Thomas Sowell

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.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate