18 Suicides a day
All across America veterans are committing suicide at unprecedented rates, but no one has been able to answer why. Author and former marine Anthony Swofford gets to the bottom of an epidemic.
Anthony Swofford writes: In 1992 I was in danger of becoming such a statistic, just released from the Marines after four years of service and combat action in Kuwait during the Gulf War. I know the suicidal temptation that can accompany the isolation and loneliness veterans experience after the high of combat and the brotherhood of arms fade in the rearview mirror. I skulked around college campuses with a watch cap pulled tight to my ears, looking for a threat, knowing that when it appeared, I could extinguish it. I took a swing-shift warehouse job that required very little human interaction. I became a writer, which also required very little human interaction. It took nearly two decades to find my way free of the morass.
My thoughts as a vet which I hope at least echo an excellent and thought-provoking essay by Anthony Swofford…
Many of us come back mostly in one piece. But not necessarily at peace.
Arriving at internal peace is another matter. I try to take that into consideration whenever I hear what can sound like the justificatory ravings of a vet, which are perhaps related to a deep-seated need for justifying to themselves an act they may never completely come to grips with.
We who have entered militaries have boot camp as a rite of passage that strips us of one identity and takes us into the realms another, where we join the elite club that can commit what otherwise is considered murder of our fellow humans. This is a crucial problem that must be solved when individuals have deeply embedded senses of morality represented by commandments like: You shall not murder.
Then we are just set free back in society. No ritual transition back to a civilian identity that involves reclaiming our internalized morality that we’ve had to forgo for a period of time, maybe have had to violate in ways that shock even ourselves, despite our new identities. We leave the confusions that can occur in minds of the veterans to the experts and their DSM manuals.
Many who enter the mental frame of that peculiar socially-defined group that not just allows but orders us to murder, creating potential for an immense conflict of choice, never become truly “virgin” civilians again. As a result, some can find themselves in a kind of perpetual limbo, a realm betwixt and between also called liminality, and maybe that’s where these suicides will occur.
Rites of passage rituals have often helped people in all sorts of societies deal with the inherent contradictions that sometimes emerge with moving between socially defined identities. Our individualistically-focused society is extremely short sighted and thus cruel in developing methods of acceptable practices of mutual support. Especially for people who’ve been through socially validated trauma like our veterans often have. So you can get some very extreme expressions of rationalization from those struggling to make sense of their lives and actions in a society that’s telling them they are free and independent.
Chris Hedges writes about the cultural effects of some of these issues in War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning.