3 IDF soldiers from the same unit kill themselves within weeks of the Gaza ceasefire

This is messed up

In the weeks after Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended ceasefire, three Israeli soldiers decided to end their lives with their own weapons. And what was especially striking about their suicides was that all served in the same unit, the Givati Brigade, which had a reputation for its ruthless ferocity, considerable bravery, and the use of Old Testament religiosity to justify the merciless operations of its commander, Colonel Ofer Winter.

So why did it happen?

A contributing factor, according to Staff Sergeant J., who served in the Givati Brigade in the middle of the last decade, and does not want to be named, is that secular Israelis are now avoiding the military or declining to continue after mandatory service. “Those who do continue feel a religious and political duty,” he says. This has been discussed as a concern by Israeli academics and analysts for years.

The staff sergeant said that when he was in the Givati Brigade in 2007 or so, it was “openly secular.” He recalls “there was a group who had come from the yeshiva,” but “often they were uncomfortable… they felt sidelined.” As secular Israelis left, however, the vacancies were filled by settlers, he said.

Could any of this, or some of this, or none of this have affected the decision of three Givati soldiers to take their own lives? The Daily Beast reached out to several post-traumatic stress disorder specialists for their analysis.

“It is strange that they hadn’t seen a mental-health counselor,” said Mooli Lahad, an Israeli psychiatrist and psychotrauma specialist with over three decades of experience. He was citing reports that the Givati soldiers hadn’t received treatment. “This isn’t common for the IDF,” he said.

Lahad stressed that suicide usually has to do with pre-existing issues, such as depression, and an accumulation of factors can lead to a sense of hopelessness, which counseling helps to prevent.

“Sometimes, if there is a particularly macho culture, seeking help for depression or PTSD is seen as showing weakness, which is discouraged,” Lahad said. “If there’s a commander who thinks God is whispering in his ear, this can make things even more difficult.”

The article also speaks of religious radicalization of the Israeli military due to the role of fundamentalist settlements. 

How Militarizing Police Can Increase Violence

Does more military gear make cops more likely to act violent?

Long before the killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, which have brought with them countless images of heavily armored local authorities pointing guns at and firing tear gas and other nonlethal weapons at unarmed protesters, some were disturbed by what Washington Post journalist Radley Balko calls “the rise of the warrior cop” — that is, the increasing tendency of some local police forces to rely on military-style gear and tactics, even in situations that appear devoid of any real threat to officers’ safety.

The story of how this happened and the oftentimes tragic results have been well-told by Balko, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others. In short, there’s been a flood of drug-war and post-9/11 money that has helped outfit police departments, even towns where a single murder is an incredibly rare event, with gear that could help repel seasoned paramilitaries.

What’s less clear is how this gear changes the psychological dynamics of policing and crowd control. Is it true, as many people are arguing online, that “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” — that is, that simply having military gear will make police more likely to act in an aggressive manner toward civilians? How does this change the relationship between police and civilians?

At the most specific level, these questions haven’t been studied empirically. But a great deal of social-psychological research, as well as important anecdotal evidence from law-enforcement specialists themselves, suggests that militarized policing can greatly inflame situations that might otherwise end peacefully.

The so-called “weapons effect” can partly explain what’s going on in Ferguson and elsewhere. The mere presence of weapons, in short, appears to prime more aggressive behavior. This has been shown in a variety of experiments in different lab and real-world settings.

“Theory underlying the weapons effect or similar kinds of phenomena would suggest that the more you fill the environment with stimuli that are associated with violence, the more likely violence is to occur,” said Bruce Bartholow, a University of Missouri social psychologist who has studied the weapons effect. Brad Bushman, a psychologist at Ohio State, agreed. “I would expect a bigger effect if you see military weapons than if you see normal weapons,” he said.

This isn’t just about a link between visual stimuli like guns and violence, however. It also has to do with the roles people adopt, with how they respond to the presence of others who may — or may not — mean them harm. To a certain extent, if you dress and treat people like soldiers facing a deadly enemy, they’ll act like it.

“This process isn’t necessarily good or bad, but depends on the extent to which the more militaristic role fits the situation,” said Craig Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State, in an email. “When it doesn’t fit well, it is likely to lead to more judgment and behavior errors.” Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who has studied how police departments outfit themselves, said the dynamic could be particularly dangerous in the context of nonviolent protests like Ferguson (there was rioting and looting earlier this week, but there have also been widespread reports of nonviolent protests being broken up by police aggression).

