Good soldiers win wars. During World War ii, America’s soldiers proved themselves winners—the best in the world in skill, personal sacrifice and valor. Using sophisticated and superior weaponry, American soldiers played a large part in making the United States the world’s only superpower.
Considering the stunning victories of World War ii, it is embarrassing to recognize that America has not won a major conflict since 1945: Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq. U.S. troops deployed to fight in foreign, inhospitable places and climates returned home not as victors, but depending on the conflict, as escapees from draws, failed nation builders, pistol-whipped policemen, flawed security forces, or beaten-down counterinsurgents.
Yet, we cannot lay the blame on our fighting men and women. In general, their mission was not defense. They were fighting to stop the spread of communism, to protect American economic and political interests. For example, most agree that Operation Desert Storm was less about freeing the people of Kuwait and more about keeping the Middle East oil supply out of Saddam Hussein’s hands.
Good soldiers win wars. Has this tragic history of entangling United States troops in no-win armed conflicts had a cumulative negative effect on our soldiers and our military morale?
The Suicide Surge
American soldiers, at home and abroad, are simultaneously fighting and losing a different kind of war. The battlefield is not in some far-off place, it is inside their heads. Almost daily, the enemy warring inside them is shouting, “Victory!”
In 2012, more soldiers died from suicide than in combat.
The number of suicides among the ranks of America’s finest has more than doubled since 9/11. According to unofficial Pentagon data from January, 349 soldiers took their own lives in 2012—nearly one every day. More than half of the suicides came in the Army—182 total. Forty-eight marines, 59 airman and 60 sailors also killed themselves. This number is 118 percent higher than the 160 suicides that occurred in 2001, making last year the Pentagon’s highest annual self-inflicted death toll ever. Only 310 soldiers died in combat in Afghanistan last year.
This is the third time in four years that the number of military suicides has surpassed the number of combat deaths.
Alarmingly, military suicide numbers are likely to go even higher in 2013. In September 2012, Dr. Susan Blumenthal reported that military experts say they do not fully understand “the reasons for the rising suicide rates.” Although suicide is a personal, complex issue with hidden facets, when suicide numbers spike in a common population of people, it should be much easier to locate the reasons for the suicides.
Using practical wisdom based on years of experience dealing with the problems of people from all occupations, educator Herbert W. Armstrong taught that there is a cause for every effect. Often people cannot find a cause for their problems, because they do not want to find the cause. There is a cause for so many military personnel destroying themselves. And there is a solution to stop this enemy ravaging our troops.
America’s Broken Will
In January 2007, America’s leadership announced a new strategy for Iraq. The White House initially called it “the New Way Forward.” It is better known as the “surge.” The announcement—full of promise—assured the American public that the new effort in Iraq would be different. The surge would succeed in securing Baghdad where previous operations did not. The success of the surge would depend on the army infantry soldiers of the 2-16, nicknamed the Rangers. The Rangers were optimistic, young (average age: 19), well-trained fighters. Their immediate commander was the proven, capable, sometimes controversial Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich. The commander invited author David Finkel to chronicle the efforts of the 2-16 in Iraq. Finkel lived on the ground for eight months with the regiment in Iraq and wrote about what the 2-16 and he experienced in his book The Good Soldiers.
Just before deploying to Iraq, Kauzlarich told Finkel, “We are America. I mean, we have all of the resources. We have a very intelligent population. If we decide, just like we did in World War ii, if we all said, ‘This is our focus, this is our priority, and we’re going to win it, we’re going to do everything that we have to do to win it,’ then we’d win it. This nation can do anything that it wants to do. The question is, does America have the will?” (emphasis added).
How Kauzlarich and his crack troops were commanded to fight the war in Iraq answers the question. The strategy to secure Baghdad also gives us one very good insight as to why so many soldiers are committing suicide.
