Rising Military Suicide Rates

July 27, 2009

On Monday of last week (7/20), I attended a meeting of US the House Leadership and their allies on Capitol Hill. At the meeting, we learned that the Senate planned planned debate cuts in funding to the wasteful F-22 fighter plane. The very next day (7/21) the Senate successfully removed the F-22 funding from National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 by a vote of 58 to 40. And, as anticipated, overall military funding did pass by 87 to 7 with 6 Senators abstaining.

For me, the meeting’s focal point centered on Representative Frank Kratovil (D-MD), who serves on the Armed Services committee, discussion about the alarming increase in the suicide rate of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan:

  • In 2008, 143 soldiers committed suicide. This number, a record in the past three decades, can only be topped by the stunning numbers recorded as 2009 progresses.
  • In January, nearly two dozen confirmed or suspected suicides are raising concerns about mental health conditions within the military.
  • There have already been 88 suspected suicides in the first six months of this year, tromping the 67 which occurred between January and June of 2008.
  • This means that the rate of suicide among the military is now higher than the civilian population, 20.2 per 100,000 versus 19.5 per 100,000 respectively.
  • These numbers don’t include those who take their lives after they have already been discharged.

Experts identify many factors for the high number of suicides: multiple deployments, little time at home, the trauma of combat, and the stress of serving in two wars as the cause to these terrible tragedies. The factors behind these acts are extremely complex and deserve much more attention from the media and general public.

Though the military is investigating the cause of these acts, a more aggressive approach may be necessary. In the Huffington Post, Dr. Paul Ragan, an associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and a former Navy psychiatrist explained that, “Occasional or sporadic visits by military mental health workers are like a Band-Aid for a gushing wound.”

Rep. Kratovil mentioned a need for stricter policies concerning face-to-fact exit interviews and psychological evaluations when  discharge from the military. The need for progress on this issue is time-sensitive, as rates continue to increase each month.

Take Action:

If your Representative is on the Armed Services Committee (See here for the House Committee; and here for the Senate Committee) call and ask your representative to work with Rep. Kratovil and implement policies that will increase mental health support and reduce suicide rates for our retuning soldiers. As always, tell us about your conversation in the comment section below.


July 18, 2009


Myths vs. Facts

Lockheed Martin lobbyists have stressed and claimed loss of jobs, especially “union jobs,” and national security needs, to justify purchasing additional F-22 fighters, even though the Pentagon leadership insists we do not need, and should not buy them.  This argument is based on several myths.  The public and Members of Congress should have the facts.

MYTH – At a time of high unemployment and with the current recession, ending F-22 production prematurely would cost the jobs of too many American workers.
FACT – This ignores the fact that the Pentagon wants to use the saved funds to help buy more than 2,000 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, which Lockheed Martin also makes. The eventual decrease in F-22 employment, after current procurement finishes, would be significantly offset by employment on the increased F-35 production. F-22 production would not be ended now. Capping the program at 187 planes would keep production lines intact for a few years to come, well beyond the immediate need for stimulus-related job creation.

More importantly, Lockheed Martin claims 95,000 workers on the F-22, which cannot be verified.  One analyst estimated 37,000. (1) The same analyst claimed if “additional funding for the F-22 program comes at the expense of public investments in areas such as education, infrastructure, and building weatherization, extending the F-22 program could result in a net job loss in the range of 9,300 to 47,000 jobs per year.”

MYTH – The additional F-22 procurement would preserve the aircraft aspect of America’s military industrial base.
FACT – The large F-35 procurement will do that, too.

MYTH – Finally, apart from jobs, proponents claim we need more F-22s to defend America against foreseeable enemy threats.
FACT – Designed at the height of the Cold War to defend against predicted future generation Russian aircraft, the F-22s already purchased suffice to provide air superiority against any rationally, foreseeable threat. Subsequent events have significantly decreased that threat. Different Air Force and other military requirements to update our forces are much more pressing than adding more F-22s. No F-22 has flown over Iraq or Afghanistan. This is so clear that Lockheed Martin has desperately tried to add features that would turn the F-22 into a ground support attack fighter. However, the Pentagon prefers to buy planes optimized for that role.

