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Military suicides alarming, sobering

I read a profoundly sobering statistic last week. The headline from the Atlantic Wire read: Suicide has Killed More Troops Than the War in Afghanistan.

Tammy Francois
Tammy Francois

I read a profoundly sobering statistic last week. The headline from the Atlantic Wire read: Suicide has Killed More Troops Than the War in Afghanistan.

The article went on to say that "... 154 active duty troops have committed suicide in the first 155 days of the new year. The number dead eclipsed the U.S forces killed in Afghanistan by almost 50 percent."

Let that sink in a minute. One hundred fifty-four human beings felt that death was preferable to the life they were living or could foresee in the future. What have we wrought?

As a nation we just observed Memorial Day -- the day we set aside to remember those who gave the "last full measure" to honor the country and ideals they felt a duty to protect and serve.

Governor Mark Dayton declared June 18 Minnesota Women Veterans Day to acknowledge the immeasurable contribution of women to our military history. For me, these observances generate deep ambivalence -- not because I do not respect the men and women who served, because I do -- very much. It is out of respect that I cannot help but consider the cost of their service.

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I don't mean dollars and cents, although we have spent trillions of dollars on war throughout history. We could feed, clothe, house and provide medical care and education for every person on the planet with that kind of money.

No, I am talking about the human cost. Recently one of my Facebook friends announced that she had heard from her son who was back in the U.S. after a tour in Afghanistan. She described feeling as though she had been carrying a brick around with her -- a weight made up of her worry and fear and the hope that her beloved son would come home safely.

Her son came home. She could put down the brick. Although I hadn't seen her son since he was a little boy, I took a few deep breaths, too. I think a lot of people did. That same day, no doubt, there were families who realized that they would carry a different weight for the rest of their lives -- one of grief and loss for a loved one who would not come back.

I cannot imagine the depth of that sorrow, and it frustrates me that we accept that these losses are a normal part of doing business as a species. Other families would see the return of their loved ones, but realize that they are hurting and terribly burdened by their experiences.

What is it about us as human beings that makes war necessary? Why are we willing to sacrifice our countrymen and -women to this unwillingness to evolve beyond settling our differences with force?

What will it take to make us stop? Just stop.

Not only are troops dying in combat in the theater of war, there is evidence to show that the internal battle they are fighting is killing them faster than is the enemy. Clearly, the stress of ten years of unremitting conflict is taking a toll, and suicide is just the tip of an iceberg that includes post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety disorders, chemical dependency problems and of course physical and traumatic brain injuries.

There are more questions than answers and many differing opinions on this matter, no doubt.

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What we do know is that, with few exceptions, men and women choose to enlist in the military for honorable reasons -- a sense of duty, a desire to give of themselves or serve a higher purpose.

Some may have a more personal motivation, such as the desire to earn a paycheck or education benefits. I get that. What concerns me is that these honorable qualities and desires should be offered a more productive outlet. We can do better for young men and women than permitting them to put their lives and health on the line because we cannot seem to keep our country out of armed conflict.

Perhaps it is naive to imagine a world without war.

I don't think I have seen a day in my lifetime when there wasn't some group of people killing another group of people over land, religion, resources or some form of bigotry.

But shouldn't we be weary of the unending and unnecessary suffering, death and destruction? Shouldn't we question why war has become a political football without any real connection to the individuals who are caught in the crossfire -- literally and figuratively?

As we remember those who have given their all in service, and as we look toward July 4th and the celebration of the birth of our nation, let's consider that the measure of our greatness is not evidenced by our might, but by our willingness and commitment to peace and the acknowledgment that every life lost in war, or as a consequence of the emotional burdens of war, is one life too many.

Tammy François is an older-than-average college

student living in Morgan Park

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