What kills the most American soldiers? Moslem terrorists? The Taliban? Motor vehicles? Training accidents? None of those: suicide does. The Army’s suicide rate jumped in July and suddenly caught attention; we see stories such as: Army Suicides Hit Terrifying Peak, U.S. Military Averaging a Suicide a Day in 2012 and the highly scientific: The Army Has Issued Anti-Suicide Nasal Spray To Keep Troops From Taking the Easy Way Out. We know the media are more interested in sensational stories than in the truth these days; this mini-frenzy cried for investigation. Does life in the American military drive scads of poor victims to suicide? Or are our journalists in need of a hot story to sell?
Full disclosure: Your writer served in the U.S. Army (as a conscripted slave, not by choice) and no doubt has whatever collection of biases that has produced. However, that was some time ago and we’re trying to be as objective here as we can manage.
General Ray Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff, said that the suicide rate has doubled since the start of the Iraq war. That makes a kind of sense; it’s not unbelievable. But none of the reports provide the actual suicide rate; they talk of numbers of folks who’ve offed themselves but remain silent about rates that would allow us to make comparisons. That sort of things makes one curious, right?
So, what is the U.S. suicide rate for the general population? According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. rate is 17.7 per thousand people for men and 4.5 for women. (No rates are provided for transsexuals; WHO is sadly lagging events) Now, what are the actual rates for the Army?
If we use the 1.4 million active duty total and the one-a-day average provided by the reports above, the rate must be around 10.4 per thousand before the July spike. That’s less than the general population rate for men, though higher than the rate for women. Since the Army is a mix of both, that seems to fit, doesn’t it? And that’s a rate over a six-month period. The July spike is over a one month period; statisticians (none of whom appear to have been consulted in writing these stories) seem likely to tell us that a single month is too small a sample of a data series for us to use it safely in making decisions about what’s happening.
This makes one suspect that the journalists were suffering a slow news day when they wrote that the Army was killing itself, the sky is falling, etc. Just another example of the MSM keeping us up on things… Without their help, we’d never know the truth of what’s going on, would we?