Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Martin Bell's Killer Facts on Postwar Suicides

Went to see Martin Bell give a lecture at the Imperial War Museum North last night. His lecture, Death of the News, was a bit of a rambling, self indulgent affair but, given Bell's qualities as a communicator, it was well worth listening to. Two facts from it I'll never forget, they were like a slap in the face. Speaking of the cost of war, Bell pointed out that while the Falklands war coast only 256 service-men's lives, since then 569 former soldiers have taken their own lives. Bell also cited suicide rates among US Vietnam veterans; while half a million died, he claimed, unless I heard him wrongly, that twice that number have committed suicide.

I have done a limited web search on the topic and while it's still clear there is an acute problem, I'm not sure I can believe the horrific figure I thought I heard. Bell pointed out that in a few years time psychologists predict a bitter harvest from the Iraq and Afghan wars. A sobering and grim point about war which so many overlook. I wonder if the close involvement of civilian and children's deaths in modern, post imperial wars warfare, is a connection with this appalling wastage rate of ruined young lives.

On a slightly less sombre note, though an equal slap in the face, was supplied by the two guys to my left in the audience. I only mention their absurdity as I have never encountered it anywhere else in the whole of my life. I went to the lecture along with a journalist colleague who wanted to write an online article on Bell's lecture. She found a piece of paper on her chair and used it to record some notes, True, her paper did emit a certain crackle but not to any excessive degree I would maintain.

Suddenly the guy to the left of my colleague snatched up her paper and dramatically threw it on the floor. When she tried to retrieve it, he placed his foot on it so she could not. When I remonstrated with him after the lecture they both claimed the rustling paper was so loud they 'could not hear the lecture!' Such a claim, absurd in itself as Bell was using a microphone, was deemed justification for what in law, I guess, amounted to an assault and theft. As a teacher I want every audience member to take notes- some undergraduates don't bother, so I was a bit outraged by this inexplicable act. I advised them both to take course in anger management but my companion was furious at the sheer hooligan behaviour of apparently respectable people.

The British Government is still concealing the real cost of the first Gulf war re Gulf War Syndrome. This illness has been acknowledged by the US government and veterans with this have been awarded substantial amounts of compensation. In fact it's called Gulf War Disease there (not a vague sounding syndrome). Ex servicemen here in the UK are still dying with this, and there are many cases of birth defects and cancers. Because of the way the MOD/government treats these 'heroes' they exist on poverty level disability payments, unlike their US counterparts.
Are you sure half a million died in the Vietnam war? I always thought it was 58,000. Or was the half a million for total combat veterans on both sides and from all armies?

As for the way your colleague was treated - unbelievable. I am staggered anyone would behave that way.

Hope you're having a great time in Hong Kong.
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