MYTH – Prior F22 problems are under control.
FACT – The F-22s cost has soared to a quarter of a billion dollars per plane. It costs $44,000 an hour to fly because the “stealth” fuselage skin that erodes in the rain and the flawed avionics require constant maintenance.  Thomas Christie, a top Pentagon weapons testing expert from 2001 to 2005 said, “It flunked on suitability measures — availability, reliability, and maintenance.”

MYTH – Cutting off F-22 procurement reflects the “soft on defense” posture of the Democrats’ liberal wing and endangers our security.
FACT – That’s nonsense. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Secretary of Defense Gates, who also served under President Bush, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Air Force Chief of Staff, all oppose buying more F-22s

(1) William D. Hartung, “MILITARY SPENDING AND EMPLOYMENT: The Case of the F-22”, The New America Foundation, February 25, 2009  http://www.newamerica.net/publications/policy/military_spending_and_employment_case_f_22

I’ll be visiting Rochester in August

July 18, 2009

New challenges for the US Antiwar Movement

As US troops depart Iraq’s cities, President Obama and the Democratic Congress have now escalated troop deployments and military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, targeting the Taliban and Al Qaeda with no end in sight.
How should we interpret US engagement in these (two very different) countries, and how should the Antiwar Movement respond to this undiminished continuation of the “war on terror”?


On Afghanistan:
National Political Director, Peace Action (Washington, DC)
On Pakistan:
Author and Professor of South Asian Literature,
University of Texas (Austin)

Both speakers have written and spoken extensively on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and they are also prominent antiwar activists and strategists.

Sponsored by Rochester Against War and Peace Action & Education/ Metro Justice
For more information, contact Doug Noble 585-442-3383 or dxnldc@rit.edu

Facilitation and Organizing Trainings This Thursday, July 16

July 15, 2009

Interning in DC for the summer? Want to build your skills as an organizer for social change?

Then join us for the first of a series of social justice trainings for interns in Washington, DC. These trainings are completely free and are a great opportunity to have fun, network with other activists and build your skills at the same time.

The first training session will be held on Thursday, July 16, 12-4 pm at St. Stephen’s, 1525 Newton Street NW. This session will cover two of the most fundamental skills needed for social change: how to facilitate meetings and community organizing 101.

To attend, please RSVP to Jonathan Williams at jwilliams@peace-action.org

Directions to St. Stephen’s (See map here):

  • St. Stephen’s is located at 1525 Newton St. NW, at the intersection of 16th and Newton Streets, NW in the Mount Pleasant/Columbia Heights area of Washington, DC.
  • St. Stephen’s is accessible via Metro’s Columbia Heights station on the Green and Yellow Lines (approximately 7 minutes away by foot) and numerous Metrobus routes.
  • Street parking is usually available within a few blocks of the church; allow a few minutes for finding a parking place.

See you Thursday, July 16!

Guess Who’s Cutting Military Spending – Calls Needed Now!

July 13, 2009

You won’t believe it! Former rivals Barack Obama and John McCain are working together RIGHT NOW to stop wasting money on weapons we don’t need.

The Senator is offering an amendment to stop wasting money on the F-22 fighter jet AND the President has threatened to veto the bill if those same planes are not removed.

The Senate vote could happen any minute, and nobody knows what’s going to happen. Call your Senators RIGHT NOW and ask them to support Sen. McCain and President Obama by voting to end the F-22 and re-invest in things that make us truly strong.

  1. Find your state’s Senators.
  2. Call the Capitol Switchboard:  (202) 224-3121
  3. Leave a comment below telling us about your calls.

What you can say:

Call your Senators now and tell them the F-22 has got to go!


