The Tragedy of Veteran Suicides; One Soldier's Last Words
July 30, 2013
Ralph Nader /Nader.org & Daniel Somers / Gawker.com
In 2012 suicide by active duty American soldiers exceeded the number of US combat deaths in Afghanistan. Why? Meanwhile, in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, young natives are lining up to become suicide bombers. Why? And its not just combat vets: In 2010 38,364 Americans committed suicide as compared with 16,259 homicides. Among the baby boomers, suicides are sharply higher than previous generations.
Suicides and Homicides Linked
Ralph Nader /Nader.org & The Progressive Populist
(August 1, 2013) -- "I am sorry that it has come to this." Thus began the searing suicide note by 30-year-old Iraq War veteran, Daniel Somers on June 10, 2013 to his wife and family.
On the other side of the violent divide are video messages from the suicide bombers -- the oft-described "weapon of the weak" against US soldiers and their presumed local collaborators.
In 2012 suicide by active duty American soldiers exceeded the number of US combat deaths in Afghanistan. Why?
In the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, young natives are lining up to become suicide bombers. Why?
For the soldiers' conditions, there is an acronym -- PTSD or post-traumatic stress syndrome. During World War I, it used to be called "shell-shock." But in the Afghan and Iraq regions, the adversaries are not modern armies armed with "shells -- they have no thunderous artillery, missiles, gunships, tanks fighter planes or drones. They have rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and suicide belts sporadically used. Something else is at work that is causing PTSD.
War correspondent and author, Kevin Sites offers this explanation: "Our understanding of PTSD from a clinical perspective has been that it's triggered by witnessing a traumatic event that resonates so deeply that it prevents a person from leading a normal life in the aftermath. And so it is the witnessing of the event that causes the problems....
The Veterans Administration (VA) started looking at the connection between killing and post-traumatic stress and found that those soldiers who were involved in killings or who witnessed killings were experiencing a higher degree of post-traumatic stress disorder....
it was about the feelings of guilt they had about what they did or witnessed. And the guilt stemmed from two things: the guilt from killing, whether justified in the line of duty or killing a civilian by accident or killing one of your own guys by accident or killing in a war crime -- so any kind of killing; the second point was surviving, survivor's guilt. Their friends died, but they didn't."
The VA distilled thousands of interviews in their 2009 report, Moral Injury in the Context of War, to come to their assessment.
Mr. Sites came to the same judgment after his many profiles of returning veterans. In an interview with the Northwestern Alumni Magazine, he said "when we do something that goes against our moral compass -- and killing goes against a lot of moral compasses out there -- unless you're a sociopath -- we do feel some empathy…. So that idea of participation in something that goes against your moral compass really screws you up. It makes you feel bad, makes you feel guilt and shame."
But soldiers aren't supposed to talk about these feelings and don't, which is why Sites titled his new book The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won't Tell You About What They've Seen, Done or Failed to Do in War (Harper Perennial).
The fact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were so one-sided in weaponry and so full of casualties of innocent civilians, including children, who never threatened our country, exacerbates these feelings of guilt.
This trauma coursed through the lengthy suicide letter of Daniel Somers who ran more than 400 combat missions as a machine gunner in Iraq during 2004-2005 and later worked with JSOC -- Joint Special Operations Command -- in Mosul, Iraq.
He writes "to sleep forever seems to be the most merciful thing… During my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity.
"Though I did not participate willingly, and made what I thought was my best effort to stop these events, there are some things that a person simply can not come back from…. To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing cover-up is more than any government has the right to demand."
In Daniel Somers' final message he asks: "And for what? Bush's religious lunacy? Cheney's ever growing fortune and that of his corporate friends? Is this what we destroy lives for?"
As for what he called his "actual final mission," he wrote: "Not suicide, but a mercy killing.... It was quick, and I did not suffer. And above all, now I am free.... I have no more nightmares or flashbacks or hallucinations."
