February 26, 2004


The Oakland Tribune reports:

Last fall, the Army's surgeon general's office sent a team of psychiatrists and social workers to Iraq in response to a high number of suicides and cases of depression. Of 21 U.S. service members who committed suicide in Iraq in 2003, 18 were in the Army and three were Marines, according to the Defense Department.

Surprisingly, those numbers arenít high, at least compared to the suicide levels among armies not in Iraq, as David Kaspar points out:

Duty in the US Army in Iraq presents a lower suicide risk (13.5 per annum per 100,000 ) than service in the German Bundeswehr (17 per annum per 100,000) Ö Alright then Bundeswehr: Time to hurry on down to Iraq!

In fact, adds Kaspar, living in France prompts more suicides than serving in Iraq:

BTW: a suicide rate of 13.5 per annum per 100,000 is within the bottom third of the European†countries! Very remarkable: France's average is 19.25 ...

Posted by Tim Blair at February 26, 2004 11:30 PM

Yes, but the French and German suicides are so much more fraught with inner sorrow and desperate sacrifice of self for the sins of humanity. Those boorish American soldiers are probably just taking out their uncivilized violent impulses on themselves.

Posted by: Just Some Guy at February 26, 2004 at 11:32 PM

I've read about the suicides. There was a piece in one of the UK papers about the same thing among British soldiers. I didn't know if this was an anomaly or if it was something that happened to other soldiers in other wars?

For those who are much more informed about such things: What were the suicide rates among soldiers who fought in other wars (WW1, WW2, etc.)?

Also, anyone have reliable stats. on suicide rates among non-soldiers for people the same age as the soldiers in the US and/or UK?

When I read the article about the UK soldiers, I wondered if they were more prone to suicide because of their age. It seems to me there has been an increase in suicide in many countries among the late teens - early twenties. However, since I haven't looked at the numbers I was wondering if there is just more reporting of suicides or if the suicide rate had increased among a certain age range?

Posted by: Chris Josephson at February 26, 2004 at 11:52 PM

I tried to search google for the suicide rates among soldiers in WW1 and all that came up was this "story". Goddamn that right-wing pro-war media!

Posted by: madne0 at February 27, 2004 at 12:00 AM

In France...blame it on the psycho-social conflict of really wanting to eat a Big Mac© and the cultural taboo against this blatant act of Americanism.

Posted by: Wallace at February 27, 2004 at 02:19 AM

But even living in France is less likely to induce suicide than being a young male in Australia.

Posted by: vaara at February 27, 2004 at 02:54 AM

A quick search found this interesting overview of suicide rates in the US. Look at the high numbers for males in the relevant age groups. By comparison the number of suicides among US soldiers in Iraq seems low.

Here are some more numbers for comparison.

Posted by: werner at February 27, 2004 at 03:04 AM

Generally speaking, the suicide rate in the US military seems to be lower than among the general population, all other things being equal. This may be due to several factors, among them the fact that those in the military are under a bit more observation and that not all suicide deaths in the US are so called. (Is someone who drives their car at high speed into an overpass abutment a suicide or an accident?)

This is much like the Vietnam War in which statistics appear to show that a young man aged 18-25 was safer (less likely to die) in Vietnam than in the US. The reason appears to be that in Vietnam they were closer to treatment for wounds and injuries and not prone to drunk driving death. This variance led fairly closely later to the widespread use of EMS in the US, starting in Maryland.

Young males are usually full of testosterone, empty of thought, and willing to take crazy chances. They also are more prone in all societies to end up dead from various causes, including other young males.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at February 27, 2004 at 03:50 AM

To put things in some perspective: There have been 22 suicides in Iraq resulting in a 13.5 per 100,000 rate. The typical rate is 10.5 per 100,000. Which means if you do the math (22/13.5=x/10.5 solve for x) that under normal circumstances you would expect 17 soldiers to kill themselves. So there have been 5 extra suicides than normal.

There's more info here. Incidentally, the Army suicide rate in 1993 was 15.7. And that was the entire Army, not just those serving in a certain theater.

Posted by: scott h. at February 27, 2004 at 03:55 AM

But I thought that young men in America were MORE LIKELY to commit suicide than young men in England or Austrailia!
After all, they have access to handguns (all topgether now: Euugh!) and positively everybody KNOWS that handguns cause suicide!

