Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Junger’s new book ‘Tribe’ is giving the public exactly the wrong idea about PTSD

Sebastian Junger's book is doing tremendous damage to the public perception of veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide.

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By Matthew Hoh
Best Defense book reviewer

Sebastian Junger's book is doing tremendous damage to the public perception of veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide.


By Matthew Hoh
Best Defense book reviewer

Sebastian Junger’s book is doing tremendous damage to the public perception of veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide.

Junger has sat for many national and local television and radio interviews, and his book has been widely reviewed. It is currently a top best seller in many categories on Amazon and has been on the New York Times best seller list for three weeks now. This is a very popular book, that has received an enormous amount of media attention, and unfortunately, it is doing a great degree of harm by misinforming people about the nature, magnitude, and reality of PTSD for America’s veterans. It’s hard enough to get people to understand what the guys went through over there and what they are going through at home, let alone if people are misinformed.

Most horrifically, Junger claims that there is no relationship between suicide and combat. This ignores a trove of medical, academic, and journalistic evidence that clearly demonstrates that such a relationship exists. In 2011, as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, the University of Utah found:

“Researchers with the National Center for Veterans’ Studies at the University of Utah looked at survey results gathered in 2011 from 525 veterans…. Ninety-eight percent had been deployed in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan and 58 percent to 60 percent reported they had experienced combat… findings were startling: 46 percent of respondents indicated suicidal thinking at some point during their lifetime; 20 percent reported suicidal thoughts with a plan; 10.4 percent reported thinking of suicide very often; 7.7 percent reported a suicide attempt; and 3.8 percent reported a suicide attempt was either likely or very likely.”

Following up the next year, the Tribune reported: “For those in [a University of Utah] study who saw heavy combat, the findings are stark: 93 percent qualified for a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and nearly 70 percent had attempted suicide.”

A New York Times article last year documented the suffering of Marines from 2/7. That battalion has a suicide rate 14 times higher than their civilian peers. Over all, Iraq and Afghan veterans have a suicide rate three to four times that of their civilian peers, but when you look at those who have seen combat, that rate rises to 10 to 14 times.

Talk to any Marine or Army infantrymen who fought in Afghanistan or Iraq and he can probably rattle off the names of six, seven, eight, or more guys who have killed themselves since coming home. Junger saying every chance he gets that suicide and combat are not linked is incredibly dangerous. Misinformation like this will hurt veterans just as much as silence about the psychological effects of war hurt previous generations of veterans.

Matthew Hoh is a senior fellow with the Center for International Policy. He served with the Marines in Iraq (2006 to 2007), and with State Department teams in Iraq (2004 to 2005) and Afghanistan (2009).

Image credit: Amazon

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1

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