“Military equipment is used against an enemy,” said Haberfeld. “So if you give the same equipment to local police, by default you create an environment in which the public is perceived as an enemy.” On the other side of these confrontations, this could have a negative effect on protesters. “We live in a democratic country, and we believe that this is our right to go out and exercise the right to [free speech],” she said. “And when you go out there and exercise that right and suddenly you are faced with soldiers — even though these are not soldiers, but police officers looking like soldiers — then something is triggered, definitely.”

Bushman said that meeting nonviolent protests with a militarized response is “really a bad idea. I can’t believe they’re doing it.” “It’s just really bad for the officers because they feel more powerful, more invincible, more militaristic, ready to attack,” he said. “And also, I think it elicits a response from the observers that, hey, this is war, and people become defensive and they have a fight/flight response.” The adoption of masks themselves in a militarized setting, on the part of police or protesters, can also contribute to violence by triggering senses of anonymity and what psychologists call deindividuation. “There’s all kinds of evidence in social psychology that that will lead people to do things that they wouldn’t do if they could be identified,” said Bartholow.

All this militarization, said Bartholow, can be contrasted “against the old kind of beat-cop model where people in the neighborhood know the police officers’ name and he’s kind of everybody’s buddy in a sense.”

Why Hawks Win

Why are hawks so influential? The answer may lie deep in the human mind. People have dozens of decision-making biases, and almost all favor conflict rather than concession. A look at why the tough guys win more than they should.

Social and cognitive psychologists have identified a number of predictable errors (psychologists call them biases) in the ways that humans judge situations and evaluate risks. Biases have been documented both in the laboratory and in the real world, mostly in situations that have no connection to international politics. For example, people are prone to exaggerating their strengths: About 80 percent of us believe that our driving skills are better than average. In situations of potential conflict, the same optimistic bias makes politicians and generals receptive to advisors who offer highly favorable estimates of the outcomes of war. Such a predisposition, often shared by leaders on both sides of a conflict, is likely to produce a disaster. And this is not an isolated example.

In fact, when we constructed a list of the biases uncovered in 40 years of psychological research, we were startled by what we found: All the biases in our list favor hawks. These psychological impulses — only a few of which we discuss here — incline national leaders to exaggerate the evil intentions of adversaries, to misjudge how adversaries perceive them, to be overly sanguine when hostilities start, and overly reluctant to make necessary concessions in negotiations. In short, these biases have the effect of making wars more likely to begin and more difficult to end.

None of this means that hawks are always wrong. One need only recall the debates between British hawks and doves before World War II to remember that doves can easily find themselves on the wrong side of history. More generally, there are some strong arguments for deliberately instituting a hawkish bias. It is perfectly reasonable, for example, to demand far more than a 50-50 chance of being right before we accept the promises of a dangerous adversary. The biases that we have examined, however, operate over and beyond such rules of prudence and are not the product of thoughtful consideration. Our conclusion is not that hawkish advisors are necessarily wrong, only that they are likely to be more persuasive than they deserve to be.

Journal of a new Cobra Recruit

Hilarious

June 18, 1986

Boot camp’s still a lot of fun. And I’m learning a lot. Today we did more mental learning stuff than exercise. We received a lecture about our main enemy, the G.I. Joe team. Seems that Uncle Sam is so nervous about COBRA that he set up an elite team of soldiers just to try to fight us. I couldn’t be more proud. I had no idea I was signing on with a bunch that was this important. I guess the Joes have stopped us at pretty much everything we’ve ever tried to do. But believe me, is that going to change now that Steve Loring is a member of COBRA!

Sarge said all kinds of funny things about how dumb the G.I. Joe team is. Like, they just have one person who’s good at each thing they do. So they just have one guy who can fly a plane, and one guy who knows how to drive a tank, one guy who can fly a helicopter, one guy who can fight in the desert, and so on. They even have a whole aircraft carrier (for their one plane and one helicopter) with just a captain and one sailor to run it! Sarge was like, “What the heck kind of outfit is that?” and we were all just in stitches. Then this one recruit (I think it was Renfro, but I didn’t get a good look at his eyebrows) says, “But if they’re so dumb, how come they always beat us?”

Sarge made Renfro go out and run around the track and yell “COBRA!” for an hour.