What of the young suicide bombers who are depicted in their videos as wanting to become martyrs? Western reporters like to say their motivation is to go the Islamic paradise.
That is not what University of Chicago professor, Robert Pape found in his extensive research, concluding that their principal motivation was to expel the occupying invader.
Their immense poverty, war-torn devastation of their villages and tribal areas, and the absence of any future, whether of economic survival or personal achievements, was probably also in the mix. Perhaps some money was given to their destitute families in exchange for their attacks.
Whatever the reasons, to dismiss these fighters as sociopaths is to help preclude our own examination of why we are there blowing apart their societies, provoking sectarian revenge cycles, bribing our way everywhere with crates of $100 bills. As a Yemeni villager plaintively asked, after a devastating drone attack that killed many civilians, "why do you hate us so much?"
Here in the US we better start understanding the rising tide of suicides generally. The Centers for Disease Control totals suicides in 2010 at 38,364 Americans as compared with homicides totaling 16,259. Among the baby boomers, suicides are sharply higher than previous generations, especially since the onset of the recession, unemployment and home foreclosures.
We better starting digging more deeply into the conditioning "whys?" and discounting the traditional explanations of self-hatred and hating us "for our freedoms."
"I Am Sorry That It Has Come to This":
A Soldier's Last Words
Daniel Somers / Gawker.com
Daniel Somers was a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was part of Task Force Lightning, an intelligence unit. In 2004-2005, he was mainly assigned to a Tactical Human-Intelligence Team (THT) in Baghdad, Iraq, where he ran more than 400 combat missions as a machine gunner in the turret of a Humvee, interviewed countless Iraqis ranging from concerned citizens to community leaders and government officials, and interrogated dozens of insurgents and terrorist suspects.
In 2006-2007, Daniel worked with Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) through his former unit in Mosul where he ran the Northern Iraq Intelligence Center. His official role was as a senior analyst for the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and part of Turkey). Daniel suffered greatly from PTSD and had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and several other war-related conditions.
On June 10, 2013, Daniel wrote the following letter to his family before taking his life. Daniel was 30 years old. His wife and family have given permission to publish it.
I am sorry that it has come to this.
The fact is, for as long as I can remember my motivation for getting up every day has been so that you would not have to bury me. As things have continued to get worse, it has become clear that this alone is not a sufficient reason to carry on.
The fact is, I am not getting better, I am not going to get better, and I will most certainly deteriorate further as time goes on. From a logical standpoint, it is better to simply end things quickly and let any repercussions from that play out in the short term than to drag things out into the long term.
You will perhaps be sad for a time, but over time you will forget and begin to carry on. Far better that than to inflict my growing misery upon you for years and decades to come, dragging you down with me. It is because I love you that I cannot do this to you.
You will come to see that it is a far better thing as one day after another passes during which you do not have to worry about me or even give me a second thought. You will find that your world is better without me in it.
I really have been trying to hang on, for more than a decade now. Each day has been a testament to the extent to which I cared, suffering unspeakable horror as quietly as possible so that you could feel as though I was still here for you. In truth, I was nothing more than a prop, filling space so that my absence would not be noted. In truth, I have already been absent for a long, long time.
My body has become nothing but a cage, a source of pain and constant problems. The illness I have has caused me pain that not even the strongest medicines could dull, and there is no cure. All day, every day a screaming agony in every nerve ending in my body. It is nothing short of torture.
My mind is a wasteland, filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety, even with all of the medications the doctors dare give. Simple things that everyone else takes for granted are nearly impossible for me. I can not laugh or cry. I can barely leave the house. I derive no pleasure from any activity. Everything simply comes down to passing time until I can sleep again. Now, to sleep forever seems to be the most merciful thing.
You must not blame yourself. The simple truth is this: During my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity. Though I did not participate willingly, and made what I thought was my best effort to stop these events, there are some things that a person simply can not come back from.
I take some pride in that, actually, as to move on in life after being part of such a thing would be the mark of a sociopath in my mind. These things go far beyond what most are even aware of.
