Why Veterans Kill Themselves

Recent figures indicate that for every soldier killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, 25 veterans commit suicide upon their return to the U.S. That is an astonishing statistic! How can this be?

In 1971, Stanford University conducted a prison experiment to determine what the effects of imprisonment were on a selected group of students. One half of the students were chosen to act as prison guards while the other half were to be criminals convicted of serious crimes. The University had to bring the experiment to an abrupt end when it was discovered that the “prison guards” were becoming sadistic, violent oppressors, and the “criminals” were responding to the conditions of imprisonment in dangerously rebellious ways. The experiment underscored what happens to average, educated people, when they are treated without respect, and without protections. More importantly, it demonstrated the catastrophic effect that unrestrained authority, violence and corruption had on those entrusted with the roles of caretakers and guards. (( The Stanford Prison Experiment – A Simulation Study of the Psychology of Imprisonment Conducted at Stanford University “The Stanford prison experiment was a study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The experiment was conducted at Stanford University from August 14 to August 20 of 1971 by a team of researchers led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo. It was funded by the US Office of Naval Research and was of interest to both the US Navy and Marine Corps as an investigation into the causes of conflict between military guards and prisoners.

Twenty-four male students out of 75 were selected to take on randomly assigned roles of prisoners and guards in a mock prison situated in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. The participants adapted to their roles well beyond Zimbardo’s expectations, as the guards enforced authoritarian measures and ultimately subjected some of the prisoners to psychological torture. Many of the prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, at the request of the guards, readily harassed other prisoners who attempted to prevent it. The experiment even affected Zimbardo himself, who, in his role as the superintendent, permitted the abuse to continue. Two of the prisoners quit the experiment early and the entire experiment was abruptly stopped after only six days. Certain portions of the experiment were filmed and excerpts of footage are publicly available.”))

We are witnessing a similar breakdown of morality and judgment among U.S. troops presently carrying out our imperialist wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere throughout the Middle East. “The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology” recently issued the report that for every soldier who was killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East over the last 10 years, 25 more veterans have committed suicide. ((Press TV“ According to a New York Times article published on April 14, an American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan while veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes.

“The article also said more than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.”))  Whether or not these suicide attempts are a result of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), mental health breakdowns, or the natural consequences of having good “soldiers” turn into murdering monsters because of the conditions they are placed under (i.e. the Stanford experiment), is debatable. Yet, what is more at issue here is the fact that over a ½ million soldiers and mercenaries (i.e. “civilian contractors”) have returned home to our communities from the Middle East, and the Pentagon opines that approximately 1/3 of them suffer from some form of PTSD.

What these statistics highlight, is the moral depravity resulting from all aspects of our involvement in the Middle East, and the impact our colonial assaults have, not only on the defenseless populations we have chosen to destroy, but also on the perpetrators of those assaults as well. It is impossible for soldiers to participate in unjustified mass murder, and not be scarred by it. One would have thought that our experiences in Vietnam would have provided a clue as to the disastrous results that unjustified wars have on the men and women asked to fight in them. But no, our Pentagon and “misleaders,” have learned nothing from Vietnam, the Russian and French failures in Afghanistan, or our deceitful and shameful attack on Iraq. These “misleaders” are unaffected by the cruelty and viciousness of their overseas forays, while many engaged in these wars will spend their days contemplating killing themselves.

Recent studies conducted by NYU and Stanford have documented the fact that hundreds more civilians have been killed by the U.S. drone attacks than the Pentagon acknowledges. ((Zucchino, David, “Drone Strikes in Pakistan have Killed many Civilians, Study Says,” LA Times, latimes.com, 9-24-12)) Yet some bull-headed bureaucrat in the Defense Department, named John Brennan, has the audacity to explain to Obama that these studies are inaccurate, and that our “pinpoint” accuracy with drones is only killing terrorists, and any unwarranted deaths are “extremely rare.” Are these pathologically absurd comments by Brennan designed to insulate Obama from his slaughter of hundreds of innocent women and children identified in the studies, or do we assume that Obama is even more of a scoundrel than we imagined, for setting up a clown like Brennan to rubber stamp the illegal use of drones?

A nation that murders civilians indiscriminately, wages wars of aggression against defenseless nations, and lies to its own people about our reasons for destroying governments around the world is not only subjecting its soldiers to resulting suicidal behavior, but destroying the moral integrity of the entire nation as well. At every sporting event where we see jet planes and U.S. flags displayed for purposes of propagandizing the American people to put up with our international war crimes, most of the people watching hang their heads in shame over the decline of what was once a great nation.

The Stanford prison experiment was a microcosm of what is happening to the U.S. worldwide. It demonstrates what happens to citizens who become international killers and to the nation that pays them to do so.

Luke Hiken is an attorney who has engaged in the practice of criminal, military, immigration, and appellate law. Marti Hiken is the director of Progressive Avenues. She is the former associate director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and former chair of the National Lawyers Guild Military Law Task Force. Read other articles by Marti Hiken and Luke Hiken, or visit Marti Hiken and Luke Hiken's website.