The media again goes after the military

First, the NY Times announced that American troops were crazed killers. Next, it announced that they were crazed homeless people. The latest salvo the media has launched at the troops to counteract the Surge’s success is that they’re so crazy they are killing themselves in droves:

As many as 121 Army soldiers committed suicide in 2007, a jump of some 20 percent over the year before, officials said Thursday.

The rise comes despite numerous efforts to improve the mental health of a force stressed by a longer-than-expected war in Iraq and the most deadly year yet in the now six-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.

Internal briefing papers prepared by the Army’s psychiatry consultant early this month show there were 89 confirmed suicides last year and 32 deaths that are suspected suicides and still under investigation.

More than a quarter of those — about 34 — happened during deployments in Iraq, an increase from 27 in Iraq the previous year, according to the preliminary figures.

The report also shows an increase in the number of attempted suicides and self-injuries — some 2,100 in 2007 compared to less than 1,500 the previous year and less than 500 in 2002.

The total of 121 suicides last year, if all are confirmed, would be more than double the 52 reported in 2001, before the Sept. 11 attacks prompted the Bush administration to launch its counter-terror war. The toll was 87 by 2005 and 102 in 2006.

I’m not quarreling with the numbers for last year, which equal 121 individual tragedies. Nor do I challenge the fact that the number of suicides has been rising. However, I do have a problem with the absence of context. The story makes it appear as if there’s an ever escalating suicide epidemic in the military that sets it apart from the general American population. That is, the article forgot to compare these numbers to society at large. Significantly, it also doesn’t distinguish between active duty, guard and reserve (502,790, 346,288 and 189,975, all of which add up to 1,039,053). As always context makes things interesting.
Here are some statistics regarding suicide in America as of 2004:

Now lets look at Army demographics for the year 2006 (the last I could find):

  • Total number of troops, active, guard and reserve: 1,039,053
  • Total number of active and guard troops (not counting reserve): 849,078
  • Total active duty was 502,790
  • Men make up 86% of active duty soldiers (430,000).
  • Whites made up 61.6 percent of active duty soldiers, or almost 310,000 troops.

I’m not able to find the average age for the Army (I don’t know why), but I’m willing to bet it hovers between 19-24, with the weight at about 20.

Okay, bear with me here, and correct me when I go wildly wrong, but I think one can make a few predictions about what the suicide rate probably would be in the military if it hewed to general American statistics. First of all, if there are an average of 11.05 suicides for every 100,000 people, out of the total army strength of 1,039,053, one would expect a little more than 110 suicides, which is remarkably close to the 121 committed last year. And given that the Army is disproportionately male and that the rate of suicides is disproportionately high amongst men, one would have to expect that the average of 11.05 suicides would have to skew upwards to account for both of these disproportionalities. You then have to add in the fact that the average male soldiers age also places him in one of the high risk suicide categories (youths 15-24). After doing all that, you’d have to slide the rate down a little to reflect the fact that some of these men are minorities, who have lower suicides rates, but that kind of math is utterly beyond me. Any of you who can do math should feel free to chime in here and tell me by how much the suicide rate increases when you have a mostly white, young, male demographic in the military, and mostly white, young, male suicides in the general population. Complicated math or not, my rule of thumb tells me that, compared to the general population, the rate of Army suicides is not out of the ordinary.

Even if one rachets the numbers down from all troops and looks only at active duty and guard troops, the result isn’t that different. The total number of active and guard troops, as I noted above, is 849,078. That means that you could expect an average of 94 suicides per year. And then again, you’d have to do the higher math of factoring in all those young, white men and then factoring down slightly for minorities (who are 38.4$ of active duty troops and 25.5% of guard troops).

Things do get more tragic if one really rachets the numbers down to focus only on active duty suicides, because that would mean a base suicide rate that’s twice the national average. Even adjusting that for the young, white male military population probably wouldn’t offset the differential. I can’t find the report on which this news story is based, though, so I really don’t know which Army population is at issue.

In any event, as you think about all of this, consider that the report says that there are only 89 confirmed suicides, with 32 still being investigated. It’s certain that some of those being investigated will prove also to be suicides, but it’s anything but certain that all will.

Bottom line: It’s all very complicated for a math-phobe like me but, unless one is sure that the numbers in the article apply only to active duty troops, I’m fairly confident that the numbers, while showing 121 personal tragedies, do not prove that our American troops are killing themselves like flies. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) In other words, while the news report, to the extent it gives numbers directly from military sources, is informative, to the extent the report makes it appear that troops are dying in droves as compared to other Americans, it’s misleading.

UPDATEGateway Pundit has an more interesting take on the story than I did, which is the fact that more troops committed suicide during the Clinton years than are now committing suicide.  Perhaps doing ones job, even a dangerous job, is less demoralizing and depressing than being marginalized and denigrated.


