Velazquez Off Target
Opinion Piece by Dan O’Connor
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez from Manhattan has recently proposed a well meaning, but naïve and narrow, remedy to hazing in the military. She is reacting to the death of Chinatown resident Army Private Danny Chen, who committed suicide after allegedly being hazed by fellow soldiers while serving in Afghanistan. This hazing death–and hazing itself–is reprehensible, but Velazquez is focusing on the symptom rather than the problem.
Chen’s death, and the deaths of other recent hazing victims, have one thing in common—they all took the lives of American soldiers in stressful and unnecessary overseas deployments. Like Chen, Marine Lance Corporal Harry Lew from California killed himself in Afghanistan after being an alleged victim of hazing. In Okinawa, Japan, Marine Private Hamson R. Daniels set himself on fire after allegedly being hazed.
Yet Velazquez, in thinking that a bureaucratic fix can be had to the problem, would further burden a military at war with a strait jacket of new rules that fail to address the main underlying problem causing the hazing. Velazquez has proposed a law requiring the military to proactively implement an anti-hazing policy, increase diversity training, and facilitate military personnel transferring out of their units. The proposed law also would augment the process for reporting hazing incidents and would collect more data on such occurrences. The underlying problem contributing greatly to both the hazing and resulting suicides, however, is repeated overseas military deployments that are stressful to the force.
It is no coincidence that two of recent hazing incidents have occurred in Afghanistan, a zone of endless war with a ruthless enemy that employs guerrilla ambushes against American forces. Guerrilla war is especially unnerving and stressful on soldiers and Marines because the enemy doesn’t wear uniforms, blends into the civilian population, and from there can launch surprise ambushes. The dysfunctional Afghan war is no excuse for the hazing of fellow Americans, but the stress of combat is a major factor in explaining why it occurs. Similarly, because of past incidents involving misbehavior of a few American soldiers, the populace of Okinawa is hostile to the continued presence of U.S. forces there. The resulting stress induced on the forces there likely contributed to the hazing and resulting suicide of Private Daniels.
Hazing and concomitant suicides are not the only ill effects of repeated separations from families to rotate into faraway, hostile environments to carry out unnecessary U.S. military deployments abroad. Post-traumatic stress disorder, suicides unrelated to hazing, murders, spousal abuse, and other violence have followed from overseas deployments in antagonistic settings. And all these horrible outcomes are in addition to the possibility of death and dismemberment that soldiers and Marines on many of these missions regularly face.
Hazing is unacceptable and unconscionable, especially when inflicted on those who have valiantly risked their lives for their country, but Congresswoman Velazquez is focused on the trees while conveniently avoiding the forest–her government’s policy of military interventionism overseas. The nation’s founders, who advocated a policy of military restraint abroad, would frown this non-traditional foreign policy, which has been in effect only since World War II. At the more human level, bring the troops home from such unneeded, counterproductive, and stress-inducing deployments and watch the maladies of soldiers and Marines evaporate. This solution would save lives, suffering, and money.