By now we all have heard and are in shock about the army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan who went on a rampage and shot and killed 13 people while injuring up to 25 or 30. This mass killing is heart-wrenching, disturbing and left many of us with a whole lot of questions. Was it an act of terrorism? That is being suggested on some of the news stations? Was it a mental health situation? Was it Post Traumatic Stress (PST)? Combat fatigue? Hopelessness? All this has come up. But how deep and honest are people willing to look into any of these questions?
It was just a year and a half ago (March 2008) on the 5th anniversary of the War in Iraq, 200 US military veterans and active duty soldiers came to the National Labor College in Silver Spring Maryland to give eye-witness accounts, riveting and disturbing testimony of what was going on in the trenches. Called Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, it was inspired by a similar event called Winter Soldiers where Vietnam vets talked about what was really going on in the battlefield back in 1971.
In both 1971 and in the three days of testimony in 2008, the mainstream media all but ignored what was going on. Seems like no one really wanted to discuss what these soldiers were talking about. Probably cause it would have called a lot of people to be accountable. Not just the politicians who voted for us to rush to war, but also the media which was complicit both in blindly going along and then not really reporting what was going on. If folks recall in 2008, we had what are called embedded reporters. They’re press people who are living alongside and riding with the soldiers. When they did their reports, their accounts were nothing like the accounts the Winter Soldiers gave. One has to wonder if these embedded reporters were really doing their job or just being a mouthpiece for the pentagon. Hence they attempted to downplay and ignore it. In 1971 there was an attempt to discredit the Winter Soldier testimonies, but time has shown that those soldiers were truthful and that there was political motivation at trying to shut them down..
Had you heard any of the 2008 testimonies and eye-witness accounts, the first thing that would have come to mind was that many folks who are on the battlefield and set to return to our communities are going to need some help to process all that they experienced. The Winter Soldier testimonies talked about the dehumanizing condition, things they did and witnessed. You have to be mentally disturbed if you weren’t moved or bothered by what was spoken. The Winter Soldier Testimonies said to me, that as a country the mental well-being of these returning young men and women had best be top priority. It became clear to me that there is a huge separation of those who are on the battlefield and in combat and those who like to talk shit about going to war and barking orders. You can check out Winter soldier stuff here: http://ivaw.org/wintersoldier. You can also hear some of the reports here on Democracy Now http://www.democracynow.org/shows/2008/3/17, http://www.democracynow.org/shows/2008/3/18, http://www.democracynow.org/shows/2008/3/19
It was just two months ago that the Texas Observer ran a story called Under the Hood that talked about the growing ranks of soldiers stationed in Fort Hood who are resisting the war effort. Many are ready to bounce out but were forced to stay. many are seeking solace. There was an accompanying mini documentary called Injured Hearts, Injured Minds that a friend of mine Mathew Gossage had shot. That story and report was ignored by many in the mainstream. We need to keep in mind that this is not the first shooting to take place at Fort Hood. NPR reported on its sordid past earlier today. I ran into Matt the last night and he remarked that there’s a strong possibility some of the people who he met when filming may have actually been counseled by Hasan. He explained that many were in support groups and that the gatherings they had were extremely important in helping them cope.
War is not a game. War is not a thing we should advocate for casually or advocate with all this bravado when we ourselves haven’t really been on the battlefield. It’s brutal. It’s ugly and it should be something no one should have to experience. Unfortunately our collective humanity is put aside for politics. Back in 2008, our presidential candidates in particular Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama didn’t address the Winter Soldier Testimonies. If they showed any difference, they would’ve been crucified in the media and called ‘weak’ by ‘arm chair generals’ and fake ass-Studio Soldiers. Hence we heard Obama around the time of the Winter Soldier testimonies talk about how he would order military strikes on Al-Queda if we heard they hiding in another country risking the slaughter of innocent people which was one of the compelling dehumaizing aspects many tesitified about.
I bring all this up, because folks should have some sort of context of what may be going on inside the minds of these soldiers. I also bring this up because mental illness is not limited to army vets. It’s disturbing when they snap because they have military training and they are here to protect us… Who protects us from them? Who protects us when a doctor who is supposed to be there for the mental well-being of his fellow soldiers snaps?
