“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” ~ José Narosky
“Since Christ his new commandment gave to men, ‘Love One Another’, full two thousand years have passed away, yet Earth is red with blood…”
From The Edict of the Sex – Ella Wheeler Wilcox
On Thursday Nov 5, at the Fort Hood Army post in central Texas, a 39-year-old man killed 13 people and wounded 30 others. The killing spree took place inside a crowded medical processing center for soldiers returning from or about to be sent to Afghanistan or Iraq, and ended with the gunman being shot by law enforcement officials. He is still alive after being shot four times.
The shooter turned out to be Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who had been in the service since 1995. Hasan was about to be deployed to Afghanistan to help soldiers with combat stress, a task he’d done stateside with returning soldiers. According to reports, Hasan had tried to leave the Army, even hiring an attorney to try to come to a settlement with the government, but his attempts failed. He apparently resisted his deployment up to the day before he was due to leave. That resistance culminated in the deaths of 13 people and the wounding of 30 more.
As Air America Editor-in-Chief Beau Friedlander wrote,
“I can identify with the abject terror Hasan must have felt when he was apprised of the fact that he would be deployed to the place that wrecked so many of his patients. I remember when Desert Storm was brewing and we all thought we’d get conscripted and sent to Iraq back in 1991… Imagine how much worse it would be if your job was to listen to people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who had just returned from the place you were going?”
A fair amount of attention has been drawn to Hasan’s anger about the wars in the Middle East. Some are pointing to this (amongst other things) as evidence that Hasan was planning a terrorist attack. However, in his opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Hasan held a position that many Americans share. He’s not alone at Fort Hood, either. Since the Iraq invasion, ‘desertion rates have soared’.
According to Mark Ames, author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion:
“Fort Hood has had some high-profile objectors making the news this year, such as Spc. Victor Agosto, who was court-martialed in August after he refused to go to Afghanistan, and Sgt. Travis Bishop, who filed for conscientious objector status after serving in Iraq for 14 months… Today, if you read through some of the forums out of Fort Hood, the anti-war mood is clearly strong and clearly a problem for the authorities.”
Fort Hood holds the record for the most soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan – 685 so far. Over the same period, there have been 75 suicides amongst Fort Hood soldiers, 10 of which occurred in 2009 – the highest of any base. In 2005, in two separate incidents, two soldiers, having just returned from Iraq, killed themselves in one weekend. Last year, a 21-year-old Specialist from the 1st Cavalry Division shot and killed his lieutenant, then killed himself when police arrived.
Perhaps all this violence and bloodshed at home ought to make us seriously reflect on what it is we are asking our young people to do. Out of all the heartbreak left in the wake of this tragedy, an opportunity arises. It’s a chance to look more deeply at this horror of horrors; this vile practice that we call war, where men and women who can think and feel are asked to commit atrocities and risk not only their lives, but their chances of ever again finding peace within themselves.
The casualties of war are far greater than the statistics would lead us to believe. Surely, in 2009, it is time to acknowledge that we must find a more civilized way to deal with our disputes; one that does not involve killing one another. Until we do, our society will forever be plagued by the anguish that is the inevitable result of sending our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters and our fathers and mothers into the killing fields.
This nation is mourning the loss of the 13 individuals who did not survive the massacre, and the despair and distress of those who did survive, but whose lives will never be the same. These men and women were taken from people who loved them, and they had lives ahead of them that will never be lived. This country owes something to these people – not a debt of gratitude; not awe nor respect nor wonder at their courage that led them to make ‘the ultimate sacrifice’. No, this country owes those men and women the profoundest of apologies.
Above all, we owe to every person, who has ever died in any war, the willingness to finally be honest about this madness, and to acknowledge once and for all what it really is – the horrific remnants of a primitive time when we did not have the same understanding of right and wrong; when we did not know that violence and killing are immoral and unethical no matter what the reason.
War has no place in a civilized society. The time will come when we will look back on this practice as being nothing short of barbaric. We will look back on this time filled with shame for the things we used to do to one another and the things we asked one another to do, all in the name of Freedom, in the name of Democracy, in the name of Peace, and in the name of God.