There is a class of issues I call Rorschach issues; while often based on a real- or at least plausible- issue, they are sensationalized until they tell us more about the follower than the issue. Obama's citizenship is one such Rorschach issue, as are 911 truthers, grassy knollers, da Vinci codes, etc. New ones are thrown up regularly by people with an agenda, movie, or book (or all three) to sell; one such is the issue of the military suicide rate. In a recent UU A Way of Life post, David Markham draws our attention to a post in another of his blogs entitled "We don't need terrorists any more. More and more of American soldiers are just killing themselves" that shows all the earmarks of a Rorschach issue.
The first mark of a Rorschach issue is that it's based upon "facts" that were never researched because they're "common knowledge". David's portrayal of soldiers shows this: "...who for the most part have been screwed over by a capitalistic system which has left them with no jobs, a poor education, and not much of a future state side. When you figure that you best option in life is to become a professionally trained killer for a mercenary army,..." Leaving aside for the moment the "professionally trained killer for a mercenary army" sneer, it is not now, nor has it ever been true of the all-volunteer Army that it is composed of people who couldn't make it in the civilian world. In fact, actual demographics show just the opposite. Here's some stats from the article, "Who Serves in the U.S. Military? The Demographics of Enlisted Troops and Officers" by Shanea Watkins, Ph.D. and James Sherk, whose sources are the Dept. of defense, the Census Bureau, and other primary sources: "...Members of the all-volunteer military are significantly more likely to come from high-income neighborhoods than from low-income neighborhoods. Only 11 percent of enlisted recruits in 2007 came from the poorest one-fifth (quintile) of neighborhoods, while 25 percent came from the wealthiest quintile. These trends are even more pronounced in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, in which 40 percent of enrollees come from the wealthiest neighborhoods—a number that has increased substantially over the past four years...Every income category above $40,000 per year is overrepresented in the active-duty enlisted force, while every income category below $40,000 a year is underrepresented. Low-income families are significantly underrepresented in the military. U.S. military enlistees disproportionately come from upper-middle-class families." Nor do they have poor educations- "American soldiers are more educated than their peers. A little more than 1 percent of enlisted personnel lack a high school degree, compared to 21 percent of men 18–24 years old, and 95 percent of officer accessions have at least a bachelor’s degree..."
Another mark of the Rorschach issue is that actual facts or numbers are given with no explanation, no context, no way to judge the gravity of the issue. For example, one might say that exposure to chemical X triples the rate of earlobe cancer. Sounds horrible... if one neglected to mention that it triples the cancer rate from one per billion to three per billion. The military is justifiably concerned about an increase in suicide rates; but the raw numbers are quoted without context by people trying to get ratings or sell newspapers. From The Los Angeles Times : "The 2008 estimated rate - 20.2 suicides per 100,000 soldiers - is, for the first time, higher than the national average...The national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is 19.2." Let's look at this raw number- military suicide rates being 1/20th higher than civilian; does that justify rhetoric like "It is inevitable when one is engaged in immoral, homicidal behavior with no justification... you've sold your soul to the devil, and it is not a bargain in your favor because you have given up all hope of ever having any kind of a normal life ever again."? But those numbers deserve another look- is it fair to compare the military to the public at large? To begin with, despite changes allowing women into combat, the Army and Marines especially are overwhelmingly male, and majority (65%) white male. What difference does that make? At 19.5/100,000, that is the highest suicide demographic; 73% of all suicide deaths are white males. (Numbers from Suicide.org ) Many new recruits, joining before college, have never been away from home before- would they have been better off going directly to college? Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. Perhaps they should have stayed home and done neither? Not in Montana, with its 22/100,000 rate... that's twice as much increase over the military rate as the military is over the national average- have Montanans, too, sold their souls to the devil?
Combining those stats with another datum from the Times story above, "...one-third occur among soldiers who never deploy, Army officials said." which agrees with this one from the Air Force Times , "In a report to Congress, Craig Duehring, assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower, said, “there does not appear to be a strong correlation between deployments and suicide.” A check of deployment records found that from 2003 to 2008, only 39 Air Force suicide victims had deployed in the previous 12 months. Another 150 had never deployed." and "That’s reflected in Marine Corps statistics. Amos said the most likely Marine to die by suicide is a Caucasian male, 18 to 24 years old, between the ranks of private and sergeant. The most likely cause: a failed relationship with a woman." suggests a very obvious reason for the increase in suicide rates: the number of personnel has increased faster than the number of counselors and support structures.
A third mark of the Rorschach issue is redefining pejoratives so you can apply them to your bete noire. "Mercenary" does not mean "you get paid for your work"- if it did, then all of us are mercenaries. It means ": one that serves merely for wages ; especially : a soldier hired into foreign service" The US all-volunteer Army is not a bunch of imported Prussians earning a buck- they are young men and women serving a cause larger than themselves, people with a commitment and the courage to act on it. To again quote Dr. Watkins, "Those who argue that American soldiers risk their lives because they have no other opportunities belittle the personal sacrifices of those who serve out of love for their country." Calling them "professionally trained killer" is little better; while killing is indeed part of what they do, it is only part. It would be, by that standard, fair to describe any doctor who performs an abortion as a "professionally trained killer". Oh, wait, I bet he charged for it- make that a mercenary professionally trained killer.
David said, "For all of America's religosity, it has lost touch with its soul." I will agree that's true of some religious blogs. I just hope that anyone outside UU who reads it understands that the bitterness, contempt, and misanthropy displayed are not an inherent part of UU.