GI Suicide: Maybe It’s the Job?


by Lawrence Wilkerson

The suicide rate among veterans and, now, among active-duty GIs is at an historic high. The U.S. Marine Corps, for example, just turned in an all-time record in 2018 for attempted and successful suicides in a year (354 active and reserve). Marine Colonel Dom D. Ford, writing in the Marine Times, is grasping at straws to explain the rising rates, from claiming there is too little Christian religion in the ranks to the Marines not being willing to accept counsel and advice. As for the too little Christianity in the ranks, as an advisory board member of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, I know the opposite is true: there is too much Dominionist Christianity in the ranks. In fact, as soon as Colonel Ford made his comments, the phones at MRFF began ringing.

But might there be far greater reasons than these desperate efforts suggest behind such a deadly development?

I think so. But no one wants to confront them, certainly not the unimaginative, almost brain-dead generals and admirals now in charge of the U.S. military. These men, and increasingly women, flit from one conflict to another, one failed or mediocre project to another, gaining stars and acclaim all the way and doing absolutely nothing to justify either, even to the point of losing wars and getting promoted afterward. All one need do is look at a World War II photograph of General Dwight Eisenhower and see at most two or three ribbons on his tunic.  Then look at a modern-day general. You’d think he or she would topple over from the weight of the “fruit salad” all over the front of their uniforms.

Let’s look at a few of the likely reasons for high GI suicide rates that such leaders are either too stupid to detect or too afraid to call out.

First, as the University of Minnesota’s Francis Shen and Cornell’s Douglas Kriner have pointed out in The Casualty Gap, the past 18 years of constant wars have been the most inequitable years in U.S. history. That is, the poor and the disadvantaged have done the bleeding and dying while the well-off have escaped scot-free. That reality alone must drive some GIs to despair.

Second, these GIs have killed or helped to kill more than 400,000 human beings in these wars.  Killing at that level affects people. It particularly affects people when they are unable to explain the reason for the killing or, worse, when they know the reasons and don’t care for them.

The U.S. government has told these young men and women that they are killing these people for freedom’s sake, for democracy, for women’s rights, for justice, to protect Americans, and for all manner of reasons that these troops know are just so much hogwash.

Third, the United States—with many of these GIs as the executors—has committed war crimes from Bagram to Baghdad and from Guantanamo to Bangkok. The United States has broken treaties, defied the rule of law, and smashed international covenants at will. To top it off, today the U.S. president wants to pardon war criminals.

Fourth, the 99 percent of America with no skin in the game of war makes sure to say quite frequently “thank you for your service” to any of these GIs encountered at airports, in restaurants, on the street, or elsewhere. From my own experience talking with serving troops and veterans—including a triple-amputee at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center— nothing galls them more. They see the 99 percent assuaging their guilt with a few meaningless words that don’t do a thing to alleviate the GIs’ concerns. In fact, such triteness deepens those concerns.

Moreover, America currently has a president with bone spurs, had a vice president before him who had better things to do than go to war, and a president whose father got him into the Texas Air National Guard to fly a plane (a duty George W. Bush more often failed than succeeded in performing). Bill Clinton, meanwhile, allegedly cheated his way out of ROTC. This all in the last generation.

Generals and admirals lie almost as frequently as their commanders-in-chief. “Yes,” they report from Baghdad, “these Iraqi soldiers can defend their country.” Then the Islamic State proves otherwise. “Just give me more troops and I’ll win in Afghanistan.” Right. “The F-35 is an outstanding aircraft.” Then straight out of the door to work for Lockheed Martin for a seven-figure reward.

Cabinet officers, national security advisors, and presidents lie as well: “Iran is the greatest state sponsor of terrorism,” say Bolton, Pompeo, and Trump. Almost every GI knows that the greatest state sponsor of terrorism is a U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia. Whether the kingdom does it directly or through surrogates like Pakistan, every GI knows who finances and supports the biggest terrorist threats. Every GI knows that Sunnis make up more than 90% of the serious terrorists in the world today.

These GIs know that, on account of many of these lies, they are killing people, wounding people, destroying their homes, bombing their towns and villages, and generally wreaking havoc for “God and country.” They know this is a lie.  But what are they to do about it?

Some of them kill themselves—in fact, an increasing number of them.

Lawrence Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a colonel.  He is the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William & Mary.

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  1. One major issue you are ignoring Mr Wilkerson is that today’s GI realises there is no nation to fight FOR any longer

  2. Sir: A few quibbles with your analysis. Ike wore what he wanted regardless of regs to the contrary. Additionally, McArthur wore ALL of his ribbons, so Ike wanted a contrast which would be perceived as humble. It is possible today to wear the top three but seldom done, as such the contrast is less than fair. I served 24yrs Marine Corps; end of Nam, Panama and the Desert. I welcome thanks from strangers as to my service. We kill the people trying to harm/kill our teammates, not for God OR Country. As such I’ve never had qualms as to having taken a life. Lastly, in all my years of service, I have NEVER heard a comment as to rich/poor serving and any concomitant pitying of the possible events they’ve experienced due to some rich person not serving. On that one point only I call BS.

    Casper Canavan

  3. This is the first article written by this jerk that didn’t blame Israel for everything.

  4. Wlkerson had 31 years to say something but waited until his pension was secure, how brave.

  5. Mostofi, the IRGC has never committed a war crime. That is what a member said when he fought in Aleppo and saw how it was being covered in our MSM. I was struck by his conviction. I believe him because Iran doesn’t have the luxury of calling in airstrikes as soon as they spot the enemy, they are fighting eye ball to eye ball in their own backyard. But they too would become jaded and worn down if they tried to project power thousands of miles away from home and continued to do so over decades. That is the nature of human beings.

    Not all U.S. serviceman act badly but we kid ourselves if we think that they have any special connection when they go into a country, stay at a military base, go out on patrol and don’t talk to anyone who lives there other than their interpreters. They might not even see the enemy but only hear the shrieks of their fellow soldiers as he steps on a landmine and loses a portion of his leg or a deafening explosion when his truck hits an IED. How could this not wear on someone.

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