June 20, 1986

Real boring day. I was all ready for some more physical training, but instead Sarge led us into a room full of phones and made us cold-call people and ask them if they wanted to switch their long distance to COBRA. During the break, Renfro asked Sarge when we became a long-distance provider. Sarge explained that we had to do something to make money if we were going to afford a private army with hundreds of tanks and planes and a Terrordome, not to mention all the expenses from the Serpentor genetic engineering project. Working the phones was demoralizing, and people were usually pretty mad when we called them, but it felt good to be doing my duty for COBRA. In between calls, I amused myself by thinking of cool one-liners I could say if I ever got the drop on one of those G.I. Joe bums.

June 21, 1986

Awful exciting day today. First we got to do our airborne training. They loaded us up into a plane, and we flew up and then jumped out. Our chutes had the big, scary COBRA symbol on them. It was awesome. But it was hard, because we were supposed to keep yelling “COBRA!” all the way down. It was tough to get enough breath to yell right at first. Sarge says it just takes practice.

After that we finally got to do weapons training. About time! They gave me a rifle and pointed at the target. I held the rifle up to my cheek and sighted down the barrel, just like I did when I went deer hunting with Grampa. Boy, did Sarge go apeshit over that! Got in my face and started yelling at me, asking how I expected to scare someone if I just stood there all quiet-like and shot so carefully. Sarge is a great teacher because he doesn’t just criticize. He showed the right way to shoot. What you do is you start shooting your gun wildly and run towards the target as fast as you can and, in your scariest voice, you yell “COBRA!” We worked on that all afternoon, and just before we broke for dinner, I actually hit the target! Sarge and everyone else were so happy for me that they were about to cry. Told me I’d just set the record for marksmanship in COBRA boot camp. I wanted to call Mom and tell her the good news, but she thinks I work for the phone company.

Of course later he becomes a hardened vet.

June 11, 1987

Another whirlwind day. I found out that Renfro, a buddy of mine from boot camp, is also stationed here at the ‘Drome. That made my day! We had breakfast and caught up—his jaw just about dropped through the table when I told him about the day we had the Joes on the run, only to be stymied by the sudden appearance of Sergeant Slaughter. (Who knew that a pro wrestler would be so devastating in combat? I hate the team he fights for, but that Sergeant Slaughter is a true warrior. He’s a gallant foe, worthy of my steel, and, across the gulf of war, I salute him.) Renfro’s assigned to one of the gun crews on the roof of the complex. He says it’s OK. He sees a lot of action, because Joe planes are always buzzing us and he’s ordered to take potshots at them. That’s fun, he says, but not very satisfying, because he’s almost positive that the Joes in the planes can’t hear him yelling “COBRA!”

After breakfast, I reported for my first duty shift as a guard in the War Room. Should be quite an education. Lieutenant Boyken says I have to stay sharp, because we get Joes invading the compound about once a week. Man, those guys burn me up. Someone really oughta do something about them.

June 19, 1987

Ugly day in the War Room. Today I saw an operation fall completely apart. The Commander and Destro had this great plan where they could infiltrate America by starting a chain of fast-food restaurants called Red Rocket. Unbeknownst to the public, the giant red rocket on the top of each franchise would actually be a real missile, and all the restaurant employees would be undercover COBRA troops. (Major Bludd was excited about the additional revenue the Red Rocket joints would provide; COBRA’s long-distance-phone arm is having an off year, and our operating budgets are way down.) Of course, those darned Joes somehow twigged to the plan, and the whole thing came crashing down. It was pretty disheartening to see the COBRA brass arguing about where the project went wrong. Destro was so upset he even broke protocol and called the Commander “fool” a couple of times. I could tell the Commander was hurt by this, but, being the great leader he is, he wisely understood that it was just Destro’s passion for the mission speaking.

June 24, 1987

Got one of my fondest wishes granted today when I was ordered to stand guard in a conference room where the COBRA brain trust was having a strategy meeting. Wow, what a gathering of the minds. The Commander, Destro, Major Bludd, the Baroness, and Dr. Mindbender, all throwing out ideas. It was fascinating, just watching the process. They talked for hours and hours, mostly about reviving the Serpentor project; the Commander and Destro were getting pretty hoarse by the end. There was a fridge full of sodas in there, but those two couldn’t drink through their masks. Poor guys. I can relate; same thing happens to me all the time with my uniform mask. Nobody said COBRA was easy.

