War in film is a staple genre in a tremendously lucrative industry. Hollywood inundates our culture with glamorous depictions of wars, both fictional and real. Yet the truth of America’s forever wars, both for the countries invaded and veterans who return home, are rarely explored in depth in popular culture. This Is Not a War Story explores one part of the human toll of US wars through the lens of veterans who return with physical and mental wounds. Writer-director and star Talia Lugacy and actor Eli Wright join The Chris Hedges Report to discuss the film. This is Not a War Story is available to stream and purchase on DVD.
I flew to Kansas City to see Tomas Young. Tomas was paralyzed in Iraq in 2004. He was receiving hospice care at his home. I knew him by reputation and the movie documentary Body of War. He was one of the first veterans to publicly oppose the war in Iraq. He fought as long and as hard as he could against the war that crippled him, until his physical deterioration caught up with him. “I had been toying with the idea of suicide for a long time because I had become helpless,” he told me in his small house on the Kansas City outskirts where he intended to die. “I couldn’t dress myself. People have to help me with the most rudimentary of things. I decided I did not want to go through life like that anymore. The pain, the frustration.…” He stopped abruptly and called his wife.
Corporate America loves to proclaim its love and support for "our veterans." The persistent problem of veteran suicide has provided big firms with an opportunity to demonstrate their concern about the health and well-being of former military personnel, including those they employ. Unfortunately, at companies like Amazon, this performative patriotism does not involve improving working conditions or changing any management practices that might actually make them better employers, even while they pledge to hire more employees with military backgrounds.
A very recent study on farmer suicides during 2000-2018 in six districts of Punjab has stated that as many as 88% of these were due to debts. This study by Sukhpal Singh, Manjeet Kaur and HS Kingra of Punjab Agriculture University published in the Economic and Political Weekly has stated about this state, which has seen the most intensive form of the green revolution in India, “Of the total 9,291 farmer suicide cases, more than 77% were those of marginal and small farmers who cultivated up to two hectares of land. It is important to note that the number of these small landholdings is around 34% of the total landholdings in the state.” Drawing attention to some other important aspects, this study says that 41% of the victims were in the age-group 31-35, 33% did not have any other earning members, 45% were illiterate and 96% were not involved in any socio-political activities.
By explaining to mental health professionals and the general public that the root cause of suicide among their people is a sociopolitical one and not a brain disease, Roland Chrisjohn and Sudarshan Kottai do their part to foment rebellion against the sociopolitical status quo rather than—as most professionals do—enable it. There are other things professionals can do to help. Kottai offers Rachel Morley as one model. Morley, a clinical psychologist and a psychosocial practitioner for the British Red Cross, is the author or the 2015 article “Witnessing Injustice: Therapeutic Responsibilities” (in the Journal of Critical Psychology, Counseling and Psychotherapy). For Morley, when working with victims of social and political violence, therapeutic responsibilities include “bearing witness” to stories of injustice.
This summer, it seemed as if we Americans couldn’t wait to return to our traditional July 4th festivities. Haven’t we all been looking for something to celebrate? The church chimes in my community rang out battle hymns for about a week. The utility poles in my neighborhood were covered with “Hometown Hero” banners hanging proudly, sporting the smiling faces of uniformed local veterans from our wars. Fireworks went off for days, sparklers and cherry bombs and full-scale light shows filling the night sky. But all the flag-waving, the homespun parades, the picnics and military bands, the flowery speeches and self-congratulatory messages can’t dispel a reality, a truth that’s right under our noses: all is not well with our military brothers and sisters.
“I got out of the Marines and within a few years, 15 of my buddies had killed themselves,” one veteran rifleman who served two tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq between 2003 and 2011 said to me recently. “One minute they belonged and the next, they were out, and they couldn’t fit in. They had nowhere to work, no one who related to them. And they had these PTSD symptoms that made them react in ways other Americans didn’t.” This veteran’s remark may seem striking to many Americans who watched this country’s post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere unfold in an early display of pyrotechnic air raids and lines of troops and tanks moving through desert landscapes, and then essentially stopped paying attention.
