Murder, Madness and Vengeance
“Hey Joe… where you going with that gun in your hand?”
I wanted to avoid this unhappy topic, but the political tsunami under way cannot be ignored any longer. The shooting at Fort Hood reverberates through the imagination like a Clint Eastwood thriller with a bad ending. The media spin-doctors and television talking heads, op-ed columnists and conservative pundits blather and blame endlessly while generating millions of dollars in ad revenue for their patrons. How could this happen at an army base in the very heartland of the homeland? Liberals ask, would gun control have made a difference? [how ironic] The Right rhetorically demands: can American Muslims be loyal Americans? (No) Did political correctness in the Army allow this tragedy to occur? (Yes)
The most common view is that Major Hasan was a troubled misfit, a loner tortured by conflicting loyalties to the United States and Islam. A career psychiatrist whose entire education was paid for by the U.S. Army, Hasan was charged with tending to the deep psychiatric wounds of his comrades. His patients included soldiers who had been horribly disfigured by roadside bombs or who had shot themselves in the face and miraculously survived to tell about it. The theory is that Major Hasan, who had never been to the battlefield but was walking through a psychological minefield of irreconcilable differences between his State and his God, caught post-traumatic stress disorder vicariously and went mad himself.
But there are problems with these theories. As a psychiatrist in Afghanistan, Hasan would not have had to kill anybody, undermining the argument that he was conflicted about killing Muslims. Indeed, did Hasan even have a service weapon? If so, why did he go to a Killeen gun shop to buy the pistols he used to commit his dastardly crime?
The young Hasan volunteered for the army against his parent’s wishes. He could’ve stayed in Roanoke and minded his father’s store. Once in the army, he never applied to be a Conscientious Objector. He didn’t go AWOL. He could have shot himself in the foot and been dishonorably discharged after a jail sentence for damaging US government property (himself). He could’ve gotten drunk and had a “car accident.” He could have punched his commanding officer in the face or made advances on his wife. He could have been ignominiously relieved of his duties, jailed, and we would not know or care who he is today.
Instead, he went postal on his coworkers and neighbors in their own citadel, men and women of humble origin similar to himself who joined the armed forces partially because they did not find much opportunity in civilian life. The Fort Hood massacre was not the unplanned and uncontrolled outburst of a maniac with a bad temper. It was not a random occurrence in a vacuum. It occurred as President Obama makes the most difficult decision of his presidency and it will influence that decision whether he admits it or not. The massacre was a shock intended to decimate American resolve in Afghanistan, even if Hasan does not articulate this. A man does not study psychiatry for 20 years without gaining insights into the subconscious, even if he does not understand his own subconscious mind. We know that Hasan was deeply opposed to the war in Afghanistan.
Whatever psychiatrists and truth serums can glean from Hasan’s subconscious before his inevitable execution after five or six years on death row a la Timothy McVeigh, another soldier, the psychological damage to the Army’s psyche cannot be reversed soon. Dissension and doubt about Muslim soldiers has been sewn into the ranks. The misgivings, fanned by Fox “News”, heighten hysteria and division in the country at large. The idealistic notion that the United States is not in perpetual conflict with Arabs and Islam, argued brilliantly by President Obama in Cairo but belied by history, has been dealt a serious setback by Fort Hood. General McChrystal’s romantic notion that Muslims and the American occupiers of their countries will come to terms: “the key to success… is… strong personal relationships forged between security forces and local populations” has less credibility after Fort Hood.
Is it coincidence that as grief and rage mount at Fort Hood, compelling the Commander-in-Chief to go there, the Justice Department announces that the trial of alleged 9/11 mastermind Sheik Khalid Mohammed, in captivity for years, will be moved from Guantánamo to New York City and there is broad media fanfare?
Fragile ideals about the army and the country it serves have been wounded. Add them, along with the victims of the massacre at Fort Hood, to the roster of American casualties in Afghanistan, graveyard of empires.
Buenos Aires November 2009
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