The title of a recent New York Times op-ed by Carol Giacomo is an attention grabber: “Suicide Has Been Deadlier Than Combat for the Military.”
The article points out that “more than 45,000 veterans and active-duty service members have killed themselves in the past six years. That is more than 20 deaths a day — in other words, more suicides than the total American military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
The article states: “Other than pointing to national trends, officials have offered few explanations for why military suicides are rising. Studies seeking more answers are underway.”
Permit me to offer my explanation for this deadly phenomenon: Iraq and Afghanistan and other places where U.S. service members have been obeying orders to participate in military operations involving the wrongful killing of people.
Iraq is a good starting point, especially since Giacomo’s article profiles two Iraq War veterans.
One such veteran, Kayla Williams, actually held a gun to her head while contemplating killing herself. Another one, Marine Cobra gunship pilot John Ruocco, returned home tormented and killed himself.
Today, most everyone describes the Iraq War as a “mistake.” But it was actually much more than a “mistake.” It was a war in which U.S. troops were ordered to participate in the wrongful killing of vast numbers of innocent people — that is, people who never did anything to the United States.
Remember: The Iraqi government never attacked the United States, and no Iraqi citizen ever committed a terrorist act against the United States. Those are critically important facts. The U.S. invasion and multiyear occupation of Iraq was what the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal called a “war on aggression.” That’s when one nation attacks another nation, as Germany did to Poland in 1939.
There is another factor to consider: The Constitution is the law that we the people have imposed on the federal government, including the troops. It requires a congressional declaration of war before the president and the troops can wage war against another nation. That declaration of war was never secured in the U.S. war against Iraq. U.S. soldiers all take an oath to support and defend the Constitution.
So, here you had U.S. soldiers being ordered to participate in an illegal war under both American law and international law and that violated their oath, a war that was certain to result in the deaths, injuries, incarceration, or torture of countless innocent people, not to mention the destruction of their homes, businesses, infrastructure, and country.
A religious digression
At this point, please permit me a digression. I had a good friend, now deceased, in Denver who was a Catholic priest. He was also a libertarian. During the Iraq War, I posed the following scenario to him: The government conscripts me, puts a rifle in my hands, and sends me to Iraq, where I am put in a position of killing or being killed. If an Iraqi is about to shoot me, do God’s laws permit me to shoot him first under the principle of self-defense.
His response: Absolutely not! God’s law is clear. You cannot kill someone wrongfully. You have no right to kill one Iraqi because you don’t have any right to be invading their country. Under God’s law, you must either escape your situation or simply be shot to death by a person who has the right to defend his country from an unlawful invader.
The power of conscience
Some pathological killers seem to have no conscience at all, or it seems to be so deeply buried in their subconscious that it does’t seem to bother them when they kill people.
But most U.S. soldiers are not pathological killers. They are regular people, oftentimes with spouses and children. Many of them go to church. They have consciences, which guide their actions as they go through life.
How can those soldiers not be affected by participating in an action that wrongfully kills and injures vast numbers of innocent people, especially those soldiers who do the killing and injuring themselves? How can they cope with a conscience that begins tormenting them, even while Americans are “thanking them for their service.”
The Pentagon tried to ameliorate the problem by calling the Iraq War “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” It’s not really clear what the Pentagon meant by that. If they meant that U.S. soldiers were protecting American freedom, every soldier would know that was a lie because Iraq never threatened the freedom of the American people.
If, instead, they meant bringing “freedom” to Iraq, deep down every soldier with a conscience would know that God does not permit someone to kill another person for the purpose of bringing “freedom” to the rest of the people in his nation — that is, to those who aren’t killed in the operation.
Afghanistan: the “good” war?
The situation was no different in principle in Afghanistan. While interventionists have suggested that the U.S war on the Taliban regime was justified owing to supposed complicity between the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, that reasoning is unfounded. The reason for the U.S. war on the Taliban was because the Taliban refused to comply with the U.S. government’s unconditional extradition demand for Bin Laden. It is undisputed that there was no extradition treaty between Afghanistan and the United States. Therefore, Afghanistan was under no legal duty to comply with the U.S. government’s unconditional extradition demand. Under international law, a nation-state has no legal authority to invade another country to bring a suspected terrorist to justice, especially a country with which it has no extradition treaty.
Like with the Iraq War, the U.S. government failed to secure a congressional declaration of war against Afghanistan, making that war illegal under our form of government. Therefore, U.S. troops were ordered to invade Afghanistan and kill people in an illegal operation, both under U.S. law and international law.
It is also worth noting that the vast majority of people who U.S. troops have killed in Afghanistan had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.
How can such killings not affect a soldier who has an active conscience?
Of course, some U.S. officials and interventionists chalk up these military suicides to PTSD. In other words, they blame it on the stress that generally comes with combat, which enables them to avoid the issue of what happens when a soldier participates in what is essentially legalized murder. Unfortunately, all too many soldiers buy into the PTSD concept, which, not surprisingly, oftentimes doesn’t address and resolve their psychological and emotional problem, one that is rooted in participating in the wrongful killing of people in violation of God’s laws.