In mid-August, former Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Anthony Principi (2001-2005) worked to get a number of fellow former VA chiefs to sign on to a draft Op-Ed encouraging the House to take up a Senate-passed suicide prevention bill —S. 785: The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. The seemingly innocuous legislation actually represents a major step towards privatizing veterans’ mental health care. It will give the VA Secretary broad authority to award $174 million in grants up to $750,000 in size to private sector programs that ostensibly enhance veterans’ mental health and reduce veteran suicide.
On the show this week, Chris Hedges talks to Matthew Hoh, former US Marines company commander, about the high rates of veteran suicides. Hoh served two tours in Iraq as a Marine and also worked as an official within the State Department. He resigned his position as a State Department political officer in Afghanistan in 2009 in protest at the Obama administration’s escalation of the war.
One by one, the three men from the same close-knit community took their own lives. Their deaths spanned a two-year stretch starting in mid-2015 and shook the village of Georgetown, Ohio, about 40 miles southeast of Cincinnati. All of the men were in their 50s and 60s. All were farmers. Heather Utter, whose husband’s cousin was the third to die by suicide, worries that her father could be next. The longtime dairy farmer, who for years struggled to keep his operation afloat, sold the last of his cows in January amid his declining health and dwindling finances. The decision crushed him. “He’s done nothing but milk cows all his life,” said Utter, whose father declined to be interviewed. “It was a big decision, a sad decision. But at what point do you say enough is enough?”
Alexandria - Today, March 12, prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia ended the grand jury of Julian Assange and Wikileaks in which Chelsea Manning refused to testify. As a result, US District Court Judge Anthony Trenga ordered the immediate release of Chelsea Manning. Manning has been incarcerated since May 2019. Judge Trenga had tried to coerce Manning into testifying by imposing a fine for every day she resisted even though she said repeatedly that she would not violate her principles, which include opposition to the secret grand jury system, and would never testify. A hearing was scheduled this Friday on a motion for release filed in February 2020 by her attorneys. Manning was arguing that her long time in jail had shown she could not be coerced to testify and that her incarceration was a punishment, which is illegal under US law.
A new study suggests that raising the minimum wage might lower the suicide rate — especially when unemployment is high — and that doing so might have saved tens of thousands of people from dying by suicide in the last quarter century. The minimum federal minimum wage is $7.25, though many states have set it higher. Between 1990 and 2015, raising the minimum wage by $1 in each state might have saved more than 27,000 lives, according to a report published this week in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Military suicides have surged to a record high among active duty troops, continuing a deadly trend that Pentagon officials say is frustrating and they are struggling to counter. The Army, Navy and Marine Corps all saw the rate of suicides go up as well as the overall numbers, with only the Air Force showing a decrease, according to data released by the Pentagon Thursday. Suicides among members of the Reserves and the National Guard also grew.
In 2017, 47,173 Americans killed themselves. In that single year, in other words, the suicide count was nearly seven times greater than the number of American soldiers killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars between 2001 and 2018. A suicide occurs in the United States roughly once every 12 minutes. What’s more, after decades of decline, the rate of self-inflicted deaths per 100,000 people annually -- the suicide rate -- has been increasing sharply since the late 1990s. Suicides now claim two-and-a-half times as many lives in this country as do homicides, even though the murder rate gets so much more attention.
The drumbeat for ketamine as a way to halt the rising suicide rate is upon us, as the New York Times has now joined the chorus. This is encouraging news unless of course you recall a couple of things: how recent enthusiasm from the medical-industrial complex for increased opioid use for pain resulted in the current opioid epidemic; and how the NYT has joined other notorious choruses such as Ahmed Chalabi’s one that sang about WMDs in Iraq. On November 30, 2018, the NYT published a lengthy op-ed “Can We Stop Suicides?” in which Moises Velasquez-Manoff offers this solution: “an old anesthetic called ketamine that, at low doses, can halt suicidal thoughts almost immediately.”