According to the Project on Government Oversight the following Senators are undecided on this issue. If your Senator is listed below please call them now!

Undecided (31)
Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
John Barrasso (R-WY)
Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Robert Bennett (R-UT)
Jim Bunning (R-KY)
Roland Burris (D-IL)
Robert Casey (D-PA)
Tom Coburn (R-OK)
Kent Conrad (D-ND)
Bob Corker (R-TN)
Al Franken (D-MN)
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Mike Johanns (R-NE)
Edward Kaufman (D-DE)
Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
Richard Lugar (R-IN)
Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Mark Pryor (D-AR)
Harry Reid (D-NV)
James Risch (R-ID)
Pat Roberts (R-KS)
John Rockefeller (D-WV)
Richard Shelby (R-AL)
Arlen Specter (D-PA)
Mark Warner (D-VA)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Senate challenges re Nuke Arms Reductions

July 10, 2009
This article from Congressional Quarterly accurately depicts the challenges the Administration will have getting a new arms reduction treaty with Russia, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, or other treaties ratified by the Senate. Treaties require 2/3 of the Senate, or 67 votes, for ratification. If all 60 Democrats/Independents vote in favor, seven Republican votes are needed. As Sen. Kerry notes, the Administration can act on their own, and we are obliged by international law and precedent to abide by treaties we have signed, even without ratification. The other noteworthy issue here is Star Wars “missile defense”, which continues to cause political problems even though it doesn’t work.
–Kevin Martin, Executive Director
July 9, 2009 – 9:06 p.m.

 Despite GOP Resistance, Democrats Pursue Arms Reduction Ratification

By Josh Rogin, CQ Staff

Despite progress by U.S. and Russian leaders this week toward a new nuclear arms reduction treaty, it appears less and less likely that the Senate will ratify any agreement signed by the two governments before the end of the year.

In the face of GOP Senate calls for other issues to be addressed along with any agreement that would replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires Dec. 5, Democratic leaders acknowledge that Senate approval might not be possible this year — and also might not be necessary.

“It doesn’t have to be ratified by December for the president to say that we’re going to live by the law,” said John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The United States adheres informally to several treaties the Senate has never ratified, including the Law of the Sea Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Kerry noted, adding, “It’s better to ratify it, and we will try to do what we can.”

If the Senate cannot ratify the START follow-on treaty, the Obama administration might have to implement new nuclear arms reductions without congressional consent and without the force of law.

But the lack of ratification poses problems for the drive to establish a new arms regime both at home and abroad.

Foreign Relations ranking Republican Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., said it might be possible to extend the current START agreement if both the U.S. Senate and the Russian Duma can’t ratify a new treaty by the December deadline.

“It’s possible, but not necessarily acceptable” to implement arms reductions without Senate ratification, said Lugar, who supports having a full debate over the issue in Congress.

Experts say that if Congress doesn’t endorse the new treaty, nationalist interests in Russia will gain leverage in their drive to kill that country’s own ratification effort.

“If the treaty is not ratified by the U.S. Senate, the Russian Duma will certainly use that as an excuse to block it,” said Alexandros Petersen, a fellow at the Atlantic Council, a think tank that focuses on trans-Atlantic relations.

Republican Resistance

Republican Senate resistance to a new treaty is centered on two issues: A plan for modernization of the nuclear stockpile and a renewed commitment to build missile defense sites in eastern Europe, many GOP senators believe, must accompany any reduction in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The Obama administration’s position is that those two issues are now being studied — the modernization plan as part of the Nuclear Posture Review and the missile defense sites in the Quadrennial Defense Review — but will be considered in some fashion as part of the START negotiations.

President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to further reductions in nuclear arsenals during their July 6 summit meeting but did not come to any conclusions about missile defense, agreeing only to discuss it further.

“I think the administration will make a mistake if they don’t recognize the missile defense component of this debate has to be addressed,” said Armed Services member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., arguing that Obama must commit to going forward with planned sites in Poland and the Czech Republic in order to get widespread GOP support for a new START treaty.

