But compassion does not negate the fact that suicide is usually a selfish act. An army colleague of General Pittard told CNN that one reason the general wrote his blog was that he had just attended the funeral of a man, one of his soldiers, who had killed himself at home on Christmas Day. Among the suicide's horrific effects on the soldier's wife and two young daughters was their permanent inability to ever again celebrate Christmas with anything but pain.
To deny the selfishness of most suicides -- to declare, as the aforementioned suicide prevention experts do -- that judging suicides is morally wrong means that every great religion has been morally wrong in declaring suicide a sin.
Yet, it is undeniable that countless religious individuals throughout history have refrained from committing suicide solely because their religion declared it a sin.
And if that is true, the general's remarks were probably likely to prevent some suicides. Everyone who has condemned the general should answer the question: Are his remarks more likely to increase or decrease military suicides?
On the second question, the general was quite right in making his thoughts public. Only if it can be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that these comments will lead to more suicides in the military -- in which case one would have to likewise demonstrate that by labeling suicide a sin, religions have also increased suicides among believers -- would the comments have to be regarded as so irresponsible that they should never have been made.
Which leads us to the third question -- and the primary concern for this column.
That the general was pressured into a public retraction of his position is another manifestation of a totalitarian mentality that pervades our era. Increasingly, no ideas that run against prevailing politically correct doctrines may be publicly expressed. We are no longer permitted to ask whether something said is true; only whether anyone is potentially offended by hearing it. And nothing is as taboo as harshly judging almost any action. Even worse, not only did the general harshly judge military suicides, he denied one of the gods of our times -- the god of compassion.
The American military is a revered institution. Its members rightly constitute the most universally admired group in American society. Every soldier who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) must be helped in every way. But helped is not the same thing as patronized. Nor is compassion.
If the general's comments lead to one less suicide, those comments embodied true compassion. Moreover, the first purpose of the military is to produce men who will be able to better fight and win wars against the least compassionate people on earth. And transforming generals into therapists will not accomplish that.