July 07, 2011

And now, let me wade on into three ongoing, unrelated controversies with both guns blazing...


1. This nonsense about adding new medals to recognize service in Iraq and Afghanistan is just as ridiculous as people have been saying, and for even more reasons. The way the U.S. military has divided up the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into arbitrary phases is unnecessary and confusing. Ask a soldier if they have served in either country, and they will likely say, "Yes, two deployments to Iraq and three to Afghanistan" or something similar. They do not say, "Well, let's see, I had one deployment as part of the Liberation, one as part of the Transition, one deployment that overlapped between the Surge and Iraqi Sovereignty ... and then I deployed to Afghanistan as part of the Consolidation." That's silly. Just award one medal for service in each combat theater, and if you want to keep score beyond that, well, that's why God invented service stripes and valor awards.

2. I have mixed feelings about the news that the White House will now issue condolence letters to the families of soldiers who have committed suicide. First off, I care a lot less about condolence letters than I do about investing in psychological screening and counseling to reduce the number of suicides in the first place. Second, not all suicides are the result of combat stress. (One study demonstrated that "79 percent of army suicides occurred within the first three years of
service, whether soldiers were deployed or not.") I have known soldiers who have died in Afghanistan in helicopter accidents and soldiers who have died in stateside helicopter crashes. Although neither crash was directly caused by enemy action, the families of the former received condolence letters. The families of the latter did not. If you're going to start writing letters to the families of all soldiers who commit suicide (where indirect cause of death cannot be clearly determined), should you not also start writing condolence letters to the families of all servicemen who die while serving on active duty? And what about the soldier who returns home from war, horrified by what he has seen, gets really drunk and dies (and maybe kills a few others) while driving under the influence? Does that guy's family get a letter? I mean, where do you draw the line between those who receive condolence letters and those who do not? My man Yochi Dreazen gets deeper into these questions in this National Journal article.

3. Speaking of PTSD, if a U.S. soldier wrote a difficult, painful-to-read, searingly honest essay on his or her struggle with PTSD, no one would tell that soldier that he or she does not have the right to write such an essay because they failed to also consider the effect of the war on innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. People would just accept that everyone has the right to share his or her own personal narrative, and that when people are brave enough to open up about their personal experiences, we should all give them the space to do so. Which is just one of the reasons why the outrage over Mac McLelland's essay annoys me.