Russia believes the European missile defense sites are linked to the nuclear arms negotiations, but in a way opposite from the Republican senators’. Several Russian officials have said the administration must agree to scuttle the sites if it wants a new nuclear treaty. The administration maintains the sites are directed at defending against a potential nuclear attack from Iran, not Russia.

Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., expressed the Senate Democrats’ position: The two issues should be dealt with separately.

“I don’t think they ought to be linked at all,” Levin said. “I hope the Russians don’t link them, and I hope we don’t link them. They are very different issues.”

A group of GOP senators told Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in a May meeting that if there is any linkage between the agreement and shuttering the European sites, the senators would work against ratification, Senate aides said.

Nuclear Modernization

A plan for nuclear stockpile modernization, which could include the George W. Bush administration’s Reliable Replacement Warhead program, is another precondition Senate Republicans want before agreeing to support a new START treaty.

“I think a central first step to even consider it . . . is getting on a path, which we’re clearly not on, for a robust nuclear modernization program,” said David Vitter of Louisiana, ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works subcommittee that oversees nuclear safety.

Many Senate Republicans expressed concern that the United States was giving up too much in initial stages of the talks, because the Russians had internal reasons to concede on some reductions anyway.

“Much of what Russia is acting like they’re going to give away, they’re going to give away anyway, for budget reasons and for other strategic reasons,” said Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said the administration was rushing to complete an agreement quickly and neglecting issues of substance.

“It seems to be driven by public perception rather than strategic need,” he said.

Adam Graham-Silverman contributed to this story.

Source: CQ Today Print Edition
Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill.
© 2009 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Obama’s violating the first rule of holes in Afghanistan…

July 9, 2009
…which is, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.
Escalation Scam: Troops in Afghanistan

Published on Thursday, July 9, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Norman Solomon

The president has set a limit on the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. For now.

That’s how escalation works. Ceilings become floors. Gradually.

A few times since last fall, the Obama team has floated rising numbers for how many additional U.S. soldiers will be sent to Afghanistan. Now, deployment of 21,000 more is a done deal, with a new total cap of 68,000 U.S. troops in that country.

But “escalation” isn’t mere jargon. And it doesn’t just refer to what’s happening outside the United States.

“Escalation” is a word for a methodical process of acclimating people at home to the idea of more military intervention abroad — nothing too sudden, just a step-by-step process of turning even more war into media wallpaper — nothing too abrupt or jarring, while thousands more soldiers and billions more dollars funnel into what Martin Luther King Jr. called a “demonic suction tube,” complete with massive violence, mayhem, terror and killing on a grander scale than ever.

As war policies unfold, the news accounts and dominant media discourse rarely disrupt the trajectory of events. From high places, the authorized extent of candor is a matter of timing.

Lots of recent spin from Washington has promoted the assumption that President Obama wants to stick with the current limit on deployments to Afghanistan. Soon after pushing supplemental war funds through Congress, he’s hardly eager to proclaim that 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan may not be enough after all.

But no amount of spin can change the fact that the U.S. military situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. It would be astonishing if plans for add-on deployments weren’t already far along at the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, the White House is reenacting a macabre ritual — a repetition compulsion of the warfare state — carefully timing and titrating each dose of public information to ease the process of escalation. The basic technique is far from new.

In the spring and early summer of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson decided to send 100,000 additional U.S. troops to Vietnam, more than doubling the number there. But at a July 28 news conference, he announced that he’d decided to send an additional 50,000 soldiers.

Why did President Johnson say 50,000 instead of 100,000? Because he was heeding the advice from something called a “Special National Security Estimate” — a secret document, issued days earlier about the already-approved new deployment, urging that “in order to mitigate somewhat the crisis atmosphere that would result from this major U.S. action . . . announcements about it be made piecemeal with no more high-level emphasis than necessary.”

