Friday, July 23, 2004

Suicides, Military and Economic

An increase in suicides among US soldiers has been widely reported in the US media: e.g.,
There were at least 24 suicides among U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait last year, according to the Army's count. That number may increase because the circumstances of some other deaths are still in doubt.

That equates to a suicide rate of 17.3 per 100,000 soldiers, compared with a rate of 12.8 for the entire Army in 2003 and an average rate of 11.9 for the Army during the 1995-2002 period, according to officials familiar with the mental health study. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

The 24 suicides do not include soldiers who killed themselves after returning to the United States. (The Associated Press, "Soldier Suicide Rate In Iraq Jumps,", March 26, 2004)
An article in The New Yorker includes a poignant anecdote that brings impersonal statistics home: "'I haven’t killed anybody here and I hope I never have to kill anybody,' one soldier, a father of two, wrote to his mother from Baghdad before killing himself" (Dan Baum, "The Price of Valor," July 12, 2004, posted online on July 5, 2004).

Apparently, Israeli soldiers suffer from the same trauma, though the fact has received no attention in the US corporate media:
Citing statistics from the Israeli army’s rehabilitation division, the Hebrew daily Maariv said last week that for the first time, suicide has become the leading cause of death in the Israeli armed forces.

A total of 43 soldiers killed themselves last year, compared to 30 soldiers killed in incidents related to the Palestinian uprising. Maariv said this was a 30 percent increase over the 2002 figure of 31 suicides. Additionally last year, 32 Israeli soldiers died of illnesses or accidents.

While the Israeli Defense Ministry says there is no correlation, it is generally believed that many of the suicides are related to soldiers’ traumatic experiences in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. ("Israel: Suicide Top Killer of Soldiers," People's Weekly World, July 22, 2004)
In the rates of suicides as well as in many other respects, however, quiet desperation bred by a one-sided class war can be even more hazardous to people's health than literal warfare:
  • The number of suicides in Japan rose seven percent to a record of almost 35,000 last year, as a growing number of people took their own lives because of financial troubles, the National Police Agency says.

    Health problems were the most common motivation, accounting for almost 45 percent of the 34,427 suicides in 2003.

    But those committing suicide to escape debt or other economic woes totalled more than a quarter of the cases, according to an agency report carried by Japanese media on Friday. . . .

    The upsurge takes Japan's suicide ratio to 27 per 100,000 -- one of the highest in the world.

    In one disturbing development, suicides among primary and middle school pupils soared almost 60 percent to 93 while cases among high school students jumped almost 30 percent to 225.

    "Children are very easily influenced by their surroundings," Saito said. "If adult suicides rise, child suicides will also increase." . . .

    Sharp rises were also seen among adults who had failed to find jobs. More than 70 percent of suicide victims were male.

    People in their sixties or over emerged as the most suicide-prone group with 33.5 percent of cases, followed by those in their fifties. (Natasha Brereton/Reuters, "Japan Suicides Hit Record on Cash Worries," July 23, 2004)

  • According to statistics provided by the Cotton Growers Association of Maharashtra, 330 farmers in the cotton and soya bean-growing region of Vidarbha committed suicide in the last three years.

    Its general secretary, Prakash Pohare, who has documented each of these suicide cases, insists all of them were heavily in debt and were being harassed by banks and village money lenders to pay their dues back. . . .

    The region abuts Andhra Pradesh, where more than 3,000 farmers have taken their lives in the last few years because of crippling debt.

    Maharashtra's farmers suffer the same problems as Andhra Pradesh, which is drought, debt and official apathy, the activists say. (Zubair Ahmed, "Drought Fuels India Farmer Fears," BBC, July 22, 2004)

  • Their crops ravaged by a drought that hit the state early this year, at least 40 bankrupt farmers in Kerala have committed suicide, according to official figures.

    Though suicides by bankrupt farmers in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh are common with over 3,000 farmers there taking their lives in recent years, the phenomenon is relatively new in Kerala.

    Farmer A. Ananathan, 60, committed suicide Thursday in the hilly district of Wayanad in north Kerala. Government figures show 40 suicides by farmers have been recorded since the drought hit the state, devastating cash crops.

    But unofficial reports say 80 farmers have committed suicide in Wayanad district alone in the last 10 months.

    To invite attention to the plight of farmers, a novel protest was staged at Kalpetta, the district headquarters of Wayanad Thursday, with thousands of people joining a "March of the Dead" -- a symbolic act to remember the farmers who committed suicide. (Thiruvananthapuram/Indo-Asian News Service, "Suicides by Farmers Continue in Kerala,", July 23, 2004)

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