Just before the 2-16 deployed, the Army released FM 3-24—Counterinsurgency. The book provided an update to the 20-year-old guidelines for waging war according to the counterinsurgency (coin) doctrine first used in Vietnam. Its lead author was Lt. Gen. David Petraeus. This book was to be Kauzlarich’s field manual for conducting operations in Baghdad. It was also a perfect example of America’s broken will to win wars.
Kauzlarich’s assistant, Maj. Brent Cummings, told Finkel, “Remember, we are an infantry battalion. Our task and purpose is to close with and destroy the enemy. We are the only force designed for this. Armor stands off and they kill from a distance. Aviation kills from a distance. The infantry goes in and kills with his hands, if necessary.” FM 3-24 took a radically different approach.
“It was 282 pages of lessons, all urging soldiers to ‘focus on the population, its needs, and its security’ as the best way to defeat the enemy, rather than by killing their way to victory. Control the population, win the war. Win the people, win the war. To the soldiers of the 2-16, this was an interesting turn of events,” writes Finkel.
“The manual got even more interesting under the section called ‘Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency,’ which sounded suspiciously Zen-like. ‘Sometimes, the more force is used, the less effective it is.’ ‘Some of the best weapons for counterinsurgents do not shoot.’ ‘Sometimes, the more you protect your force, the less secure you may be.’” Major Cummings confided to Finkel that he doubted that Kauzlarich wanted to fight a war that way.
Cummings recognized that counterinsurgency is about being political, handshaking and drinking chai tea. “He’s a soldier. All he is is a soldier. He is an instrument of war, and he’s looking for that fight,” he said of Colonel Kauzlarich. He was frustrated by the counterinsurgency doctrine because he could not be the leader up front giving the order—Follow me, men!—because counterinsurgency didn’t work like that. In 19 years as an Army officer, Kauzlarich had not lost one soldier under his direct command. This was not to be the case in Baghdad. Yet, like a good soldier, Kauzlarich dedicated himself to follow General Petraeus’s coin principles. He morphed into a statesman/soldier.
The 2-16 inhabited one of the most deplorable sections of Baghdad. The people lived in abject poverty. The sewer system didn’t function; raw sewage ran in the streets. Mounds of rotting garbage were everywhere. The air smelled bad and was full of dust and smoky pollution. Kauzlarich set his goal to fix it all.
However, one of the things that got in his way were hidden bombs—improvised explosive devices (ieds). The most lethal ied is the explosively formed penetrator (efp). This is a special, shaped charge designed to penetrate armor. It is made to deform a metal plate into a slug or rod shape and accelerate it toward a target. efps easily penetrate Army Humvees, severing limbs and taking lives. Death or injury by efp is horribly gruesome. Soldiers considered locating severed limbs the worst part of cleanup after an ied attack.
coin doctrine requires U.S. troops to take off their armor, get away from their vehicles, and “Walk. Stop by, don’t drive by. Patrol on foot whenever possible and engage the population.” This philosophy contributed to a dramatic increase in arm and leg amputations, genital injuries and the loss of multiple limbs from ied blasts.
Only eight weeks into the new strategy in Baghdad, Colonel Kauzlarich lost his first soldier to an ied attack. He would lose 13 more before his tour in Iraq was complete. The effect of the counterinsurgency operations in Iraq took its toll on soldier morale. As the surge continued, large numbers of soldiers went for private counseling with their chaplains. Thoughts of suicide began to affect several of the 2-16. Others obtained prescriptions for anti-depressants and sleeping pills from medics.
Colonel Kauzlarich and Major Cummings also experienced negative effects. “Sometimes Kauzlarich and Cummings would wonder what exactly the Iraqis hated about them,” wrote Finkel. “What were they doing, other than trying to secure some Iraqi neighborhoods? What made people want to kill them for handing out candy and soccer balls and delivering tankers of drinking water to them, and building a sewer system for them, and fixing their gas stations, and never being aggressive except for rounding up the killers among them?” Kauzlarich and Cummings lived with the reality that, even with all of their hard effort and the tragic loss of young soldiers, the “surge” was not winning the hearts of the Iraqis.
