Poor Spiritual Foundation May be Key to Military Suicides

An article at the Christian Post notes broken relationships are a strong trend in the list of contributing factors in those who commit suicide in the US military.  In addition, as has been noted here before, the concepts of moral injury and moral responsibility are significant in the US military — and young people today may not be equipped with the necessary moral foundation to deal with these issues.

A retired US Army chaplain said one of the contributing factors to suicide in today’s Army may be that men and women are entering the military with a substantially weaker spiritual foundation than prior generations — meaning they are often ill-equipped to handle the moral and life challenges they rapidly see in combat in today’s military: 

Friar Peter Sousa, a recently retired U.S. Army Reserves chaplain who has served military men and women part-time for 26 years [said] young people in the military, much like young people in civilian life, are less religious than generations before them, which might be a contributing factor to the way they handle certain issues.
“I am speaking from experiences in my perspective, but I do believe that the young people coming into the military today do not have the firm foundation in religious belief that previous generations had. More and more soldiers are saying they have no religious preference,” Sousa shared.
“It is very much a spiritual issue, and the Army is aware of this. They have contacted chaplaincies to help our soldiers. They can’t promote a specific religion, but they can promote what they call ‘spiritual fitness’ or ‘spiritual well being.'”

Sousa said these younger generations lack the maturity and coping skills that their age groups did in prior generations.  This condition may be exacerbated by the fact these young troops are almost immediately thrust into combat upon their enlistment and then repeatedly thereafter.

As Sousa noted, the trend mirrors American society.  The military has struggled for years to try to fill the moral gap in young troops, most recently initiating “resilience” and “spiritual fitness” programs.  It is exceedingly difficult to teach moral living based on situation ethics, but if you cannot teach right and wrong, you can’t teach morality.  The military finds itself in a position of handing an 18-year old a machine gun and telling him to do the right thing — they just can’t tell him what that is.

With active duty US military suicides outpacing combat deaths, suicide continues to be a hot topic in the military. It is also a very sensitive one.  It seems some military leaders are torn by their desire to discourage suicides while simultaneously caring for the families left behind.  US military training for units that experience a suicide includes direction not to make the troop’s suicide seem a commendable course of action, to prevent “glorifying” suicide.

An Army general recently called suicide a “selfish” act — a statement that is arguably correct — but he was forced to retract his statement due to the sensitivities of families left behind.

In a perfect world, the military would probably like to stigmatize suicide to discourage people from choosing that course — but it is a fine line to walk without stigmatizing prior troop suicides, and thus the families they left behind.