Forty-four years later, something similar is underway with deployments of U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday that no limit has been set. Speaking to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, he sounded an open-ended note: “There is not a ceiling on troop levels in Afghanistan.”

Mullen’s comment was scarcely reported in U.S. media outlets. It has become old news without ever being news in the first place.

The war planners in Washington are bound to proceed carefully on the home front. News of further escalation will come “piecemeal” — “with no more high-level emphasis than necessary.”

Norman Solomon, co-chair of the national Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign, is the author of many books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” For more information, go to: www.normansolomon.com


McNamara’s Ghost in Afghanistan

July 8, 2009

By Tom Hayden

Robert McNamara died the other day as seven American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan.
It wasn’t the deaths on the same day that made me remember McNamara’s folly.
It was the sense that McNamara’s ghost is hovering over the new graveyard of America’s future.
McNamara’s team of Ivy Leaguers was dubbed “the best and the brightest” by the disillusioned war correspondent David Halberstam. They were deluded by their arrogance into believing computer-driven measures of success, like body counts. Though liberal and secular in temperment, they held a faith-based belief in victory. Fifty-eight thousand Americans died, along with countless Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians, because of these best and brightest. Not one of them went to jail. McNamara went to the World Bank.
Today another Ivy League president has placed his faith in Ivy League generals and an inbred crowd of three hundred national security advisers drawn from the same elite circles. They are the new best-and-brightest, and I believe history will show they are marching to folly in their “Long War.”
General Petraeus is an Ivy Leaguer. So is his surrogate spokesman in Washington, John Nagl at the think tank of the best-and-brightest, the Center for a New American Security. So is Gen. Stanley McChystal, the Special Operations spook presiding over Afghanistan and Pakistan. So are Petraeus’ Harvard collaborators on the new Marine and Army counterinsurgency manual. So is their top counterinsurgency guru, David Kilkullen, who writes of reviving the Vietnam Phoenix program of detention and targeted killings, not only in Afghanistan, but globally. [For dummies, Phoenix involved the detention, torture and killing of 25,000 alleged Vietcong civilians, and the rounding up millions of peasants into “strategic hamlets” to protect them from any Vietcong still in the jungle. The debacle was terminated in 1971, but Kilcullen, who wasn’t born then, keeps hope alive, saying the program was misunderstood. McNamara would have loved Kilcullen, a Ph.D who openly believes in “armed social science.”
I first heard of Robert McNamara as an undergraduate editor at the University of Michigan, when a dean of humanities told me that McNamara, a UM graduate and president of Ford Motors, was an exceptionally bright man with whom dialogue about war and peace was finally possible.
I was skeptical, however, of McNamara’s application of scientific management techniques to corporate, government and military policy. I couldn’t understand the mystique of intelligence, detached as it was from an understanding of a world in unpredictable transition.
From the perspective of McNamara’s funeral, we can take a reckoning. The Vietnam War was the greatest American folly of the twentieth-century. Applied to large universities, the same scientific management approaches provoked the Free Speech Movement. And of course, Ford is in ruins.
The brightest were clueless and, in Leonard Cohen’s verse,
When the very good have stopped their quest
The very worst are called the best.
For what earthly purpose did those seven Americans die in southern Afghanistan? Are there al Qaeda there? Not by anyone’s account. If they were fighting the Taliban as distinct from local people, the reasons are elusive. Apparently the Taliban of southern Afghanistan are part of a host organization that will welcome the return of al Qaeda whom, we are warned, will use their new caves to plot strikes against our homeland.
You can have the IQ of a plant to smell this stupidity.
The Pentagon predicts an 18-month war for southern Afghanistan before they can clear, build, hold and hand over the rubble to an Afghan army inferior to the Taliban.
The logical move now for the Taliban would be to draw the young Americans into a bloody quagmire in Kandahar and Helmand, then turn up elsewhere using hit-and-run attacks as they did this week against the gates of NATO or isolated American bases elsewhere.
In an example of further idiocy masked as intelligence, a Pentagon spokesman yesterday said the seven deaths were “what we expected.” [LAT, July 7] The Taliban and “other insurgents” had engaged in “less direct combat than was expected by the military”, Nagl of the CNAS told the press. [LAT, July 7]. They Taliban and these “other insurgents” used roadside bombs instead of throwing themselves in front of the American guns. This was a surprise. That’s what happens when you go into “Indian country”, said a Pentagon official.
In more dangerous Pakistan, meanwhile, the best-and-brightest are high-fiving themselves after pressuring the wary Pakistan army into invading the Swat Valley and preparing to assault South Waziristan. This operation has created more casualties than any time since Pakistan was founded and, according to the NY Times, American aid workers are being barred from refugee camps where pro-Taliban forces distribute food and medicine paid for by American taxpayers. In a recent incident obscured by the fog of war,  the Taliban last week apparently attacked a site connected with Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
In Iraq meanwhile, the Pentagon and mainstream media are upset by the very Shi’a coalition put in power by the American military bragging about the US withdrawal and holding a national day of celebration. Only the brightest are blind to the American effort to disguise failure in Iraq with a decent interval, as orchestrated by Henry Kissinger in Vietnam.
None of this makes any Americans safer. If anything, more civilians will grow to hate us in both countries, some of those civilians will join the Taliban or al Qaeda, the Europeans will soon be abandoning the NATO military mission, Russia will be enjoying payback for what the Americans did to them in Afghanistan, and President Obama will be trapped like Gulliver in a Long War he cannot afford, can never win and dare not lose.
The best and brightest, by their own definition, are incapable of being wrong. McNamara couldn’t admit his mistake for decades and still remained at loss for words in the painful final moments of the film Fog of War.
The new best-and-brightest are like McNamara in this respect too: their arrogance makes a mistake inconceivable.
It took an anti-war movement to provoke Daniel Ellsberg, one of the original best-and-brightest, to finally break ranks and tell the truth. Another movement and another Ellsberg are needed now, before the mistake becomes a permanent one. “