Posted by: Dave Paglia at February 27, 2004 at 05:28 AM

People were talking about this back in November, too. Steven Den Beste wrote a very good article about it.


Posted by: Robert Roy at February 27, 2004 at 07:41 AM

Please note that, due to the inherently small samples and the vagaries of "natural" variation, the difference between the in-Iraq and not-in-Iraq rates for U.S. servicemen are not large enough to be really significant.

This is especially true when it is considered that idenifying suicides is not an exact science. For example, somebody who gets liquored up before deliberately killing himself by ramming his car into a stationary object will usually get recorded as a victim of a drunk driving accident, unless he left a note or other explicit indiction of suicidal intent. Differences in rates of miscategorization of deaths, when dealing with a difference of 3-in-100,000, can skew things significantly.

So, the apparently elevated rate is something the medicos and chaplains should keep an eye on, but it's not enough for anyone to be drawing conclusions about.

Posted by: Warmongering Lunatic at February 27, 2004 at 08:36 AM

Avoid suicide: stay active.
Avoid cliche: die young.
Avoid death - well - try not to grow old.

Posted by: TimT at February 27, 2004 at 09:34 AM

This Reuters story from October on suicides by U.S. soldiers in Iraq suggests that some of them aren't intended to be suicides, but attempts by homesick soldiers to be sent home, attempts that go wrong.

So the rate could even be lower.

The headline Al Jazeera put on the piece betrays the delight it derives from Americans dying.

Posted by: MF at February 27, 2004 at 11:13 AM

Here's your little mental health "insider" tip of the day!

Basically, most suicides fall into one of two attitudinal categories:

1) Depression -- "I'm not good enough for this world"

2) Anger (often antisocial and/or psychopathic, in response to being denied everything they want) -- "This world is not good enough for me..." -- Kind of a final "fuck off everyone"

Now, I see a lot of both (attempts, anyway -- correctional interventions have cut way down on completed suicides, with US federal prison rates over the last 5-10 years being at or below gen. pop. rates), working in the prson system, but I wonder how the triggers break down for those in the military. It'd be interesting to read/hear more about...

Posted by: Jerry at February 27, 2004 at 11:17 AM

Botswana Transport Minister calls on Botswanans to suicide responsibly.

Posted by: ilibcc at February 27, 2004 at 11:21 AM

Scott H., you rate of 13.5/100,000 assumes that the same 150,000 soldiers have been in Iraq since the beginning of the war. Not true - there's been a more than 100% turnover since the beginning of fighting nearly a year ago. So, your denominator is too small, and thus your rate is actually too high.

With regard to suicide in WWI and WWII, anecdotal evidence suggests that it was not unheard of. Robert Graves, in "Goodbye to All That", describes how both the first soldier he saw when coming to the western front and the last soldier he saw when leaving it were suicides. Other memoirists of those wars have also described suicides - oddly enough, not among men in combat, though I guess if you want to die at the front, the enemy will be happy to accommodate you.

Posted by: Brown Line at February 27, 2004 at 11:31 AM

My simple minded reading of the information on suicide was that there is a major crisis in Australia because we Aussies were achieving really high rates. I thought we were winning and batting above the international average, as per normal. Have I been misled? Are other countries now beating us?

Posted by: Razor at February 27, 2004 at 12:40 PM

What happen to those suicide bombers? Do they count?

Posted by: ic at February 27, 2004 at 12:57 PM

Nah, fuck the suicide bombers. I don't even like it when the news reports say a suicide bombing killed X people, including the suicide bomber.

These pricks are filth, and not even numbers. They don't count.

Posted by: steve at February 27, 2004 at 02:40 PM

"People were talking about this back in November, too. Steven Den Beste wrote a very good article about it.


I'm the "Eric" who's question prompted the writeup by SDB... I was about to look it up and post the link here, but Robert Roy did the legwork for me! Glad to see that this is getting coverage, as my friend still doubts that we're getting the whole story.

Posted by: Wonderduck at February 27, 2004 at 03:12 PM

Thanks for the links and info.. Very interesting.

Posted by: Chris Josephson at February 27, 2004 at 10:47 PM

The suicide rate's less than France? Oh well then that's perfectly acceptable.

Posted by: Miranda Divide at March 1, 2004 at 09:31 AM