'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Horror 

On Thursday, after eight years in Afghanistan, and six years in Iraq, the US military was attacked in this country by one of its own troops. The war on terror jumped halfway round the world, with a new front opened in Fort Hood, Texas. Neoconservatives justified the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq with the slogan, we are fighting them over there, so that we don't have to fight them over here, but, instead, we have discovered that, by fighting them over there, we are now fighting ourselves over here. The toxicity of the enterprise, a combustible mixture of racism, religious intolerance, sexual depravity and violence, cannot be contained.

It is hard to overstate the significance of Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan's killing of 13 people and wounding of 30 others at Fort Hood. Twelve of the dead were US soldiers. The US military is the best known instrument by which this country imposes its will upon much of the rest of the world. Many Americans have a sense of security, albeit a false one, because of their belief in the invincibility of this force. Like the bumper sticker says: These Colors Don't Run. But, on Thursday, the US military was fractured in the most horrific way possible when Hasan opened fire on his fellow soldiers.

There will be attempts to diminish what happened by characterizing Hasan as a crazed, lone gunman, an aberration. And, to a large extent, from what we know so far, that's true. Such a characterization, though, will be insufficient to overcome the crisis of confidence that will inevitably result from his attack. First, the US military isn't supposed to have a lone, crazed gunman, or, if it does, officers are supposed to make sure that they only direct their fire towards the enemy. Second, the effectiveness of the US military, and the unwillingness of the public to object to its actions abroad, can be partially explained by its existence as a multicultural institution, especially when contrasted with its enemies, always cast in fundamentalist hues, whether true or not. The presence of people from different racial, religious and culture backgrounds within an institution shaped by a white, often fundamentalist, leadership, has always been an uneasy marriage, and, the strains are going to become even more severe.

On a more practical level, I have encountered accounts where soldiers have explained their decision to re-enlist because of the bond that they formed with their fellow soldiers while in combat. They dismissed any concerns about why they had been sent and whether they were helping the populace. Instead, they expressed a need to display loyalty to the troops they had fought with during their deployment. In effect, their units became a sort of substitute family. But, the family members are now firing upon each other. As we revisit these occupations from the standpoint on the extreme stress that they have generated among people sent over to police them again and again, some proponents will resume their advocacy of a draft. Good thing we have such a steadfast leader in the White House to make sure that doesn't happen.

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