By John Ketwig
The following op-ed article appeared in the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Wednesday, May 30th.
I was appalled, but not surprised by your Memorial Day article "Rutgers genetics center to study Army suicides." This $2.4 million grant will fund the university's collection of 55,000 blood samples taken from active-duty soldiers, to be studied by Rutgers' Human Genetics Institute in a joint effort with the National Institute of Mental Health and the Army to determine beforehand individuals who might be "biologically" predisposed to commit suicide due to a genetic inability to cope with intense stress. Also, the study will determine whether the experience of combat or stress actually changes the soldier's genetic make-up.
How fitting that this news should appear on Memorial Day. As pointed out in the article, the current rate of suicides among active-duty personnel is about 18 per month, and your Memorial Day Editorial "Our War Dead" (on a different page from the Rutgers article) adds that the Department of Veterans Affairs states that 18 military veterans commit suicide every day. In fact, more victims of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have died by suicide than have died from enemy fire.
I am a Vietnam veteran, and I cannot escape my memories of the genocidal ("The only good Gook is a dead Gook") training we received, nor the barbarity and cruelty we witnessed. That war, like the present ones, was born of lies and misrepresentations, and prolonged far too long while the military establishment garnered its ribbons and promotions, and the defense contractors wallowed in obscene profits. In the years since the Vietnam tragedy, we have seen our country abandon its manufacturing and moral foundations. Today we spend more on militarism than all the other countries in the world combined, and our chief exports are death and destruction. Our brave young soldiers join, often because it is the only employment available to them, for all the best reasons. However, when they see modern combat, the horrible effects of modern weapons, and the brutality encouraged by today's American way of waging war, many are mentally and emotionally scarred for life. In most of these cases, PTSD is not a post-traumatic stress DISORDER. It is the soldier's humanity, respect for other human beings, and distress at the collateral damage, or atrocities that our country is unleashing upon the innocent peasants and poor who get in the way of the carnage. It is outrage at the actions of our "leaders," from politicians down to the officers and NCOs, that cause so many unnecessary wounds and deaths among their peers. What is so disturbing about this article is the continuing strategy of our military to blame the soldier for his or her very normal reactions to the horrors of war. That $2.4 million could be better spent, perhaps on a study of how to avoid wars.
John Ketwig is an author, Vietnam Vet and member of VVAW.