The following item that appeared in the April 22, 2009 edition of Army Times was about as routine as can be when it comes to Army business. It read "Orders authorizing May promotions for the following active-component commissioned officers and warrant officers have been issued by Human Resources Command." The name buried among the dozens who got promotions was newly commissioned Major Nidal Malik Hasan. From the promotion, it seemed that Hasan was moving up the army food chain.
So the always tormenting question in the aftermath of a murder rampage is why did the alleged shooter snap? The question is even more tormenting when the alleged shooter is an officer and an educated professional who to all outward purposes seemed to have found a stable home in the army. The one answer so far is that Hasan didn't like American war involvement and was scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan.
The war opposition and the prospect of being dumped on a battleground thousands of miles away may well have triggered Hasan's alleged violent, deranged, whacked out moment of mass murder. His alleged mass murder spree is a deadly aberration. The stress that may have ignited it isn't. U.S. Army men and women are killing themselves at a skyrocketing rate.
At Ft. Hood, 75 service persons have killed themselves since the Iraq war began in 2003. This year, nine so far have killed themselves. In 2008, the military suicide numbers went through the roof. More soldiers killed themselves than at any time since the Pentagon began tracking suicide deaths nearly thirty years ago. The twenty-plus suicides of soldiers last January topped the number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan that month.
The single greatest factor in the mounting self-induced soldier body count is the wars, and the stress of either fighting them, the prospect of fighting them, and the miserable lack of support service personnel often receive before and after their tour of duty. The military brass has only belatedly recognized the problem of stress related violence as a deadly problem that can wreck the morale of fighting men and women and pose a deadly threat to other service personnel. The Army's answer is to shoot or pump the legions of on edge service personnel with pills, shots, scatter shot counseling and therapy, and piece meal officer training. The Army is in the midst of a five year study with the revealing label, Battlemind to identify factors that affect the mental and behavioral well being of soldiers. None of the Pentagon's efforts has stemmed the rising tide of soldiers murdering themselves. And now as Hasan has allegedly shown, an off the edge soldier murdering other American soldiers. The army's main concern as always is to keep the bodies moving as quickly as possible to bases, new assignments, deployments, and, of course, the battlefields. Hasan was one of those bodies.
The most frightening thing about his alleged rampage is that he was not an army enlistee in his late teens or early twenties. He was a trained medical officer, a specialist, and a career officer. He's now a frightening example of the army's miserable failure to get a handle on the nightmare stress related violence that has claimed so many of its own. Add to the lengthening list of casualties the dozen killed and thirty or more wounded at Ft. Hood.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January 2010.