Entry from July 7, 2011

The news that the Obama White House is henceforth to send letters of condolence to the families of military suicides — but only if they commit suicide in a combat zone — is seen by The New York Times as a progressive move. Today the paper editorializes that

the change is heartening for grieving families and for the nation, too. The policy amounted to official stigmatizing and showed a lack of gratitude for some who faced combat fire. The military’s concern had been that drawing attention to those who struggled with mental health problems and took their own lives might encourage more suicides. But after an 18-month study, the administration came to the obvious conclusion that condolences could be a positive factor. Mr. Obama will be signing letters in the future “to destigmatize the mental health costs of war” and help prevent more tragic deaths, the administration said.

Reflect, if you will, for just a moment on that line about how, “after an 18-month study, the administration came to the obvious conclusion. . .” No need for any studies so far as The New York Times is concerned! The answer was obvious all along, just as it was in the case of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell. That the Pentagon’s study in this case also came to the obvious conclusion, at least so far as The New York Times was concerned, should tell you something about its reliability — not to mention the Times’s penchant for moralizing and turning hard questions into simple matters of obvious right and wrong.

For the question of military suicides is another hard one whose answer is not obvious at all. The Times reporter James Dao blogged yesterday with a similar explanation to that of the editorialist, writing that “The policy was based on concerns within military circles that recognizing such deaths would encourage more suicides.” That’s a tendentious way of putting it, however, and makes the thinking of “military circles” sounds most implausible. The causes of suicide are always complex and personal and it seems highly unlikely that anyone could be moved to such a desperate act by the fact that the family of some other suicide had got a nice letter from President Obama afterwards. Looked at another way, however, it appears a lot more likely that some people might have been deterred from suicide by the stigma still attaching to the act — which is what must have been the real reason for the policy which has just been changed.

As with Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell, too, all the right-thinking military guys are bound to be supportive of the more progressive policy. At any rate, the Times quotes no supporter of the old view, if there is one, which is thus reduced to mere anonymous “resistance” to the progressive change. One suitably re-educated officer is given a say:

General Peter W. Chiarelli, the Army vice chief of staff, acknowledged that resistance in a statement, noting that when he was commander of the 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, his unit lost 169 soldiers — including one suicide. But a memorial to those deaths at Fort Hood left off the name of the suicide. General Chiarelli said he came to regret his decision. “Many are struggling with the ‘invisible wounds’ of this war, including traumatic brain injury, post- traumatic stress, depression and anxiety,” General Chiarelli said in a statement. “Any attempt to characterize these individuals as somehow weaker than others is simply misguided.”

In this he is echoing President Obama, who says that “this issue is emotional, painful, and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely. They didn’t die because they were weak.” But what if they were weak? Impossible! That has now become an unthinkable thought. Hence the “obvious” nature of the change to the Times’s editorialist.

I think it possible that the change could be for the better, but it is very far from being obvious that it is so. Surely, we ought to preserve the special honor accruing to death in battle in the face of enormous cultural pressures to regard such death — and, indeed, military service itself — as indistinguishable from the victimhood that we have learned to venerate. The empire of the victim is always hungry for more territory, and those on the left, like President Obama, for whom victims are political clients, are always keen to assist with the further annexation of such territory. That’s what John Kerry was doing when he said that if “you study hard, and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don”t, you get stuck in Iraq.” Of course he had to apologize for it later, but it was pretty clear that his years as a leading light of the anti-war left — which was his original base and the origin of his political career — had made the identification of combat serviceman and victim reflexive with him.

Clearly, the armed services would simply be unable to function without strong feelings of pride and shame among their members: pride in doing a dangerous but honorable job and shame at the very thought of not doing it. If they are no longer to be taught that there is any shame in suicide, and that those that kill themselves are every bit as honorable as those who are killed by the enemy, it’s hard to see anything but more and not fewer suicides as a result. If anyone involved in that 18-month study made this point, you won’t find out about it in The New York Times, for whom the true and right answers to more and more formerly difficult questions are becoming as obvious as its own invincible self-righteousness and self-importance.

Discover more from James Bowman

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Similar Posts