Pakistan Observer

‘Suicide soldiers’

News & Views

Mohammad Jamil

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - The latest issue of the ‘Newsweek’ carries a cover story captioned ‘Suicide Soldier’ authored by former marine Anthony Swofford who gets to the bottom of, what he called ‘epidemic’. He wrote: “About 18 veterans kill themselves each day. Thousands from the current wars have already done so. In fact, the number of US soldiers died by their own hand is now estimated to be greater than the numbers (6460) that have died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq”. According to medical encyclopedia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder, which can occur after one has experienced a traumatic event that involves the threat of injury or death. PTSD can occur at any age. It can follow a natural disaster such as a flood or fire, or events such as assault, domestic abuse, prison stay, rape, terrorism or war. The author, however, quoted Peter Gutierez co-director of the Military suicide Research Consortium who said: “The stresses of multiple deployments, and the amount of time that troops have to reset between deployments, probably is more a unique factor”.

According to a study by the U.S Army Public Health Command, the suicide rate of active-duty military increased 80 percent between 2004 and 2008. Rutgers University is also conducting a research, which will help determine whether there is a genetic predisposition to mental-health disorders and why some soldiers are at risk for suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder while others are more resilient. Another research report stated that the rate of PTSD and other mental difficulties tied to war may be as high as 35 per cent. Vera Sharav, president of the Alliance for Human Research Protection said: “I can’t imagine something more irresponsible than putting a soldier suffering from stress on (antidepressants), when you know these drugs can cause people to become suicidal and homicidal.” In April 2011, ‘Rolling Stones magazine’ and the ‘German newsweekly ‘Der Spiegel’ published photos of American soldiers committing grisly acts against Afghan civilians. The rogue soldiers, who formed a “kill team,” murdered innocent civilians for sport, posing for photos with some of their victims.

On 23rd March 2011, American army specialist Jeremy Morlock, 23 was sentenced for 24 years after he pleaded guilty in US military court. He had admitted he was part of a ‘kill team’ that deliberately murdered Afghan civilians for sport between January and May 2010. The problem is that America is engaged in wars since 1950s – from Korean War to Vietnam War to Iraq and Afghanistan War. American soldiers on the one hand perpetrate excesses on the people in the occupied territories and on the other hand they suffer from mental ailments. On 28th October 2009, 26-year-old Fort Carson was supposed to return to Afghanistan, but he intentionally shot himself in the shoulder to avoid deployment. On 5th November 2009, a 39-year-old US Army psychiatrist, who had faced repeated harassment for his ethnicity and faith from his fellow soldiers, shot dead 13 people at the “Soldier Readiness Center” in Fort Hood, Texas, military base. He was opposed to the war and upset about his impending deployment to Afghanistan.

In a video clip on www.youtube.com, US soldiers were shown desecrating the dead bodies of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan by urinating on them, which was the worst example of gross misconduct and human rights violation. This was not the first incident of US soldiers’ egregious behavior. On 13th May 2006 msnbc.com had stated that U.S. military troops with severe psychological problems were sent to Iraq or kept in combat, even when superiors have been aware of signs of mental illness. It could be the acts of mentally sick or suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder that they bombed even wedding parties. In Afghanistan, wedding parties were bombed not less than five times since 2002. CNN, quoting Afghan army sources stated on 1st July 2002 that at least 20 people were killed and more than 60 injured in Afghanistan when a U.S. plane dropped a bomb on a wedding party, as celebrants jubilantly fired into the air.

After 2nd World War, America assumed a special position of a super power, and continues to wage wars to control world resources. Vietnam War began in 1954 and ended in 1975 when all US personnel left and North Vietnamese forces conquered Saigon. The war had escalated from an insurgency in South Vietnam sponsored by the North Vietnamese because Ho Chi Min wanted to unify the Vietnam. The US resorted to a direct military intervention in the south together with its allies. During this war, more than 60000 American soldiers were killed; about 500000 Vietnam civilians were killed by US Soldiers, and millions died of starvation. The figure of those killed in Cambodia and Laos when American forces bombed on the pretext that they provided the supply line to North Vietnam exceeded one million. Anyhow, South Vietnam was the country where most of the fighting occurred; hence most deaths happened there, and it was terribly devastated by the war. Naturally, American soldiers had seen the havoc played by the US, and lost mental balance.

In the new millennium, the US with a view to achieving its avowed objectives attacked and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, obviously to control the oil resources, as all other pretexts were proven wrong. Despite setbacks in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US does not appear to have learnt any lesson. In the past, the US had resorted to unilateral use of force ostensibly to promote democracy in Haiti, Nicaragua and elsewhere in Latin America. It had also intervened forcibly to change regimes, collect debts and restore order and has not weaned off the imperialist designs. After the change of guard with the election of President Obama it was expected that he would abandon the policies pursued by former president, but even his presidency is on the fag end he is treading the same beaten track. To make the world a safer place to live in, save American soldiers from the PTSD epidemic and let American live without trepidation and fear. He should review his policies otherwise he will also go down in the history as a war president.

—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.
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