TOM HAYDEN is the author of Ending the War in Iraq [2008], the Tom Hayden Reader[2008] and this year’s The Long Sixties.

What, Me Worry?

July 7, 2009

Peace Action Executive Director, Kevin Martin, asks:

If our thousands of nuclear weapons actually do serve to deter, then why should we be concerned about a nuclear North Korea or a nuclear Iran? If they do not serve to deter, then why retain them at all?

Read the full article here.

Kevin Martin, Executive Director, Reacts to Obama’s Russian Deals

July 6, 2009

As the nation’s largest peace organization, of course we commented on the announced agreements between Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev.   Kevin Martin, the group’s executive director, stated:

It’s good to see the U.S. and Russia making progress on nuclear arms reductions again, and the Obama’s Administration’s overall priority on rebuilding a positive relationship with Russia is extremely important. However, the announced reductions are fairly modest. The conventional wisdom is that these proposed cuts are the best that can be accomplished right now, but the two countries could go further and announce the initiation of negotiations to eliminate all nuclear weapons, which would be accomplished in stages over the next ten years or so.

Clearly, two ongoing sticking points are Star Wars, so-called “missile defense,” and NATO expansion.  Unless the U.S. moves toward Russia’s position on those issues, gaining the close cooperation the U.S. needs from Russia on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation issues will be very difficult.

Instead of sending more troops and military supplies through Russia, the U.S. and international community should increase funding for Afghan-led humanitarian aid, development work, and landmine clean up while supporting regional diplomacy.  Peace Action calls for an immediate halt to air and Predator drone strikes that kill, injure and traumatize innocent civilians and drive people to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Peace Action was founded over 50 years ago to abolish nuclear weapons and holds leadership roles in several coalitions working on disarmament issues and progressive foreign policy, including chairing a group of over 80 leaders working to change U.S. policy in the Afghanistan region.  Don’t forget to sign our petition here.


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