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Declaring that “veteran suicide is one of the greatest crises of our time,” Boston’s NPR news station, WBUR, reported that “since Sept. 11, 2001, just over 30,000 veterans have died by suicide — four times more than the number of U.S. military personnel who died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.” The website military.com stated that suicides among active-duty personnel rose by 15 percent in 2020 and consisted of 580 service members.
The common perception regarding these suicides is that U.S. military personnel suffer from PTSD — post-traumatic stress disorder — arising primarily from combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Actually, there is a better explanation, one that unfortunately many people are failing to grasp in the aftermath of the deadly and
destructive debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq. Until U.S. soldiers, veterans, and the American people come to grips with that explanation, military personnel will continue to take their own lives.
Ever since the Taliban victory in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S. forces from that country, commentators have been jumping on the bandwagon criticizing President Biden’s withdrawal strategy and, to a larger extent, the manner in which four presidents — George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden — mismanaged the long-term occupation of the country. If only these presidents had done things differently, the critics say, everything would have come out fine.
What these interventionists are claiming is that it was right for the United States to invade Afghanistan in the first place. The mistake, they say, was in remaining there too long to engage in “nation-building.” If U.S. forces had simply been sent into Afghanistan to wreak vengeance on the Taliban regime for “harboring” Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and to kill or capture as many al-Qaeda members as possible in a short period of time, U.S. forces could have quickly been brought home. In that case, interventionists claim, things would have turned out well.
FFF’s stand against invading Afghanistan and Iraq
Twenty years ago, The Future of Freedom Foundation took a lonely stand against invading both Afghanistan and Iraq. We were among just a few libertarians who opposed invading Afghanistan. Much of the libertarian movement became enthusiastic supporters of Bush’s plan to invade that country. They became known within the libertarian movement as “liberventionists.”
Those of us who stood firmly against the invasion of Afghanistan — and then, later, Iraq — paid a high price for our stand. Day after day, week after week, we were inundated with nasty, vituperative correspondence and cancellations of support. One member of FFF’s board of trustees resigned in protest against our non-interventionist stand.
To understand the real reason that there are so many suicides among U.S. troops, it is imperative that we revisit the principles that FFF was emphasizing 20 years ago when we were opposing the interventions in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Otherwise, if the only lesson we learn from these debacles is that smarter interventionism was the key to success, we will have learned nothing, and the suicides will continue.
Motive and the 9/11 attacks
The first thing on which we must focus is the motive for the 9/11 attacks. This is something that the American people did not want to focus on after the attacks. All that mattered was that those foreigners — Muslims — had come all the way over here and killed thousands of innocent Americans. Since it was strongly believed that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda had orchestrated the attacks, and since bin Laden and al-Qaeda were based in Afghanistan, it was a no-brainer for interventionists and liberventionists to support the invasion of the country, not only to kill or capture bin Laden and other members of al-Qaeda but to also wreak vengeance on the Taliban regime for “harboring” bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, U.S. officials steadfastly maintained that what had motivated the terrorists was hatred for America’s “freedom and values.” It was a position that was wholeheartedly embraced by interventionists. The underlying idea was that Muslims hated America for its Judeo-Christian society and its decadent lifestyle and just wanted to kill Americans. Some interventionists argued very seriously that the attacks were part of a centuries-old quest to establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate. After 9/11 and for some years thereafter, many interventionists were scared to death that the Muslims were coming to get us and force us all to begin living under sharia law.
All of that was sheer nonsense, as we argued after the attacks. The real reason the terrorists struck was to retaliate against the U.S. government for the massive death, destruction, and humiliation that U.S. officials had unleashed in the Middle East after the end of the Cold War.
That was not what Americans, including interventionists and liberventionists, wanted to hear. When we would bring it up — and we brought it up repeatedly — their favorite attack on us was, “You’re blaming America for 9/11! You’re saying that the terrorists were justified in killing all those innocent Americans!” That would normally be followed by a stream of nasty and vituperative attacks about how we supposedly hated America and loved the terrorists and how cowardly we were for opposing the invasion of Afghanistan and, later, Iraq.
In the political world, Congressman Ron Paul bore the brunt of the massive sentiment against stating the real reason for the 9/11 attacks. During a Republican debate in his 2008 presidential race, Paul pointed out that the terrorists came over here to kill Americans to retaliate for all the killings that U.S. officials were committing over there.
Paul immediately incurred the wrath not only of his presidential opponents. There were also expressions of shock and outrage from the mainstream media moderators and massive boos from the Republican audience.
Paul’s opponents angrily intimated that he was “blaming America” for the attacks. One just wasn’t supposed to say such a thing, especially in the Republican Party. Everyone was expected to toe the official line — that the terrorists had struck on 9/11 because they hated America for its “freedom and values” or the unofficial line — that the terrorists were part of the effort to establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate that would encompass the United States.
I’ll never forget watching Paul make that statement. I thought to myself, “Ron Paul, you are one courageous individual. You are one of my real heroes in life. But your Republican presidential campaign is now toast.”
