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I know that certain soldiers (on secret missions) and spies have been issued them,

One of the objectives of the Dieppe Raid in August 1942 was to discover the importance and performance capability of a German radar station on the cliff-top to the east of the French town of Pourville. To achieve this, RAF Flight Sergeant Jack Nissenthall, a radar specialist, was attached to the South Saskatchewan Regiment. He was to attempt to enter the radar station and learn its secrets, accompanied by a small unit of 11 men of the Saskatchewans as bodyguards. Nissenthall volunteered for the mission fully aware that, due to the highly sensitive nature of his knowledge of Allied radar technology, his Saskatchewan bodyguard unit were under orders to kill him if necessary to prevent him being captured. He also carried a cyanide pill as a last resort.


but why not broaden its issuance to all front-line soldiers? In a dilemma of life or painful death, soldiers ought be able to choose to live or painlessly die.

A counterargument is possible misuse of suicide pills e.g. due to mental illness. Yet this counterargument doesn't convince; it hasn't stopped militaries from issuing suicide pills to current recipients. One would have to prove that current recipients are less likely to misuse them than the set of all front-line soldiers.

Suicide with a pill looks less painful than how soldiers (across aeons) have been mutilated before dying:

The other ten were Belgians from the Paracommando Brigade, and were tortured and hacked to death with machetes [1].

Major Bernard Ntuyahaga was convicted of the murders in 2007. In his book, Me Against My Brother, Scott Peterson describes the barbaric details of their murders:

Their Achilles tendons were cut so they couldn't run, and the Belgian soldiers were castrated and died choking on their genitalia.[3]

Lest we forget Ralph Anthony "Iggy" Ignatowski, KIA at 18 years old:

Other eyewitness reports further indicated that Ignatowski had been tortured in the cave by the Japanese for three days, during which time they also cut out his eyes, cut off his ears, smashed in his teeth and skull. He had several wounds to his stomach, which had been repeatedly stabbed with a bayonet. As a final insult, his genitalia had been severed and stuffed into his mouth.[3]

closed as off-topic by Denis de Bernardy, jwenting, Lars Bosteen, Bregalad, Steve Bird Apr 8 at 6:36

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    All front-line soldiers are issued with weapons capable of killing them, if they have surrendered to the enemy then they have already chosen to live, what makes you think a pill would be any different? – KillingTime Apr 8 at 5:16
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    This doesn't seem to be about history. It might be on topic in other Stack Exchanges, like one of the social science related SEs. It might also be reasonably well received on the Politics SE. – Denis de Bernardy Apr 8 at 5:17
  • @DenisdeBernardy Might be interesting to investigate the historical reasons why such pills were or were not made available to troops of specific categories. That'd fall at least in part under military history. – jwenting Apr 8 at 5:34
  • @KillingTime What about soldiers who expended their ammo, didn't have time to die by suicide, or attempted suicide unsuccessfully (like Hideki Tojo)? – Explorer Apr 15 at 6:07
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    If you are going to quote a source, please do so correctly. Don't just paraphrase to suit your arguments. – sempaiscuba Apr 16 at 0:35
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You make several dangerous assumptions here:

  1. That there's no difference between line soldiers over the ages or nations
  2. That suicide pills can be successfully distributed to and will be used or even desired by line soldiers
  3. That on capture those pills would not be confiscated along with the other belongings of those soldiers
  4. That there's no difference between line soldiers and special forces troops and intelligence officers, both historically and currently

First: modern armies are more often than not professional organisations made up (almost) entirely of volunteers. Historically they're mostly conscripts. This has a major effect on morale and mindset of the soldiers

Second: Derives from the first. My guess is distribution would lead to a marked increase in both suicides and murders, with murders being hard to distinguish from suicides because after all everyone has those toxins available to him so having someone die as a result of ingesting it isn't going to arouse suspicion of murder.

Third: when captured a soldier is usually stripped of his belongings and searched for contraband items regularly. Such pills would be among those items confiscated as they could be used to kill guards.

Fourth: intelligence officers and special operations troops are almost always trained better and differently from line soldiers. They also tend to have access to a lot more information that makes them a distinct security risk were they to fall into enemy hands.

And that's the real reason these people are sometimes issued with such means, it's to prevent them from being captured in the first place. They're to be used when capture seems inevitable, not afterwards.

And THAT is another reason why you don't want line soldiers from having access to them, it's give them an easy way out of an oncoming hard battle. Which could well lead to a slew of suicides on a retreating campaign, speeding defeat a lot more.

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