Profit and Suicide: The Hidden Dimensions of War

The assertions made at a Wrath-Laying ceremony I recently attended at San Diego State University (SDSU) stood in contrast to some of the general facts about the United States involvement in wars around the world and the increasing militarization of civil society itself. Anthropologists have pointed out the recent militarization of U.S. American society is not only mirrored in ever higher resource allocation for military purposes but also the normalization of war through discourses that legitimate military actions in popular culture such as movies or video games. From this perspective, people are made believe that life is a state of permanent warfare and that therefore society must be subordinated to the military rather than the military to the needs of a democratic social order.

In 2010, the U.S. Federal government was spending as much on the Defence Department as for Medicare and Medicaid together. In deed, the United States accounts for the by far largest share of the worlds total military spending (40,1%), distantly followed by China (8,2%) which occupies the second rank. While the success of bringing peace and democracy to the Arab world and to make America safer through the War on Terror is questionable at best, private buisnesses have undoubtly benefited. As the anthropologists Gutmann & Lutz pointed out some years ago an estimated three trillion dollars already went into the cofferes of corporate war profiteers. In this respect it was telling that at the Wrath-Laying Ceremony, the chairs were covered with flyers promoting a panel of San Diego’s military industry organized by the alumni association. The city ought to remain “competitive” in the global market of military technology for which peace equals decline.

Although a growing number of veterans is speaking out about the post-traumatic stress they experienced as a result of the dark side of war, including torture and the massacre of civilians, it was not astonishing that there were no critical voices at wreath-laying ceremony. Emotions remained invisible behind the faces of the servicemen and women. To work through existential insecurity of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) would, in deed, be synonymous with breaking the norms of stoic endurance so common militarized masculinity. The names of those who committed suicide in the wake of their deployment will most probably never feature on the memorial at SDSU.

I recently read in the newspaper that 2012, the number of suicides has dramatically eclipesed the number of troops dying in battle and currently accounts for nearly one death per day. Many of those who risked their lives for dubious reasons have become marginalized and mentally ill after deployment. What I learned from the ceremony is that these men and women need acknowledgement and recognition for the ’sacrifices’ they made. It makes it more painful for veterans to see that in Iraq alone an estimated 110.000 – 120.000 innocent civilians have lost their lives since the U.S. invaded the country. What counts for me is that they or their family members are likely to have committed themselves to a common ‘good’ that transcends individual interests. I want to acknowledge honorable intentions of some veterans, perhaps a commitment to create a better world that we might share in very different terms. Finally, I would like to give a voice to veterans who are silenced in events like the one I attended.

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