Through the meeting, Dr. Mindbender kept glancing over at me … I think he was winking, but it was tough to tell because of his monocle.

June 28, 1987

We sure seem to have a lot of ninjas on the COBRA payroll.

July 4, 1987

DISASTER. I was back in the War Room today, standing guard during the afternoon shift. Major Bludd was using the giant telescreen to talk to the COBRA satellite crew when suddenly the wall exploded and a whole mess of Joes came running in.

We fought ‘em hard. I was squaring off with that silly sailor they keep on the team, the one who brings his parrot into battle with him. I pretty much had him on the ropes, because he insisted on fighting with a pirate pistol and a set of grappling hooks. That’s no match for a laser rifle and a good set of lungs to yell “COBRA!”

But then this huge guy in a Chicago Bears jersey runs in, swinging around a giant iron football. He’d knocked out a couple of the boys before I recognized him: William “the Refrigerator” Perry! I’m ashamed to say this, but I turned and ran. I remembered what the Fridge did to my Packers last September, and I’d be darned if that was going to happen to me. Everyone else must have been thinking the same thing, because we all retreated, and the Joes have possession of the ’Drome for a little while, at least. Dang it! Why, Fridge, why?

So now we’ve retreated back to COBRA Island, and everyone’s hard at work figuring out how we’re going to get even with those rotten Joes. I’ll leave the planning to the brain trust, but you’d better believe that, whatever they come up with, I’ll be right on the front line yelling “COBRA!”

Unaccountable

Because of its persistent inability to tally its accounts, the Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with a law that requires annual audits of all government departments. That means that the $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996, the first year it was supposed to be audited, has never been accounted for. That sum exceeds the value of China’s economic output last year.

Reuters journalist Scot J. Paltrow investigates how the US military’s bad accounting not only wastes taxpayers money, but helps ruin the life of ordinary soldiers and veterans.

Aiken, then 30 years old, was in his second month of physical and psychological reconstruction at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, after two tours of combat duty had left him shattered. His war-related afflictions included traumatic brain injury, severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), abnormal eye movements due to nerve damage, chronic pain, and a hip injury.

But the problem that loomed largest that holiday season was different. Aiken had no money. The Defense Department was withholding big chunks of his pay. It had started that October, when he received $2,337.56, instead of his normal monthly take-home pay of about $3,300. He quickly raised the issue with staff. It only got worse. For all of December, his pay came to $117.99.

All Aiken knew was that the Defense Department was taking back money it claimed he owed. Beyond that, “they couldn’t even tell me what the debts were from,” he says.

At the time, Aiken was living off base with his fiancee, Monica, and her toddler daughter, while sharing custody of his two children with his ex-wife. As their money dwindled, the couple began hitting church-run food pantries. Aiken took out an Army Emergency Relief Loan to cover expenses of their December move into a new apartment. At Christmas, Operation Santa Claus provided the family with presents – one for each child, per the charity’s rules.

Eventually, they began pawning their possessions – jewelry, games, an iPhone, and even the medic bag Aiken used when saving lives in Afghanistan. The couple was desperate from “just not knowing where food’s going to come from,” he says. “They just hit one button and they take your whole paycheck away. And then you have to fight to get the money back.”

Aiken’s injuries made that fight more difficult. He limped from office to office to press his case to an unyielding bureaucracy. With short-term and long-term memory loss, he struggled to keep appointments and remember key dates and events. His PTSD symptoms alienated some staff. “He would have an outburst … (and) they would treat him as if he was like a bad soldier,” says Monica. “They weren’t compassionate.”

They were also wrong. The money the military took back from Aiken resulted from accounting and other errors, and it should have been his to keep. Further, even after Aiken complained, the Defense Department didn’t return the bulk of the money to Aiken until after Reuters inquired about his case.

The Pentagon agency that identified the overpayments, clawed them back and resisted Aiken’s pleas for explanation and redress is the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, or DFAS (pronounced “DEE-fass”). This agency, with headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, has roughly 12,000 employees and, after cuts under the federal sequester, a $1.36 billion budget. It is responsible for accurately paying America’s 2.7 million active-duty and Reserve soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

It often fails at that task, a Reuters investigation finds.