10 Responses

  1. […] [Discuss this article with Bookworm over at Bookworm Room…] Share Article Sphere: Related Content Trackback URL […]

  2. 2008.01.31 Politics and National Defense Roundup

    This post will grow as the day goes on. Don’t forget to check back later. Worth clicking today: U.S. Commanders in Iraq Favor Pause in Troop Cuts Michael Yon: Men of Valor: Part VII of VIII The media again goes after the military Israeli High Court Af…

  3. When the Left, the Democrats, and their media lapdogs say “violence never solves anything” they are only talking about killing violence. Emotional violence, verbal violence, indirect violence, and all other kinds of violence, so long as it does not kill directly, is recognized and accepted by them as being very at solving things. Demonstrated by the media’s acknowledgement that if they do violence to a faction’s image, that faction will weaken and go away.

  4. I’m not quarreling with the numbers for last year, which equal 121 individual tragedies. Nor do I challenge the fact that the number of suicides has been rising.

    Given what is going on in America against soldiers and Marines, why wouldn’t their suicides refuse to rise, Book?

    The media, of course, does not admit that their actions are violent actions. They are only reporting the facts, Book. Their hands are clean, if you ask them.

  5. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

    The suicide rates for civilian demographics are much higher, Book. You don’t have the support mechanism of the military or the military brotherhood or the spousal support of soldiers either in the civilian. When a teenager goes into depression, it’s a crapshoot whether the necessary help is available or not.

  6. The higher suicide is probably due to a lack of spousal support the stress of being separated and infidelity.

  7. All,
    I’ll just put in my two cents. Suicide has always been an issue in the military – our overall rates are much lower than the average but the ratio of attempts to successful suicides is about triple the national average. Military members have numerous stressors outside combat – until recently the average tour length was 2-3 years. This meant that a career military member would see roughly eight moves (basic training, advanced training, and six posts) during their first twenty years. The Army is moving to six year “stabilization” tours, which would bring things down to five moves during a twenty year period.
    Check the number of suicides tied to “life changes” and add in the stress of transition with pending retirements and/or discharge. Marriage stress is a killer (mine has suffered quite a bit; we’re going to do a family vacation when I return and try to do a retreat to reconnect) – and many military members marry quickly and young, causing further stress because of immaturity.
    There is a large support chain available (I should know, I’m a Task Force Suicide Prevention Officer!) including chaplains, trained prevention personnel, and of course the sergeants that interact with everyone every day.
    Now I have to get ready for a brief from the Chaplain and the command suicide prevention rep – it appears the story has enough legs to worry the commander here. Which means devoting time to do something again – since I’ve spoken with all the leaders and over 2/3rds of my task force on how to get help and letting them know I care. (You don’t want to hear the jokes about why they named me the SPO.)
    Anyhow, in my experience most soldiers don’t have the tendency to suicide – the problem lies in access to highly lethal materials (we all have rifles or pistols and ammunition at hand) in cases when it becomes overwhelming. Most military cases come literally “out of the blue” – a single letter, missed anniversary, or a stress-filled, frustrating day makes the idea pop in – and they act decisively. The good news is that most of the time the first act is to talk to a battle buddy or a sergeant. And usually we get them thinking about what happens next and get them derailed and into help.

    I’ve meandered again – I need to get back to work.

    SGT Dave – “The best way to keep the suicide rate down is to identify people at risk, take them out back, and shoot them. This is why we chose Dave for the position.” (attributed to one of the task force team leaders)

  8. Which means devoting time to do something again

    See, Book. The media is already affecting the preventive and treatment care given to soldiers over suicide. When they have broken it down and wrecked it enough, then their story of “higher suicides” will come true and then they will tell you that they were right the first time. Just like with Vietnam.

  9. Japan turned a vice into a virtue. Whereas Christianity attempted to prevent suicide by religious means, Japanese Shintoism simply transfered suicide into “hara kiri”. Instead of allowing a person to decide that he has had enough, now is the time to die and go away, Japan ensured that both the death was painful as well as ensuring that it is only used to remove dishonor when no other method could do it.

    Ritual suicide is ritual for a reason. It is so that spontaneous suicide is replaced and decreased by it.

    In Japan’s Age of the Warring States, death truly was lighter than a feather while duty was heavy as mountains. Your duty to your feudal lord is far more important than your own life. This is almost the exact opposite of American tradition, which values your own life almost above anyone else’s.

    Of course, the two different philosophies are not as different as you may think. The Japanese say that you must die before admitting failure, because if you live after a defeat, then you would have failed in your duty to your feudal lord and your own personal oaths. You would thus, be dishonored in the eyes of your family, clan, and lord. Thus the Japanese would look towards a soldier that surrenders as an oath breaker and coward. “Do your best” is a Japanese popular saying, whereas here it is “Good luck” and in Iraq it is “inshallah”.

    On the other hand, Americans believe, they don’t say, that you must be alive to maintain your loyalty and your promises. Dying is pointless, since your duty is to make the other SOB die instead. Staying alive is, thus, far more important than a Banzai charge that would be ineffective. Thus when defeated, Americans accept the notion that soldiers can surrender with honor, since those soldiers are more valuable to us alive than dead.

    Ask any HRC cogs about the differences between cultures in relation to treatment of soldiers in war, and the best you can probably expect is the stare of the fanatic and the zealot.

    Which is why you probably don’t want any HRC type organization retards near your prisoners or your enemy’s prisoners.

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