Counterinsurgency has not been effective in Afghanistan either. America’s strategy for counterinsurgency simply will not work. In fact, the nation’s enemies view its policy of counterinsurgency as the strategy of cowards and use it to take full military advantage against U.S. fighting troops.
The deaths and maiming of American soldiers make news headlines. Pleas are constantly made for help for disabled soldiers. Yet what is being done to help the soldiers on the verge of committing suicide? We need deep thinking and analysis to understand the effect our poor military operations have on our troops and to solve the growing problem of military suicide.
“I know this place is not only getting to me, I can see it in other people also. Guys that were funny and goofy when we first got here are different now; some are barely talking, and others are just constantly negative about everything,” soldier and author Bryan Wood wrote in his journal on March 17, 2003, while serving in Kabul. “Guys that were friends now seem to hate each other. We all do our jobs every day, and we do them better than could ever be asked of anyone, but it is taking its toll on everyone.”
He published his compelling, often heart-rending journal in his book, Unspoken Abandonment. He describes in graphic detail not only what happened to him as a soldier, but also what life was like for the Afghan people. The hardest thing for him was to return home and rebuild a civilian life. He had great difficulty putting his experiences in Afghanistan behind him.
Good soldiers win wars. “My life in Afghanistan can be summed up in one word: ‘misery,’” Wood wrote on March 27, 2003. “My job here is to sit in a tiny wooden box, hoping that I don’t get shot or blown up. Then I go out on patrol in the city and hope I don’t get shot or blown up. Then I go out on missions to the middle of nowhere, hoping I don’t get shot or blown up.
“It is starting to become like second nature, when a car slows down or stops near me on the street or under my OP [observation post] at night, I take a breath and pray it does not explode,” Wood wrote. The thought of having his arms and legs scattered in the streets of Baghdad struck terror in him. Observing how young children were treated made him emotionally and physically sick. On the same day, he also wrote, “We are strictly forbidden from interfering in ‘legal matters’ in Afghanistan, and I am supposed to just pretend I do not see what is happening. Some child, practically still a baby, is being driven off to be raped by a pedophile, and I just have to say, ‘Hey look, it is almost time for breakfast.’”
Wood became so disgusted with his tour of duty, he stopped writing his journal on April 12, 2003. Just prior, he wrote, “I just honestly feel as though the only certainty in Afghanistan is that tomorrow has nothing good to offer. It gets so depressing when you realize you have nothing good to look forward to. The only thing I have to look forward to is finishing this deployment and going home, but that is months and months away.” This entry is a good description of what counterinsurgency does to our soldiers.
Learning the Lesson of History
“coin doctrine approaches war from an ivory tower, a place where such theories thrive untested and without hurting anyone,” wrote syndicated columnist Diana West. “On the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, however, the results have been catastrophic. Tens of thousands of young Americans answered their country’s call and were told to accept more ‘risk’ and less ‘protection.’ Many lost lives, limbs and pieces of their brains as a result of serving under a military command structure and government in thrall to a leftist ideology that argues, in defiance of human history, that cultures, beliefs and peoples are all the same, or want to be” (Nov. 15, 2012). Many of our young soldiers have returned home knowing that coin doesn’t work. Isn’t it time that America’s military and political leaders face the facts? The history is there for all to study.
The war in Afghanistan began in October 2001 with the launching of Operation Enduring Freedom. While it made good headway at first, Taliban resistance rose sharply in 2006. The war continues today, with nato forces battling terrorists on a number of fronts across Afghanistan. It is the United States’ second-longest war. As of February 20 this year, there have been 3,257 coalition deaths during Enduring Freedom.
President George Bush announced the war on Iraq in March 2003, less than a year and a half after the start of operations in Afghanistan. The “new strategy” for Iraq commenced in February 2007. A surge of 30,000 U.S. soldiers hit the ground in an attempt to counter the rise in insurgent activity. The wars ran concurrently until Dec. 18, 2011, when the last soldier left Iraq and crossed the border into Kuwait. Four thousand, four hundred and eighty-seven service members died in the war, and more than 30,000 suffered debilitating injuries.