To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing coverup is more than any government has the right to demand. Then, the same government has turned around and abandoned me. They offer no help, and actively block the pursuit of gaining outside help via their corrupt agents at the DEA. Any blame rests with them.
Beyond that, there are the host of physical illnesses that have struck me down again and again, for which they also offer no help. There might be some progress by now if they had not spent nearly twenty years denying the illness that I and so many others were exposed to.
Further complicating matters is the repeated and severe brain injuries to which I was subjected, which they also seem to be expending no effort into understanding. What is known is that each of these should have been cause enough for immediate medical attention, which was not rendered.
Lastly, the DEA enters the picture again as they have now managed to create such a culture of fear in the medical community that doctors are too scared to even take the necessary steps to control the symptoms.
All under the guise of a completely manufactured "overprescribing epidemic," which stands in stark relief to all of the legitimate research, which shows the opposite to be true. Perhaps, with the right medication at the right doses, I could have bought a couple of decent years, but even that is too much to ask from a regime built upon the idea that suffering is noble and relief is just for the weak.
However, when the challenges facing a person are already so great that all but the weakest would give up, these extra factors are enough to push a person over the edge.
Is it any wonder then that the latest figures show 22 veterans killing themselves each day? That is more veterans than children killed at Sandy Hook, every single day. Where are the huge policy initiatives? Why isn't the president standing with those families at the state of the union? Perhaps because we were not killed by a single lunatic, but rather by his own system of dehumanization, neglect, and indifference.
It leaves us to where all we have to look forward to is constant pain, misery, poverty, and dishonor. I assure you that, when the numbers do finally drop, it will merely be because those who were pushed the farthest are all already dead.
And for what? Bush's religious lunacy? Cheney's ever growing fortune and that of his corporate friends? Is this what we destroy lives for
Since then, I have tried everything to fill the void. I tried to move into a position of greater power and influence to try and right some of the wrongs. I deployed again, where I put a huge emphasis on saving lives. The fact of the matter, though, is that any new lives saved do not replace those who were murdered. It is an exercise in futility.
Then, I pursued replacing destruction with creation. For a time this provided a distraction, but it could not last. The fact is that any kind of ordinary life is an insult to those who died at my hand.
How can I possibly go around like everyone else while the widows and orphans I created continue to struggle? If they could see me sitting here in suburbia, in my comfortable home working on some music project they would be outraged, and rightfully so.
I thought perhaps I could make some headway with this film project, maybe even directly appealing to those I had wronged and exposing a greater truth, but that is also now being taken away from me.
I fear that, just as with everything else that requires the involvement of people who cannot understand by virtue of never having been there, it is going to fall apart as careers get in the way.
The last thought that has occurred to me is one of some kind of final mission. It is true that I have found that I am capable of finding some kind of reprieve by doing things that are worthwhile on the scale of life and death. While it is a nice thought to consider doing some good with my skills, experience, and killer instinct, the truth is that it isn't realistic.
First, there are the logistics of financing and equipping my own operation, then there is the near certainty of a grisly death, international incidents, and being branded a terrorist in the media that would follow. What is really stopping me, though, is that I simply am too sick to be effective in the field anymore. That, too, has been taken from me.
Thus, I am left with basically nothing. Too trapped in a war to be at peace, too damaged to be at war. Abandoned by those who would take the easy route, and a liability to those who stick it out -- and thus deserve better. So you see, not only am I better off dead, but the world is better without me in it
This is what brought me to my actual final mission. Not suicide, but a mercy killing. I know how to kill, and I know how to do it so that there is no pain whatsoever. It was quick, and I did not suffer. And above all, now I am free. I feel no more pain. I have no more nightmares or flashbacks or hallucinations. I am no longer constantly depressed or afraid or worried
I am free.
I ask that you be happy for me for that. It is perhaps the best break I could have hoped for. Please accept this and be glad for me.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.