• Posted: Nov 06, 2011 12:53:26
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A November 3 report on PRI's The World noted an annual suicide rate amongst U.S. veterans and active duty service men and women to be greater than 6500 per year. That's astonishing, given that number surpasses the death toll from more than ten years of war in both Iraq and Afghanistan. (See Faces of the Fallen, The Washington Post) On top of that, attention to the mental health challenges of veterans returning from war has increased substantially during recent years. Still, that disturbing rate of self-inflicted death persists.
Meanwhile, few Americans can bring themselves to thoroughly fathom the grimly disturbing reality service men and women and their families face on our behalf. Job insecurity, ideological friction, food safety, even hunger do not measure up to the soul-shattering cognitive dissonances soldiers and their families endure. A leg suddenly gone. A new friend instantly vanished in a splatter of blood. People you yourself have shot, lying before you, screaming in pain. Hate in eyes of children standing beside you who've lost fathers, uncles, and brothers. And for families, one day, night, or evening, two soldiers at your door, telling you you'll never see your husband, wife, son, or daughter again, they no longer exist. Suddenly, that gaping, hollowing, aching hole in your stomach that will never ever heal.
Such straight, tall, beautiful eyes sparkling, young men and women in uniform stopping for candy or soda at a service station en route to their next assignment is all most of us ever see of them, those who have chosen to step into the job of trying to grind out secure opportunity for not only us, but for millions of others in the developing world. It's a challenge born in comic books, novels, and movies, a dream that tells us we're the "good guys", that we can make a difference for those who haven't had the advantages we have, that at base we are all one people. Rising to that challenge, we, those young men and women, become determined that everyone on this planet of ours will be protected from evil.
But the reality of battle is so horribly unsettling. Back home people argue the merits of the mission, bemoan the financial burden, endure the legacy of bitterness. But unperturbed, our soldiers press onward, heroically trusting in that dream. And then blood splatters, screams pierce brains, living breathing human beings evaporate before eyes in an acrid smell of smoke. Scars accrue, memories that can't be erased. And unsettling, disturbing doubt begins to seep into thinking that maybe, just maybe, there are no "good guys", only madness, insanity, with a few profiting while all the rest pay cruelly, horribly, irreversibly. What honor is there, could there ever be, in being so devastatingly duped?
It's a profoundly disturbing thought 6500 per year of our straight, tall, beautiful, sparking eyed young men and women find they just can't face. And so they take one last look at what might have been and pull the trigger, concluding it just not worth the embarrassingly dishonorable, sickeningly distasteful, horrifyingly painful effort to continue.
May all of them, may all of us, eventually find a way to live that is worth the effort, not only for ourselves and those we love, but for everyone, for every precious living thing on this planet.
Saturday, October 22nd, 2011