Ironically, what actually ended up happening was the opposite. Paul’s observation on motive is what caused his campaign to take off. A large segment of American society knew or suspected that they were being lied to regarding the real motive behind the 9/11 attacks. They sensed that Ron Paul was telling them the truth as to why the terrorists had come all the way to the United States to kill Americans and commit suicide in the process.
America’s governmental history
To arrive at a deeper understanding of motive for the 9/11 attacks — and how such motive relates to suicides among active-duty troops and veterans — it is necessary to review the history of America’s governmental structure. By
doing so, we gain a deeper understanding of what happened on 9/11 and why so many soldiers have been taking their lives.
Every American living today has been born and raised under a governmental structure known as a “national-security state.” It consists of the Pentagon, a vast and permanent military establishment, the NSA, and, to a certain extent, the FBI.
Americans are taught that the national-security establishment falls under the control of the executive branch of the government. In actuality, it is a fourth branch of the federal government — the national-security branch — and it is the most powerful branch of them all. From its inception and with the full support of the other three branches, it has wielded omnipotent powers that normally characterize totalitarian regimes, such as assassination, kidnapping, coups, torture, indefinite detention, and mass secret surveillance.
What many American fail to realize is that America hasn’t always been a national-security state. For some 150 years, America was what is termed a “limited-government republic,” a type of governmental system in which the powers of the federal government were extremely limited. No powers of assassination, coups, torture, indefinite detention, or mass secret surveillance. No Pentagon, no vast and permanent military establishment, no NSA, and no FBI. There was only a basic, relatively small military force.
That was how the American people from 1791 to 1945 wanted it. The last thing they wanted was to live under a government that wielded omnipotent, dark-side powers. In fact, if the Constitutional Convention had proposed a national-security state form of governmental structure, there is no doubt that the American people living at that time would have summarily rejected it. In that case, Americans would have continued living under the Articles of Confederation, a third type of governmental system, one in which the federal government’s powers were so weak and few that it didn’t even have the power to tax.
After World War II, U.S. officials converted the federal government to a national-security state. It is important to recognize that national-security states traditionally have “official enemies.” That’s the way they justify their existence and their ever-increasing size, power, and taxpayer-funded money. The big official enemies that undergirded the U.S. national-security state during the Cold War were the Soviet Union, Red China, and other communist nations, as well as “godless communism.”
The argument was that there was an international communist conspiracy to take over the world that was based in Moscow. To defeat this conspiracy, it was necessary, they said, for America to be converted to a national-security state. The implicit promise was that as soon as America won the Cold War, Americans could have their limited-government republic back.
Most everyone assumed that the Cold War would go on forever. In 1989, however, it came to a sudden halt with the dismantling of the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany, and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern Europe.
But the U.S. national-security establishment, which by now had become the most powerful branch of the federal government, was not ready to go quietly into the night and let Americans have their limited-government republic back. It just needed to find a new official enemy, one that would strike as much fear in the American people as “godless communism” had done.
That was when the CIA and the Pentagon embarked on a course of violent interventionism in the Middle East. It began with their intervention against Iraq in the Persian Gulf War. Claiming that Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein was a “new Hitler” for invading Kuwait over an oil-drilling dispute, President H.W. Bush ordered U.S. troops to invade Kuwait and oust Iraqi troops from that country. Ironically, Saddam, the “new Hitler,” had been a friend and partner of the U.S. government during the 1980s, when U.S. officials were helping his forces to wage war against Iran.
Despite a lot of bluster from Saddam, Iraq, a Third World nation, never had a chance against the most powerful military in history. During the Gulf War, U.S. troops massacred thousands of Iraqi troops and also killed many civilians in the process. U.S. forces also intentionally bombed Iraq’s water-and-sewage treatment plants with the knowledge that this would spread infectious illnesses among the Iraqi people.
Much to the chagrin of American interventionists, President George H.W. Bush left Saddam in power. No nation-building for him.
At the same time, the U.S. government instigated one of the most brutal systems of economic sanctions in history on the Iraqi people. Over the next 11 years, the sanctions impoverished most Iraqis, with many Iraqi families having to sell their personal effects just to survive. Even worse, the sanctions began killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, especially given that the sanctions prevented Iraqi officials from repairing those damaged water-and-sewage treatment plants.
U.S. officials didn’t care. U.S. ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright expressed the sentiment of the U.S. government when she went on “60 Minutes” and declared that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions, while difficult, were “worth it.” That was in 1996. The sanctions continued for another five years, to the total indifference of U.S. officials.
As we saw after the 9/11 attacks, Americans get very angry when innocent Americans are killed by terrorists. Most Americans wanted revenge. Well, foreigners are not any different. The anger and rage among people in the Middle East over the deaths of those Iraqi children was growing, year after year.
That wasn’t all. There were also the “no-fly zones” over Iraq, which enabled U.S. forces to kill even more Iraqis. Moreover, U.S. officials stationed U.S. troops near the holiest lands in the Muslim religion, knowing full well what effect that would have on Muslim sensitivities. Of course, there was also the unconditional support that U.S. officials were giving to the Israeli government, which only contributed to the boiling cauldron of anger and rage against the United States.
This article was originally published in the January 2022 edition of Future of Freedom.