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30 July 2010


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Farmer Don

"According to the Army, roughly 20 out of 100,000 soldiers have killed themselves, compared with a rate of roughly 19 out of 100,000 for the civilian population."

Are these numbers correct?
If they are, the army must be doing a great job. The suicide rate for young men who have gone through the stress of combat is more or less the same as the general population. I would have thought it would be much higher!

Joseph Moroco

This might change if the economic situation gets to depression level. Nothing like poverty to make people better workers and the youth better soldiers.


"20 out of 100,000 soldiers have killed themselves, compared with a rate of roughly 19 out of 100,000 among civilians."

I don't even think this supports the 5% difference the number implies. After all, almost no one under 15 kills themselves -- a proportion of the civilian population not in the military. Men kill themselves at greater rates than women -- and there are more men in the military than in the civilian population.

Finally, the stress of combat, long periods away from home, etc... I assume would always make the likelihood of suicide (particularly among people inclined that way to begin with) greater among soldiers in the general population, whether "greatest generation" or GenX.

Maybe i'm missing something here. But I'm surprised that the data seems so much in line with the general population. (Caveats -- not a statistician and haven't read into this at any great depth).


I think there may be more suicides these days due to the "economic draft" and increased deployments of some folks who had no idea of what they were really getting into, too many married with children as well. And, are our troops now not getting fed up with all this?

Abu Sinan

Dear Colonel,

In keeping in line with your comments about the quality of current recruits, I would wonder if statistics were kept on military suicides during other conflicts? If so, looking at the differences in numbers would be interesting.


Col: I face this with jury trials as well. It's all consumerism now. Peoples' responsibilities shrink, organizational responsibility grows.


The British army (outside of the two World wars and Korea)has always been a relatively small force drawn from definable segments of the population (Scottish Highland regiments for example) Therefore army service tends to run in families or be associated with specific areas (The Black Watch and Perthshire for example)

Getting into the army used to be pretty difficult, however lately as the career becomes less popular it is getting easier. However you would probably need a family background or a history of service in the Cadet Corps to be anything other than a low level infantry soldier.


Col. Lang, military historians, including Sir Michael Howard, have explained in detail that since approximately 1860, and for approximately One Hundred years, the education of young western males included an automatic expectation that they may be required to take part in "that great audit of national fitness", War for their country.

That component went missing around 1970, and with it the implicit popular support for the military activities of young men that was so much a component of life, at least in this country, after WWII. For example, I went to the range most weekends as a Fourteen year old with my School cadet military .303 over my shoulder on public transport circa 1964 to take part in competitions with other kids my age, ammo provided free by the Army. It cost me about $5.00 the morning to pay the old guys working the targets. All I got on the train going home was smiles from the other passengers.

Fast forward to the 2010 "me generation", the creation of marketers. The male hunter/predator/defender of the nation role is simply gone. Feminism killed it. Marketing killed it. A man was arrested not long ago here in a shopping mall, for having the temerity of accidentally displaying the pistol grip of a toy gun, hanging out of the back of his rucksack!

Shock #1, the "Me" thing is toxic to survival in the Army and Navy (not sure about the airforce). That lesson was hard enough to get through recruit skulls in 1970, it can only have gotten much harder.

Shock #2, the reality of what you are actually doing is too alien for some people to comprehend these days. They cannot handle the mental stress. I'm sure you must have seen the "crying naked private on barrack roof with rifle" routine, I have.

Shock #3, there is no deep and abiding emotional support available to soldiers from the rest of the population because the shared experience of serving in a massive national army fighting an existential threat is gone. "Support The Troops", yeah, whatever, meh.

Is it thus any wonder that there is a not insignificant suicide rate?

Regarding recruiting standards, my experience was that the Army made more people than it broke, and some pretty sorry material came in and went out much better people, but maybe the "transforming" that went on isn't practiced any more.


Speaking as a Brit I can say that the army historically has never been especially popular (the navy is another matter). Wellington is supposed to have described his own men as "the scum of the earth, enlisted for drink" and Kipling's line about "making mock of uniforms that guard you while you sleep" was written at the zenith of the British Empire. Orwell called it the "one eyed pacifism of the British".

The army is popular now, paradoxically because the wars it has been fighting are not. People believe that soldiers sign up to defend their country and don't believe that the war in Afghanistan serves that purpose. So they think the squaddies have had a raw deal.

More generally, countries contain all sorts and conditions of people, so theyshould contain enough who will make good soldiers for what is after all quite a specialised occupation. If you don't have enough good recruit material it probably means you're doing too much, rather than pointing to any defects in the public.


are those numbers significant?

Year -- "soldiers" ------- civilians

2005 - 12.7 -------------- N/A
2006 - 15.3 (+2.6)----- 19.2
2007 - 16.8 (+1.5)----- N/A
2008 - 20.2 (+3.4)----- N/A

Is this at all informative without:

1. more numbers to determine the variation rates from year to year?

2. the annual numbers for the civilian population of same demographic?

I am innumerate.



Duhhh. Never mind. I bogged it. Those are old numbers.

Mark Gaughan

War is not the answer.

Adam L Silverman

DanM and Farmer Don: I think the reporter kicked a number - ie typo. That said there is a size effect here. The military population is much smaller than the general population, so you have to take into account the actual total numbers relative to the size of the populations in question: all Americans versus just those who are in the military. And even then we're looking at the subset of just the Army.


