Saturday, February 21, 2004


The press keeps attempting to make this story into something big. And perhaps it is.
According to William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, who discussed the suicides in a briefing last month, that represents a rate of more than 13.5 per 100,000 troops, about 20 percent higher than the recent Army average of 10.5 to 11. The Pentagon plans to release the findings of a team sent to Iraq last fall to investigate the mental health of the troops, including cases of suicide.
But let me ask you to keep something in mind.

First of all...nobody loves a war zone. And in a war zone one sees depressing things and experiences depressing things the general population won't.

But secondly, and most importantly, the comparison with the Army at large or the population in general are not quite entirely valid for one simple reason.

In the general population or the Army at large, only a tiny fraction of those folks are walking around 100% of their waking hours with loaded weapons in their hands.

It occurs to me that suicide requires at least two factors: motive and means. We all understand what the motives might be (and lets be fair...we reported here at least one case where a soldier's motive was his wife dumping him over the phone while he was in Iraq). However, we do not always have the means at hand when incident or depression strike. Means might be a cliff or bridge to hurl oneself from, train tracks to lie down upon, a garage to fill with carbon monoxide or a loaded weapon.

For statisticians to compare the current suicide rate of the deployed soldiers they will have to somehow correct for nearly 100% of those soldiers walking around with loaded weapons nearly 100% of the time.

In other words, normally if a person aquires the motive for suicide, that motive must remain intense enough to follow through on while that person seeks out the means by which to carry it out. And who knows how many folks walking around out there have had the motive, but that motive abated before one could find the means?

Among our soldiers in Iraq, since nearly 100% of the soldiers are holding loaded weapons nearly 100% of their waking hours, should a soldier aquire the motive, the equation is - by default - automatically complete.

I believe this is an important differentiation to be made when trying to compare war zone suicides to others.

When you look at it that might speculate that the motive actually strikes soldiers less than the general population or Army at large.

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