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The tragedy of suicides by US soldiers and military veterans is now in the news. Suicides by soldiers have been increasing since the 60’s but just now, as they rapidly accelerate, it has come to our attention. The military is spending more and more money on mental health and studying this tragedy. Now more soldiers who have fought in Afghanistan have died by suicide than the number of soldiers who have died by the fighting. Active-duty U.S. Troops die by their own hand at a rate of one a day, on average, among all veterans, the rate is one every 80 minutes.” ( Time Magazine, July 23, 2012).
Overlooked, as far as I can tell, in all this talk and writing about the increasing military suicides is the changes in military training since World War II. In World War II the military discovered that one in four soldiers fired their weapon at the enemy. Now with the new training 95% of soldiers fire their weapons at the enemy. As the movie Soldiers of Conscience pointed out a few years ago, the modern soldier is trained to “kill reflexively”, killing without conscience. In the movie and to the Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics in Washington, DC, in, 2000 by CPT Pete Kilner, instructor at the U.S. Military Academy explains the basic cause: Modern combat training conditions soldiers to act reflexively to stimuli—such as fire commands, enemy contact, or the sudden appearance of a “target”—and this maximizes soldiers’ lethality, but it does so by bypassing their moral autonomy. Soldiers are conditioned to act without considering the moral repercussions of their actions; …The problem, however, is that soldiers who kill reflexively in combat will likely one day reconsider their actions reflectively.” “Military Leaders’ Obligation to Justify Killing in War”.
While all the focus of military suicides is being given how to treat soldiers no one is talking about the cause, in my opinion, how soldiers are trained. There are many studies done on the effect of someone who instinctively, without conscience or justification kills someone. I will need to add some of these studies, many by the military on my web page, Killing without Conscience. However, what good will it do?
When Captain Kilner argued before the Joint Services Conference on Profession Ethics that soldiers should be taught that ‘reflexive killing’ killing without conscience., is morally justified his plea was rejected. I do not think that killing without conscience can ever be justified morally and I think the military knows that. So they and the media focus on the results, suicides, and treatment for soldiers. The media, society and military ask why? In the same paper to the military in 2000 Captain Kilner says: “If they are unable to justify to themselves the fact that they killed another human being, they will likely—and understandably—suffer enormous guilt. This guilt manifests itself as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and it has damaged the lives of thousands of men who performed their duty in combat.”
The military and society wants to know the why of soldier suicides as the military training has changed. However, they know why, but just do not want to hear it. A human being cannot kill another human being without conscience without suffering damage. Killing without consciences is major cause of military suicides.
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