March of 2014 is the first month since January 2007 that there were no combat-related deaths of American soldiers in Afghanistan. It seems a bit somber that a death free month is cause to celebrate. Certainly this news is a blessing for military members and the country at large, but some are framing this month as a sign of American supremacy.
The above picture is obviously not indicative of every single citizen’s view of the milestone, but it is still representative of a mindset that’s troubling. A month where no soldier dies in combat shouldn’t be viewed as a sign of strength and efficiency of the military. It should be viewed as a sign of what can be achieved when you decide not to fight. It is not an American victory but a victory for peace in general.
A Wartime Review:
While it has not been the costliest fatality wise, due to technology and tactics, the war in Afghanistan has been the longest. It has been over twelve years since America first invaded, kicked the Taliban out of power, and established a quasi-democratic government. These results seem great except for the fact its all coming unraveled, only to intensify after American withdrawal by 2015.
So yes, it is a great feat that no American combat forces died in March, but fourteen have died so far in 2014 according to iCasualties. There has not been as peaceful a month since January 2007 and July 2002 before that. When was the last time that there were two consecutive combat fatality free months? All the way back in August-September of 2001, which should come as no surprise because, after that, American military interests went off the rails.
Hopefully, due to the withdrawal of troops, there are no further fatalities overseas, but that should not excuse all the deaths that happened throughout the struggle in the Muslim world.
According to the Pentagon, 2,312 military members died in Afghanistan and 4,423 died in Iraq. The American lives lost hurt the entire country, but it pales in comparison to the 13,000 Afghan police and soldiers who died during the American occupation.
The withdrawal of American troops will only bring more casualties for Afghan forces who undoubtedly face another civil war, but the American public clamors for peace. As shown below, a February Gallup poll shows just how different the U.S. feels about war as compared to 2001, the immediate aftermath of the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks. Americans are getting what they want and a death free month supports their wishes, but the fatalities of our troops abroad are nothing compared to the ones at home.
The War Goes On:
It is known that the soldier can leave the battlefield, but they will forever be fighting those battles within their minds and lives. So the question now becomes, when will America have a veteran suicide free month? A big task for sure, but one this country is woefully abysmal at trying to solve.
In a sobering factual article about veteran mortality rates, the Huffington Post pulled from the Department of Veteran Affairs the fact that, in 2012, there were twenty two veteran suicides each day. By that number, there are about 660 veteran deaths every month. That means 7,920 veterans will commit suicide in a year. What makes all those numbers worse? They’re based off of just twenty one reporting states so the numbers are most likely much higher. It must be noted that the majority of veteran suicides are by people fifty years of age and above, thus making them veterans of earlier conflicts but the statistics remain. Sadly, this number will rise with the withdrawal from Afghanistan. If the men and women who are coming back now make it to age fifty, will the rates be even higher than they are now?
It is paramount that, with the end of war, those who fought are cared for appropriately. America has a terrible history in regards to veterans affairs and this has to change. Every single politicians wants favorable outcomes in this arena, but still nothing major is undertaken to improve the lives of returning soldiers. We should have learned two lessons from the past decade plus of war:
You have to be able to pay for it before you start
You have to be able to pay for it after you finish
It is morally hideous that suicide rates are as high as they are amongst veterans. A month of peace is significant but dwarfed by the trauma within our own borders. Here’s hoping for more combat free fatality months and, to push even further, combat fatality free years. Unfortunately, with escalations in the Ukraine, who knows how long this positive trend will last.
If you are a veteran in need of help, or know one who does, please call the veteran crisis hotline: 1-800-273-8255