they wanted to. The people demanded that the troops come home and that is what they did.

Since Vietnam, US leaders have devised a glorious new strategy. When the US goes to war now, we do so in such a way that the nation being attacked incurs almost all of the direct carnage (we still suffer from a tremendous amount of indirect carnage which is what Pilkington's article is about). Tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands still die, but few of them are OUR soldiers. Less death for OUR side means less public outrage and less public outrage means a greater capacity and frequency of war.

Today the US has become a bigger bully than ever before. We are waging "war" -- though we don't even call it that -- in scores of foreign lands. Our leaders are able to keep adding new "enemies" to the list because, with so few body bags making their way to our shores, the American public really isn't even conscious of the fact that we are killing others with impunity. As long as the killing fields happen somewhere "over there," we can sip our lattes and watch mindless dribble on TV without having to give a thought to the obscenity of war.

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