Now that Senator Barack Obama has become the Democrats’ nominee for President of the United States, to the cheers of the media at home and abroad, he has written a letter to the Secretary of Defense, in a tone as if he is already President, addressing one of his subordinates.
The letter ends: “I look forward to your swift response.”
With wars going on in both Iraq and Afghanistan, a Secretary of Defense might have some other things to look after, before making a “swift response” to a political candidate.
Because of the widely publicized statistic that suicide rates among American troops have gone up, Senator Obama says he wants the Secretary of Defense to tell him, swiftly: “What changes will you make to provide our soldiers in theater with real access to mental health care?”
“What training has the Pentagon provided our medical professionals in theater to recognize who might be at risk of committing suicide?”
“What assistance are you providing families here at home to recognize the risk factors for suicide, so that they may help our service members get the assistance they need?”
“What programs has the Pentagon implemented to help reduce the stigma attached to mental health concerns so that service members are more likely to seek appropriate care?”
All this sounds very plausible, as so many other things that Senator Obama says sound plausible. But, like so many of those other things, it will not stand up under scrutiny.
What has been widely publicized in the media is that suicides among American troops have gone up. What has not been widely publicized is that this higher suicide rate is still not as high as the suicide rate among demographically comparable civilians.
No one needs to be reminded that suicide is a serious matter, whether among soldiers or civilians. But the media have managed to create the impression that it is military service overseas which is the cause of suicides among American troops, when civilians of the same ages and other demographic characteristics are committing suicide at an even higher rate at home.
Moreover, this is not the first time that military service overseas has been portrayed in the media as the cause of problems that are worse in the civilian population at home.
The New York Times led the way in making homicides committed by returning military veterans a front page story, blaming this on “combat trauma and the stress of deployment.” Yet the New York Post showed that the homicide rate among returning veterans is a fraction of the homicide rate among demographically comparable civilians.
In other words, if military veterans are not completely immune to the problems found among civilians at home, then the veterans’ problems are to be blamed on military service– at least by the mainstream media.
Does Senator Obama know how the rate of suicides or homicides among military veterans compares to the rate of suicides or homicides among their civilian counterparts? Do the facts matter to him, as compared to an opportunity to score political points?
Perhaps even more important, do the media even care whether Senator Obama knows what he is talking about? Or is the symbolism of “the first black President” paramount, even if that means a President with cocky ignorance at a time of national danger?
The media have been crucial to Barack Obama’s whole candidacy. His only achievements of national significance in his entire career have been media achievements and rhetorical achievements.
Perhaps his greatest achievement has been running as a candidate with an image wholly incompatible with what he has actually been doing for decades. This man who is now supposedly going to “unite” us has for years worked hand in glove, and contributed both his own money and the taxpayers’ money, to people who have sought to divide us in the most crude demagogic ways.
With all his expressed concern about the war in Iraq, he has not set foot in Iraq for more than two years– including the very years when progress has been made against the terrorists there.
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