Commenter dungone made a string of comments so thought-provoking on the MALE DISPOSABILITY – The Suicide Epidemic in the Army thread that I thought I would just post them with some comments of my own for your reactions and comments.
Remember that dungone has first hand experience of everything he is talking about here. He is an Iraq veteran, he has been involved and stayed involved in the military suicide crisis, and he knows what he is talking about.
It’s pretty simple. One year in combat is ten years in civilian life. That’s the rule of thumb we had in my platoon for how much fucked up shit would happen to you during that time. If you increase the usual causes, then you increase suicide. It’s not much of a puzzle as to why. But solving it is the intractable part. When these generals are saying its a tough problem, it’s because they are staring at every single thing that is wrong with the way in which our society treats men. The military can’t hope to solve that issue. And the only other solution is to disband and to throw it all back at society in general to unfuck the status quo.
It has become more and more convenient and more and more common after the all-volunteer force replaced the draft Army to see the military and national security as just another service government provides to the public. It is a consumerist rather than a citizenship model, and this is a consumer society.
The effect is a classist and sexist objectification of military members as expendable and disposable.
Gingko, in some of your links there is a general quoted as saying in 37 years he hasn’t faced a bigger enemy. Is that a different man from the one on NPR? He also says, further in that quote, that he views the problem as not only facing the military, but thousands of civilians as well. I liked that he said this. I don’t like that this is so often painted as a military issue. And I say that as a veteran who dealt with several suicides in my own platoon. Because people seem to have a way of ‘othering’ military suicide as something that is caused by mysterious reasons that would have never existed outside of the military.
Do you believe for a minute that if, let’s say, women in prison were committing suicide, that this would be considered just a prison issue and not a broader women’s issue? This happens all the time for male suicide, though. It’s a result of a lot of special pleading that make men’s issues invisible in our society. It’s really important to tie military suicide with the rest of male suicide, as the underlying causes are often the same. You can’t fix one without fixing the other. Really, that’s just the truth of the matter.
Society needs to unfuck the way it treats men and it needs to rethink its relationship with its military. The relationship now is based on a consumerist model – “Well, they get paid for that, don’t they?” (Oh fuck you and your money. You wouldn’t have a dime of it if it weren’t for the world order these men provide you, so just shut up now and slither off.) – rather than a citizenship model.
Ginkgo, even before it became a volunteer military, our culture wasn’t treating the military as a citizenship role. It was treating it as a male chivalric duty to women. Military veterans were often denied the right to vote (whether through age, property ownership, race, immigration status, or any number of factors). Military service did not earn you a higher citizenship status such as it does in, say, Germany or in ancient Sparta or Athens. If you look at recruitment posters from a few generations ago, they often depicted some form of appeal to femininity, with Lady Liberty either being triumphant or getting raped by the enemy. Then you had the White Feathers. If you look at recruitment posters from the Korea and Vietnam era, it was about making “real men”. In fact, the USMC seems to have used variations of the “making men out of boys” meme as its main recruitment strategy for at least 50 years now. The early ones were pretty blatantly clear, while the new ones often focus on some mythical chivalric theme such as slaying a dragon. The message is pretty clear – society would like men to believe that it’s doing them a favor by allowing them to join the military, because otherwise they’d be some sort of worthless subhuman man-children.
“Ginkgo, even before it became a volunteer military, our culture wasn’t treating the military as a citizenship role.”
This is historically absolutely true. Black men could serve in the military and risk their lives – for instance the charge up San Jaun Hill we all know from the picture would never have succeeded without the support of the all-black unit somehow left out of the picture – but that hardly meant that their right to vote was going to be respected back in Mississippi or Georgia.
So, he’s right, it goes deeper than just a decay of citizenship. It goes to treating men as obligated to sacrifice their lives and themselves and their happiness for the sake of society in a way it refuses to ask of women. It goes to the objectification of men – certain men – as nothing but tools to be used for the sake of women and then discarded.
There is a purpose, even if people are unconscious of their purpose, to ghettoizing the suicide epidemic in the military and among veterans as a purely military problem. That purpose is to wall it off from the rest of society. Such a small percentage of the public have ever served in the military, or even know anyone in the military, that it is just natural to “other” these people, and then to ignore the problem. Problem solved. Purpose accomplished.
This is a way of denying that this epidemic of suicide is distinct and separate from the problem of the grossly lopsided suicide rate among men. Divide and conquer, and soon you get ever smaller bits that are so much easier to ignore. But the military suicide rate is a men’s issue. It is an issue for all men and for anyone else who loves them.
“It was treating it as a male chivalric duty to women.”
“Then you had the White Feathers.”
This the life and death equivalent of rape culture. We have a culture in which women feel entitled to enjoy peace and security at the expense of men’s lives, and that these men’s lives and the sacrifice of them is their due.
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