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