You know that guilty feeling about your privilege that you get when walking by homeless people downtown? Maybe a guy asks you for spare change, and you feel kind of awkward whether or not you have it to give. You tell yourself “this is sad but there is nothing I can really do to help,” and that gives permission to resume your day. No wonder homeless people have much higher suicide rates; they are consistently isolated from mainstream thought.
We’re supposed to be a nation that provides opportunity for all who seek it, but we don’t hold ourselves responsible for creating that for everyone here. With the homeless, a few people fight for affordable housing while the rest of society tries to look away. I’m starting to think it’s the same feeling that Americans get when they see a person in a military uniform.
Sure, people can be counted on to give the appropriate “thank you for serving” comment. But once the average American has gotten that out of the way, they move on. They say “I’m thanking this person for supporting my privilege and he signed up for it, so we’re good to go.” They don’t think about whether that veteran has lost battle buddies, potentially witnessing that loss first-hand. Or if their kids struggle with having to move every few years when duty stations change.
We don’t think about whether that Soldier deployed multiple times over their career, leading to strained relationships and difficulty fitting into mainstream society. They could be struggling to reconcile the feeling that they killed someone for no good purpose. They could have mental or emotional problems, but we never talk about it. They could be victims of bullying or sexual harassment, and many will feel that it comes with the territory. Statistics on veteran suicide rates are used as political tools rather while few people really try to work back to a root cause.
It is not only the deploying troops with PTS that have troubling suicide rates. Some studies would say that non-deployed personnel committ suicide at an even higher rate. Where does their despair come from? Does it come from the job of serving? It’s the lazy route to blame the military. Maybe it is something about our culture. Maybe it’s our lack of actual care about what our troops are doing.
People have a hard time relating to the military, and they are content with whatever tiny bit of information they get about wars. They don’t ask veterans to talk about their experience or take an interest in their foriegn policy perspective. They don’t ask themselves how they can afford perpetual war while arguing the cost of everything else. They don’t wonder why military members historically have lower suicide rates, but veterans are now twice as likely to die by suicide.
Endless war has not brought people closer to the military; it’s just not interesting enough for the press and taboo for people. Most don’t know what the military is doing, or really care. Now, it feels like integrating back into society is just as disorienting, distressing, and dangerous as joining the military in the first place.