As DanM implied, there needs to be a deeper review of these numbers. Did they control for age cohort? Regional and racial origins? Religious background?
I'd love to believe that our military is no more prone to suicide than the general population, but the story just doesn't lend itself to that assessment without running a few more traps.
Sure hope some stat type gets 'hold of the #s.

annie burns

Per CDC suicide rate is 11.5 per 100,000. 11th rated cause of death (?)

annie burns

Active Duty deaths by suicide. 1980-2008.

Historical/for earlier conflicts may take me some more time.


Britain is even more of mystery to me. How does a country that looks down on patriotism find people who will fight for "queen and country?" And what does the British public really think of such men?

It is a professional army and the soldiers join to do what they are doing in Afghanistan because they want to!

After the casualties Great Britain and France suffered in WW1, there was a move away from the old concept of "King and country", jingoism and adulation of the military. WW2 didn't change that because most British people saw that as a war to protect their freedom that was forced upon them by the Nazis. I have read on a number of occasions that Americans are surprised the even during the war, the British dumped Churchill in an election and voted in the Labour Party, but they probably don't know about the impact of the failure to deliver a "land fit for heroes" after WW1. Just because they are not militaristic does not mean that the British are not patriotic and don't support their serving military. Most people I know were quite conflicted over the British involvement in Iraq; they supported the troops but opposed the war while they are slightly less conflicted over Afghanistan although most now think that the best way we can support the troops is getting out asap. Unfortunately, a lot of soldiers think differently.



"According to the Army, roughly 20 out of 100,000 soldiers have killed themselves, compared with a rate of roughly 19 out of 100,000 for the civilian population."

Did they break out the numbers for combat arms positions?

just a reader

James Gallagher loved being a Marine. He was an infantryman who rose to the rank of gunnery sergeant. In 2005, he was deployed to Iraq and assigned to Ramadi, where it was a violent and deadly summer. Twelve men in Gallagher's unit were killed, including his commanding officer.

Eight months after Sgt. Gallagher returned home, his unit was getting ready to deploy again. That seemed to throw him. Mary Gallagher said her husband seemed distracted, a little out of it. The 19-year Marine veteran would sometimes quietly confide to her that he wasn't sure he was up for it.

"And my children and I came home, and my daughters actually found their father before I could protect them from that — and he was hanging in the garage in our home."


repeated deployments is the cause of the escalating suicide rate. plain and simple.

Norman Rogers

"There are instances where a leader's lack of soldier accountability resulted in suicide victims not being found until they had been dead for three or four weeks."

That's a quote I filched from what Tom Ricks had to say (he admires Chiarelli for sticking with the issue, even though Chiarelli seems to be playing the blame game).

I cannot comprehend a situation where an active duty soldier could go weeks without being accounted for. Perhaps if that individual were granted leave. But is it true? Are there really soldiers who are disappearing for weeks at a time, only to turn up dead after having killed themselves while their leadership counted them present and accounted for?

That's an entirely different problem altogether.

Patrick Lang


An open question for me is whether or not an infantry or armor leader who had to be put in therapy for combat stress or the dread of combat stress should be placed back in command of troops in combat. Leadership in war is not a jobs program. pl

Patrick Lang

Brits and all others

If you think that Americans have a history of loving their army, you don't have much grasp of our history. the way they are fawning over soldiers (including marines) now is unusual in our history. pl


As the old saw goes, there are liars, damn liars, and statisticians.


reveals that 19% is for all white males. If one looks at 19-25 age, the general population rate is about 10%.


Your comment: "Regarding recruiting standards, my experience was that the Army made more people than it broke, and some pretty sorry material came in and went out much better people, but maybe the "transforming" that went on isn't practiced any more."

You're describing my father. He's 84 and still shaves every day because his drill sargeant told him he would shave every day. Infantry in WWII. The Army really did make him a better individual.

This is off topic, but I think the reason our politicians are so bad here in the US is that they don't have the shared experience of being in a war together and struggling together for the greater good. Now they just struggle against each other. Even wars are politicized.

Brian Hart

I've been extraordinarily impressed by the quality of recruits since 2001. Patriotism, civic duty, character, a significant level of intelligence and even education were normal even with such youthful recruits. I think you old geezers need to get out more.

And sure more Army suicides are during the first enlistment period. Why? Because more soldiers are in their first enlistment period vs. any other. Dah.

Rising suicide rates tracked longer and repeated deployments for many as did other indicators of trouble such as the jump in divorce rates after the second deployment. Cross correlation anyone?

Next to my son in section 60 is a soldier killed in late 03 who is now buried with his wife who killed herself in 07 leaving a small child. The problem extends to the families as well. I'd suggest that the taboo of calling a suicide a suicide has shifted with time. How many Vietnam vets know of someone who died of a 'accidental discharge' or 'alcohol' or 'an auto accident'?

Don't kid yourself. The enlisted that are getting bashed in this post have on balance shown more moral character than the elected officials that sent them to war and many of the general officers that led them.

I grow tired of hearing about the Greatest Generation. These soldiers are holding there own against any prior generation. What WWII or WWI ground combat unit kept men in sustained combat without relief for 15 months or longer?

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