When I first got word of the Fort Hood massacre, my mind immediately went back to the onslaught of mass shootings that took place when over the past couple of years. Some of them were attributed to a downturning economy, others we suspect there was some sort of mental illness. We saw a family of 6 get slain by an out of work distraught husband in Santa Clara. We saw 13 people get slain in upstate New York. We had the Virginia Tech shootings where 32 people were killed. We had a mass shooting at the University of Dekalb where 55 were killed and 18 wounded. We had the mall shooting in Omaha, Nebraska where 8 people were randomly killed. We can also look at the recent discovery of 10 women raped in killed in Cleveland… The list is a long one. As I’m writing this we are getting word about a shooting rampage in an Orlando Florida office building. This is not even 24 hours after the Fort Hood incident.
What is troubling is that each of these incidents are often explained away in isolation. I see them all connected. As I’m writing this article, I’m hearing the news pundits attempting to spin this as Hasan being in conflict with religion. My fear is that his brutal act will not be seen as part of growing trend of mass shootings being a way in which some see as a way to resolve an issues. Instead, many will want to see him shooting up the army base as him being Muslim. Next we’ll have folks suggesting that if we screen for Muslims or get rid of them we’ll have no other mass shootings. That quick fix solution will come at the expense of us investing time, energy and resources into solving mental health issues.What will be overlooked are all the lesser reported events that point to PST and other mental illnesses. For example, are we asking ourselves, how many soldiers are committing acts of domestic violence? How many are on drugs? How many are alcoholics? Depressed? How many return from battlefield and wind up in jail? Do we remember that there was big scandal of women being sexually assaulted? We remember the Tailhook scandal from Desert Storm back in ’91 right? We’ve heard stories of rapes, even at Fort Hood there’s been allegations of rapes and cover ups . Are we looking at Hasan’s killing of 13 people with these other incidents in the backdrop? When folks are dehumanized we have to look at the mental well-being of both the victims and perpetrators
How ironic is it that these shootings at Fort Hood took place one day before the Senate and Congress vote on the Healthcare bill? How ironic is this that we are seeing people even in the wake of this shooting saying we don’t need that industry to be reformed. No one wants to talk about that we have mentally disturbed folks not only in the army but living amongst us who will and are cracking as stressing situations increase-high unemployment, tanking economy and pressure to man up and be a tough guy and fight versus walk away and be peaceful. Am I the only one who thinks that 20-25 high school students standing around watching while 5-10 boys rape a 15-year-old girl in Richmond, California for 2/1/2 hours is not a sign of mental instability? Am I the only one who sees the killings that routinely take place with increasing callousness in our respective communities as being a sign of mental instability? Hell, I’ll be honest, seeing the callousness of these greedy wall street bankers living high on the hog, giving out bonuses to the tune of 23 billion and whooping it up in the face of one our worse economic crises in history is a sign of mental instability..
I think too many of us fall back on the stereotype of mentally disturbed person as being one who is slow speaking and drooling on himself, versus someone is extremely unhappy, angry and callous toward the suffering of others.
There are no easy answers for yesterday’s tragedy. What we saw wasn’t isolated. It was indicative of a society that seems to be becoming more and more sick. It’s not limited to thugs and gangsters in the hood or conniving suit wearing types on Wall Street. It’s all of us who have in some shape or form no longer in touch with our humanity. It’s sick when we sit afar and tell people they are somehow weak for walking away from confrontation and demanding peace. It’s sick when we say such things when we say it in the hood. It’s sick when we have Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reily type pundits say it on TV. It’s sick when we have politicians like Dick Cheney or George Bush say it. It’s sick if our current President Barack Obama goes for war when people are calling for peace all in the name of political practicality.
The massacre at Fort Hood should serve as a wake up call. It should be a reminder that if we aren’t out there striving to uplift and bring equality and respect for all, the next victim of a mass shooting may be you or me. It’s a wake up call that says to me that we better be working to correct the wrongs that exist around us. They won’t correct themselves. They’ll explode in our face like they did yesterday. My condolences to the family of those slain and those injured and witness the carnage. What occurred yesterday reaffirms my belief that War is Not the Answer..
Something to Think About