A statement from March Forward!
“I have now come to the conclusion that suicide is an absolutely selfish act,” wrote Major General Dana Pittard, who commands Fort Bliss, one of the nation's largest military bases—not in some off-handed gaffe, but in an official blog post. “I am personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess.” Pittard added that any soldier thinking of committing suicide should “be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us.”
The quote from the commanding general at Fort Bliss, a base with a high rate of soldier suicide, comes as a shock to some people. It shouldn’t. This is the view of the officer corps towards the enlisted. This is the view the U.S. government has of its own service members. Pittard wouldn’t feel emboldened to make such a comment if he did not know that it was the sentiments of his peers.
Echoing the historic phrase of Henry Kissinger, former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State: “Military men are dumb stupid animals to be used as pawns for U.S. foreign policy.” Pittard's remarks about soldiers being “selfish” and should “act like an adult” are the status quo for officers and their civilian counterparts. It’s their own reputation they care about, not the lives of thousands of service members and their families; not the lives of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, who they assure us we are there to “help.”
It’s interesting that Pittard is making such sweeping statements about “dealing with problems like the rest of us,” when he has absolutely no idea what it means to deal with the stress and trauma affecting so many enlisted troops. Pittard may have awarded himself a Combat Action Badge for deploying to Iraq, but we all know that high-ranking general officers only send us in to battle while they sit back and relax as the safest people in the entire country.
Pittard’s friends are not soldiers who have been killed, lost limbs, or committed suicide, but those who live a life of privilege in air-conditioned Pentagon offices, and millionaire defense industry lobbyists.
His comments merely reflect the officer corps views on enlisted. Our lives are nothing more than a number to them, and only matter insomuch as they affect their promotion paperwork.
Change comes from below
Military suicides are an epidemic. Ten years into the crisis, and this is what we get from those who are supposed to be responsible for us?
This is exactly why we cannot rely on the generals to do anything to care for our lives. The drastic change that we need will never come from asking them nicely. Asking generals to take the side of enlisted is like asking millionaire politicians to take the side of poor families, or asking corporate CEOs to take the side of warehouse workers. It’s utopian, and shows us that in order to get any of the changes we need we must collectively organize internally from within our own ranks—from the enlisted ranks, the rank and file.
The generals will only act in our interests when they fear a fighting movement of organized enlisted troops standing up and demanding that they do so.
This is no far-fetched idea, and has a rich history in the U.S. military. Organized enlisted troops have won historic battles, from WWI veterans forming the “Bonus Army” that fought the government to win GI benefits, to forcing the Pentagon to stop the Vietnam War, to organizing today that successfully had top officials fired from failed mental health departments on Fort Lewis. Real change will not come from being quiet, nor will it come from respectfully appealing the military brass. Our only hope is our collective power—without us following their orders, the generals are crippled.
The generals' orders are irrelevant—when they're ordering us to war and when we get home
Pittard is fed up with soldiers taking their own lives because it makes his promotion paperwork look bad? How about we’re fed up with being denied adequate treatment for PTSD, the culture of ridicule for troops seeking help, and being sent to fight an unpopular and immoral war—the politicians and generals are making the mess, not us.
If Pittard is so obviously incapable of issuing the correct orders to soldiers when they get home with PTSD, how can we assume that his orders for us to go to Afghanistan to get PTSD in the first place are correct? They aren’t. Like all of the military brass, Pittard cares nothing about our lives when we get home, and nothing about our lives when he’s sending us to war. The only logical conclusion is that his orders are irrelevant—if the officer corps is incapable of treating our lives like they matter, then we can exercise our right to refuse to follow them.
The many problems we face cannot be solved by the generals and politicians that created them. Our role is to address our fellow GIs, over the heads of the officers, and organize to fight for our own interests.
Click here to support the right of service members to organize in their own interests.