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Hazing, suicide and military minorities

If you missed it, check out The New York Times’ Sunday story on Pvt. Danny Chen, a 19-year-old Asian-American soldier who was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head inside a guard tower at his U.S. base in Afghanistan.

The Army is investigating his death to determine whether Chen committed suicide or whether foul play was involved. So far, they’ve shared few details with Chen’s parents, Chinese immigrants who speak no English, but they divulged that Chen was physically abused by his superiors, who also subjected him to a steady diet of ethnic slurs.

The Times’ story also points to the suicide of Asian-American Marine Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, who also was allegedly hazed. Some of his fellow Marines now face court-martial.

Stars and Stripes reporter Megan McCloskey earlier this year told the story of Spc. Brushaun Anderson, one of the few black soldiers in his unit, who shot himself inside a portable toilet, another apparent victim of hazing by fellow soldiers and superiors. In Anderson’s case, the leaders who were investigated for his maltreatment escaped without serious repercussion.

Suicides among active-duty troops and veterans, broken by years at war, have befuddled military leadership in recent years. The services have introduced a number of initiatives aimed at helping troops diagnose and respond to suicidal behavior in themselves and others.

But suicides brought on by the cruelty of peers? Specifically, hazing targeted at minority troops? If these and other reports are confirmed, the military will have plenty of answering to do.

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