Editors note: This article includes mentions of suicide.
Every day, the American Armed Forces gear up to defend the nation. Our U.S. troops fight valiantly in many of their combat endeavors.
However, such an arduous battle leaves our troops with nothing forgone. They not only sacrifice time with their families and loved ones but worse — they sacrifice their lives.
With every mission, the lives of troops hang precariously in the balance, as tomorrow is never guaranteed. What makes this thought all the more harrowing is that the lives of soldiers are not only threatened by extraneous parties but also by the war brewing in their minds.
Hundreds of thousands of lives are lost when troops are deployed to the front lines of action. However, it is another demon entirely when what constitutes that large body of casualties is suicide.
Suicide is responsible for a large portion of deaths in the military. In fact, according to The New York Times, the number of suicides in the military is climbing at an exponential rate, which sees the past six years witnessing 45,000 veteran and service member suicides. Such a disconcerting number amounts to more than the combat casualties from both the Iraq and Afghan wars combined.
To put this into perspective, approximately 20 veterans commit suicide every day. What makes this number especially troubling is that it reflects on us as a nation that we clearly have not done enough to protect our heroes.
By allowing this to persist, it is regarding our brave service members as disposable — reporting for duty to protect our lives, yet we are allowing them to remain imprisoned in a broken mentality.
Undisputedly, American troops have been forced to experience sordid scenarios that play out in the heat of battle on a daily basis. Such sights indelibly scar our troops both physically and mentally.
The United States Military culture has always been known for its emphasis on mental conditioning. However, 20 suicides a day reveals that such an emphasis is not as effective as the U.S believes it to be.
Military culture plays up the notion that to be a service member, one has to be immune to emotion and sentiment as if they are machines rather than humans. The especially rugged nature of the military perpetuates an unrealistic disconnect between service members and the world in an effort to create efficient fighters on the battlefield but at the cost of their own troops.
Deployment is a gruesome charge which requires a combination of mental and physical strength, high aptitude in terms of combat situations and other attributes that are rooted in military culture. This coalition of strength causes the military’s belief that there is no room for weakness. The perspective the military holds on this subject is absurd.
Military culture teaches soldiers that to be an efficient fighter one must be an automaton defunct of any emotional capability — that emotions are to be suppressed, because they are a hindrance to combat. This method is not making stronger fighters, but fewer fighters as suicide continues to claim the lives of our American troops.
As a result of this disconnect from emotion that military culture inflicts on their fighters, many service members feel intense bouts of depression and dejection. They often do not opt to seek much-needed mental help, rather, they choose to internalize their troubles until it ultimately leads to their own demise.
By perpetuating this problem, military culture is not only disrespecting our military, but it is dehumanizing its members altogether. United States troops are responsible for defending our nation, yet it feels as if little has been done to reciprocate their efforts.
If U.S. troops have an ethical responsibility to protect America at all costs, then the military should be tasked with the responsibility of valuing and defending the lives of all those who fight for them.
The military should actively discuss mental health to ensure that those brave men and women are strong enough not only to fight for our country, but to fight for themselves and the families they cherish.
If we as a nation truly aspire to have a military that is to stand unrivaled by that of other nations, we must not only concern ourselves with the technology and money that oozes out of taxpayers wallets just to engender weapons of mass destruction — we must use that same money to fund efforts of mental relief. Such efforts can be the difference between a service member coming home to their families and loved ones, making the tragic decision to end their lives.
Being an American soldier does not entail that one must be lacking in a mental state that feels human emotions. Rather, it entails a strength that is to be possessed to fight through any and all adversities that may arrive, be it physical or mental.
Our troops consist of humans that require attention paid to their mental well-being to ensure that they are strong enough for themselves. The military must disassociate from the taboo assigned to service members that feeling depressed is a weakness. Instead, mental health services must be offered by the military to ensure that such a service member can triumph through the dark nadirs in their lives.
If we can thwart the urges of suicide in our armed forces, we can truly say that through any haunting mental chasm set before us, America is not only the home of the free but the home of the brave.
Noah Osborne, FCRH ’23, is a journalism major from Harlem, N.Y.