A review of individuals’ military pay records, government reports and other documents, along with interviews with dozens of current and former soldiers and other military personnel, confirms Aiken’s case is hardly isolated. Pay errors in the military are widespread. And as Aiken and many other soldiers have found, once mistakes are detected, getting them corrected – or just explained – can test even the most persistent soldiers (see related story).

“Too often, a soldier who has a problem with his or her pay can wait days, weeks or even months to get things sorted out,” Democratic Senator Thomas Carper of Delaware, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote in an email. “This is simply unacceptable.”

It’s a pretty widespread problem

A review of multiple reports from oversight agencies in recent years shows that the Pentagon also has systematically ignored warnings about its accounting practices. “These types of adjustments, made without supporting documentation … can mask much larger problems in the original accounting data,” the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said in a December 2011 report.

Plugs also are symptomatic of one very large problem: the Pentagon’s chronic failure to keep track of its money – how much it has, how much it pays out and how much is wasted or stolen.

This is the second installment in a series in which Reuters delves into the Defense Department’s inability to account for itself. The first article examined how the Pentagon’s record-keeping dysfunction results in widespread pay errors that inflict financial hardship on soldiers and sap morale. This account is based on interviews with scores of current and former Defense Department officials, as well as Reuters analyses of Pentagon logistics practices, bookkeeping methods, court cases and reports by federal agencies.

As the use of plugs indicates, pay errors are only a small part of the sums that annually disappear into the vast bureaucracy that manages more than half of all annual government outlays approved by Congress. The Defense Department’s 2012 budget totaled $565.8 billion, more than the annual defense budgets of the 10 next largest military spenders combined, including Russia and China. How much of that money is spent as intended is impossible to determine.

In its investigation, Reuters has found that the Pentagon is largely incapable of keeping track of its vast stores of weapons, ammunition and other supplies; thus it continues to spend money on new supplies it doesn’t need and on storing others long out of date. It has amassed a backlog of more than half a trillion dollars in unaudited contracts with outside vendors; how much of that money paid for actual goods and services delivered isn’t known. And it repeatedly falls prey to fraud and theft that can go undiscovered for years, often eventually detected by external law enforcement agencies.

The consequences aren’t only financial; bad bookkeeping can affect the nation’s defense. In one example of many, the Army lost track of $5.8 billion of supplies between 2003 and 2011 as it shuffled equipment between reserve and regular units. Affected units “may experience equipment shortages that could hinder their ability to train soldiers and respond to emergencies,” the Pentagon inspector general said in a September 2012 report.

The American military has about 5,000 different accounting programs in use.  Most of them are incompatible.

In a May 2011 speech, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates described the Pentagon’s business operations as “an amalgam of fiefdoms without centralized mechanisms to allocate resources, track expenditures, and measure results. … My staff and I learned that it was nearly impossible to get accurate information and answers to questions such as ‘How much money did you spend’ and ‘How many people do you have?’ ”

It gets better

The practical impact of the Pentagon’s accounting dysfunction is evident at the Defense Logistics Agency, which buys, stores and ships much of the Defense Department’s supplies – everything from airplane parts to zippers for uniforms.

It has way too much stuff.

“We have about $14 billion of inventory for lots of reasons, and probably half of that is excess to what we need,” Navy Vice Admiral Mark Harnitchek, the director of the DLA, said at an August 7, 2013, meeting with aviation industry executives, as reported on the agency’s web site.

And the DLA keeps buying more of what it already has too much of. A document the Pentagon supplied to Congress shows that as of Sept. 30, 2012, the DLA and the military services had $733 million worth of supplies and equipment on order that was already stocked in excess amounts on warehouse shelves. That figure was up 21% from $609 million a year earlier. The Defense Department defines “excess inventory” as anything more than a three-year supply.

Consider the “vehicular control arm,” part of the front suspension on the military’s ubiquitous High Mobility Multipurpose Vehicles, or Humvees. As of November 2008, the DLA had 15,000 of the parts in stock, equal to a 14-year supply, according to an April 2013 Pentagon inspector general’s report.

And yet, from 2010 through 2012, the agency bought 7,437 more of them – at prices considerably higher than it paid for the thousands sitting on its shelves. The DLA was making the new purchases as demand plunged by nearly half with the winding down of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The inspector general’s report said the DLA’s buyers hadn’t checked current inventory when they signed a contract to acquire more. 

Mind boggling stuff.