There are currently 102,000 nato troops still in Afghanistan, 68,000 of whom are U.S. troops. The majority of the international forces are scheduled to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The exact date and number of troops has not been determined.
“[O]ur troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead,” President Obama assured the nation in June 2011. “Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.” This implies that there will still be U.S. forces in Afghanistan after the 2014 deadline. Both political parties in Congress gave President Obama a standing ovation when he reiterated this deadline in his State of the Union address in February.
It was not until 2006 that military suicides began rising. They then soared to a record 310 in 2009. Although the suicide rate leveled off for two years, it is now soaring again. Could it be that the stepped-up counterinsurgency military operations are a contributing factor to military suicide? We should not close our eyes to a clear correlation of facts.
Veterans are committing suicide at the alarming rate of one every 65 minutes. David Rudd, a military suicide researcher, says that Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress or substance abuse are killing themselves at an accelerating rate.
The history of war shows that fighting battles takes a heavy toll on all soldiers. Most soldiers return from war with mental and emotional scars that require a period of healing. The trench warfare of World War i was horrible. Storming the beaches of France at the end of World War ii was so bloody, sea waves turned red. The majority of soldiers that experienced these traumas returned home, let the scars heal, and lived productive lives. Why are so many soldiers having such difficulty now?
The self-destructive tragedy we see happening in our military is a fulfillment of a major end-time prophecy. Looking into our time, observing by vision the state of our national political leadership, our military leaders and our soldiers, the Prophet Isaiah wrote, “For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water, the mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, The captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator. And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them” (Isaiah 3:1-4).
America and Britain are the modern descendants of the ancient Israelites. God is directly intervening in American affairs and removing our strong leaders and our strong military—right before our eyes. Why? Because Americans are a rebellious and hypocritical nation. The further we get from God, the less power we have.
The sins that plague our nations also affect our fighting forces. As the 2-16 encountered more violent resistance, the strict discipline required of soldiers fell apart. “Rumors of rule-breaking were on the increase, too, and so a ‘health and welfare’ inspection was held that turned up all kinds of things that good soldiers weren’t allowed to have: packages of steroids manufactured in Iran … a ‘Vibrating Showgirl Slut’ inflatable sex doll, and a boxful of hardcore porn …” (Finkel, op. cit.). Good soldiers who win wars don’t succumb to trashy, immoral temptation (2 Timothy 2:3-4; article, page 6). It is well known that there are groups of soldiers who embrace Wicca as their religion. Embracing witchcraft is the ultimate rejection of God.
God warned our ancestors to be a fully obedient nation. If they rebelled and lived a life of sin, God said clearly that He would “break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass” (Leviticus 26:19). As a nation, we sin with impunity. We speak loftily about God, but ignore His glorious laws—the Ten Commandments. Therefore, God has broken our will to fight the enemies that eagerly desire to harm us. As a nation, we no longer have pride in our military power, and our soldiers are suffering.
Since God has broken our national will, only God can heal it. He plans to do just that! However, the excruciating lesson that widespread national rebellion brings severe punishment must be learned first.
Bible prophecy shows that as God weakens our nation, He is strengthening Assyria, or modern Germany, to rise up and wage war against us (Isaiah 10:5-6). For a short time, America, Britain and Judah (Israel) will experience God’s wrath at the hands of modern Germany, as no people before us.
Then, immediately after that, God promises, “I will turn their mourning into joy and will comfort them and make them rejoice from their sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13). God, the mightiest warrior of the entire universe, will deliver us from those He made stronger than us (verse 11).
Even though there is some very bad news just over the horizon, our future is very bright. Although we are destined to suffer national destruction, America and Britain will be restored to a national greatness never before experienced in our history. God speed that day. ▪