Fort Hood: When You Look Like The Enemy

Let’s be clear at the outset, there is no excuse or explanation that can justify what Nidal Malik Hasan did last week. It is a tragedy beyond comprehension. But consider this.

What does any soldier have to do in order to psyche himself up to kill another person he does not know? He has to demonize him. He has to make him the ultimate evil. Or perhaps, he has to convince himself that that person is worthless, less than human.

Soldiers, we often forget, are human beings, raised the same way we are– to cherish life and to respect others. Then they are trained to fight and kill. But this, in reality, when you are on the battlefield (and let’s not kid ourselves,our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are not on battlefields, they are in villages and towns) is not so easy. They have to reconcile what they are doing with their own humanity. And so they have to make the Muslims they are killing the ultimate bad guy. They do this so that they can do the jobs we ask of them–to kill.

Then they come home and have to sort this out in their brains. In order to help with this sorting process,they are sent to therapists. Now the therapist they are sent to may be Muslim. The soldiers may have seen this therapist wearing the familiar garb of their enemy out on the street on his way to and from worship. But he is in uniform now, a high ranking Major. And so the soldiers talk with him about their feelings– about the enemy and about themselves. They are conflicted and they spew out what they felt and convinced themselves to believe about who they killed and who tried to kill them. What the therapist has to encourage them to do is continue spewing. And so they do– racist and dehumanizing words and feelings, descriptions of horrific actions.

This is what the Muslim therapist has to take in everyday. The epidemic dis-ease of these soldiers is extremely taxing on all therapists–non-Muslims as well. But he has taken an oath to witness their unraveling and counsel them back. And when he expresses his inability to be in this untenable position, the Powers-that-Be don’t relieve him or help him cope. Instead, they deploy him.

This may not be how things happened. We, so far, have only been given a glimpse into what was going on in Hasan’s circumstances or his head. The armed forces have their hands full dealing with the overwhelming mental health crisis they find themselves in. Not too long ago an army commander felt compelled to “order” his troops not to commit suicide. Also reported was the high suicide rate among recruiters, who having done their time in Iraq, suffer severe depression and cannot cope with the pressure of convincing young kids to sign on. So we have been hearing whispers about the armed forces mental health crisis for some time.

What we don’t hear much about is what it must be like for our Muslim soldiers. What extreme racial and religious pressure must they be under as they serve? We people of color know our military’s history of racism. Though it reflects the greater society’s issues with race, the uniqueness of the military environment makes racial tension a very dangerous thing. How do you serve alongside people who think you are a lesser person– a “raghead” or “camel jockey”, the same names they use to describe the enemy? How supported and protected are you? How do you deal with being distrusted? How do you speak up in the midst of the military’s code of silence? The Fort Hood tragedy may prove to be the most powerful illustration of the poison of racism in military history. We’ll see.

Photo credit: How the Fort Hood Shooter Will Be Judged by Joshua Stanton

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Comments

  1. My heart and prayers go out to all the victims, the victims family and friends.

    From all the news reports it appears this Major is a career military man and that in his current position for less than a year and was not going well. He did not want to be deployed and in fact wanted out of the Army, so he paid back his military student loans and hired an attorney.

    The reason may have been that he was being harassed and called names like “camel jockey ”. I guess all that sensitivity training for those with bigotry tendencies are all for not. (Can training real change the way you were brought up?)

    Another reason is called PTSD by proxy, the stress of treating PTSD in other soldiers make you go a little crazy yourself. Its even more stressful because most of the higher ranks don’t even believe in such thing as PTSD. Their denial prompts them to tell suffering soldiers to “drink it off.” Some civilians in the defense dept feel the same way no doubt IMO, it’s why hardly anything is mentioned of PTSD until one of these violent episodes occurs. These people see PTSD as a cop-out or an excuse. First we need to have an understanding that PTSD actually is real before we can ever hope to help treat it (does anyone believe that being shot at or killing your fellow man is not going to affect you in some way either then or in the future?). I guess with the high soldier suicide rate before and after deployment kinda takes care of the complaints from coming in (so those who said he should have just killed himself, well that’s already happening ). What real ticked me off when I heard that the military was trying to say that some soldiers coming back from this war with PTSD or other psychological disorders had “Pre-Existing Conditions” and that the military would not pay to treat them, I think it has been corrected but what a bunch of asses they break you and don’t want to pay, amazing.

    The final issue is why does the military want to keep people in their ranks that no longer want to be there is it just sheer number? I mean is it ten percent, twenty percent. Is it that it is the only contract in the US that you can’t get out of unless to kill yourself or kill your fellow soldiers? It does not make any sense to me.

    I guess the Major could just be another wacko like Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nicholas, of course McVeigh was executed and apparently because Nicholas became a Christian he received a life sentenced. I real think if he gets that far the Major will get the former and not in a million years the latter.

    This is so messed up, hopefully they will make some changes that make sense.

  2. Gina Carroll says:

    Montana,
    Thank you for your comments. You touch on so many great points. To further your point about soldiers requesting discharge. Do you think they are now reconsidering that request from Hasan. Even if you argue that a soldier must see his commitment through no matter what, in light of all of the suicides, his circumstances and the symptoms he was evidently exhibiting, discharge would have been an easy solution. But if we are not acknowledging PTSD, what other atrocities are we denying? Beyond disturbing. They could have saved lives. I truly share your bafflement.

  3. Dear Gina,

    Thank you for this thoughtful article.

    I find it shameful that Americans can be so ignorant about race, religion AND people with PTSD. There is still a stigma about that diagnosis and unfortunately people will use the example of Hasan as a reason to justify their irrational hate and disbelief that PTSD is a very real and serious illness.

    Here are two articles that your readers may find interesting: Army Chief Concerned for Muslim Troops http://bit.ly/YrnyE and Complications Grow for Muslims Serving in the Military http://bit.ly/YrnyE http://bit.ly/TpxZh

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