When I first heard the news of a mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas last week I was shocked but not surprised. I reckoned it was only a matter of time before someone who had been deployed numerous times to Iraq or Afghanistan would have snapped from the strain of his or her experiences on the front, seeing things...and possibly doing things....that the civilian population cannot even begin to fathom. For years I have been asking just how long can we expect the same people to fight the same battles in the same wars again, and again, and again without some damaged soul taking it out on either his comrades or We The People, the ones who ultimately sanctioned their deployment because our elected representatives voted to send them there; first to Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 eight years ago, and then to Iraq, seven years ago this spring.
My jaw literally dropped to the floor when I heard that it was not an enlisted man, but Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a Virginia born son of Palestinian immigrants- and a Muslim- who was the suspected shooter, a man who fired 100 rounds into a Fort Hood processing center, killing 13 and wounding 38 others. When the news leaked out that Hasan was a doctor....and later revealed to be a psychiatrist... I was dumbfounded, for lack of a better word.
As I type this the latest news is that Major Hasan, wounded before his arrest, has been taken off a ventilator, and his lawyer is requesting that investigators not question his client- it appears that the attorney, retired Colonel John P. Galligan, has yet to meet with Hasan and probably wants to do so before any investigator talks to him. We have heard second and third hand reports of possible reasons and motives for Hasan's action. But we will probably never get a full account of "why" until he goes to trial.
This whole incident is tragic on so many levels. We have 13 dead, and 13 grieving families. There are 15 victims still hospitalized (at this writing), eight of whom are intensive care. The families of the wounded must feel a sense of relief that their loved one is still alive, but feel the pain and suffering of that son/daughter, husband/wife, father/mother now being patched up physically and emotionally. And there is the trauma of the witnesses who were in the safety of their home post- you don't expect anything like this on post. You can't imagine a man with a major's oak leaves on his collar to come in and blasting any and all for no apparent reason.
In the interim we have heard that Hasan was opposed to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, that he may have been in contact with a radical ant-American Muslim cleric from Yemen, Anwar-ak-Awlaki, and that Hasan did not want to face deployment in the Middle East. We do know that this psychiatrist listened to the stories from war veterans at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC, and at Fort Hood. Whether his daily sessions of listening to young men and women describe the horror of war in vivid detail was a contributing factor to his rampage has yet to be verified- but something tells me that any sane person listening to stories of death and mutilation everyday for years will tend to become destabilized, to say the least.
It appears that the FBI did investigate the possibility of Hasan's direct contact with Awlaki via email but decided that, given the content of those communications, no further action was required.
But what I find most disturbing is the picture of an Army psychiatrist who was increasingly at odds with the mission of the Army- and why was he not allowed to resign his commission and return to civilian practice? Surely he must have contacted his superior in the chain of command and discussed the possibility of leaving the military. He had performance evaluations, everyone in military service does- was the option of his resigning his commission or seeking discharge even discussed in those meetings?
We do know that the strain the wars are having on the enlisted population of the armed forces is hitting a critical point- last year there were 128 suicides by army personnel, and 41 by marines, the most since 1980 . The suicide rate in the army has doubled since 2002, from 9.8 per 100,000 to 20.2 per 100,000 in 2008. But what is going on in the officer corps?
West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs continue to turn out officers for our armed services, as do smaller academies like The Citadel and Virginia Military Institute. But what about officers in the medical corps, or in JAG....why join the military and settle for a captain's or major's pay when they can be making six figures in the "outside"?
Maybe this is a hole in the all volunteer armed forces theory. Professional service providers, like doctors, dentists, and attorneys have no reason to join the military for what is usually lower pay and a regimented life style. When there was a military draft these same people had to serve; in many occasions there were some of the best and the brightest young doctors and lawyers available serving in the military during the World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam, because they were compelled to do so.
Was Major Hasan retained simply because the Army needed psychiatrists, and he was there, and they were not going to allow him to leave, no matter what? Have we reached a critical mass in retaining the best available medical people in our armed forces? And if so, where do we go from here? These are questions that need to be asked.
Hasan's family has said that religion was an issue .
The following is from a CNN report in which Hasan's cousin, Mohammad Munif Abdallah Hasan, said that Major Hasan wanted to leave the army because he felt his Muslim faith was being disrespected.
"There was racism towards him because he's a Muslim, because he's an Arab, because he prays," the cousin said in a CNN interview in the Palestinian city of Ramallah. "They used to see him dress in traditional Muslim clothing, so he was a bit irritated because of this. Also, the fact that they wanted to send him to Iraq. He decided to leave the Army for good and hire a lawyer because of this matter."
"They wouldn't treat him as if he is one of them. He was a major in the Army and other majors wouldn't treat him equally as a major should be treated," the cousin said. " 'Yes, you are a major in the U.S. Army, but you are still an Arab, a Muslim, you have your own traditions and values and we have ours.' He was bothered by that a lot. He wasn't respected as he should have been."
The same report also says that Hasan was to deploy in Afghanistan in the near future.
The case of Major Nidal Malik Hasan is like opening a Pandora's box of contradictions and mystery. In time the truth will be revealed- but it doesn't seem that the answers to so many questions will be available soon.
Sources- the following were referenced in composing this article-
Mike Baker of the Associated press and Comcast.net
David Johnston and Scott Shane- New York Times.com
Ewen MacAskill- The Guardian