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November 5, 2009

Killing Ourselves

Pech Valley training.jpg

While waiting for a clearer picture from Fort Hood, I was struck by this photo from yesterday’s newswire. It offers American troops baldly showing the Afghans how things are done. (The hands far right, probably a trainer’s hands, still are particularly suggestive.)

If Nidal Hasan lost his mind (as opposed to “crossing over to the enemy”), this photo offers some context for it. One scenario for what happened to Hasan is that an extreme and escalating identity disorder, catalyzed by the racial harassment he encountered (am I “one of us” or “one of them”?), ignited a catastrophic breakdown tripped by his impending deployment and terror of going to war.

If something constructive is to come out of the catastrophe (besides withdrawal) it should be a broader and more heighten awareness, and far more aggressive treatment and prevention strategy aimed at the horrific mental toll these endless wars are taking a — Ft. Hood, in particular, being a no stranger at all to emotional disturbance.

(6:33 am PST: revised title)

(photo: David Guttenfelder/AP. caption: Afghan National policemen look on as Cpl. Joseph Dement, right, and 1st Lt. Antonio Salinas teach a police training course at an outpost in the Pech Valley of Afghanistan’s Kunar province. The U.S. soldiers, both from 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division were demonstrating how to disarm an aggressor from a position of weakness.)

  • Nemo

    The meme will be – he is Muslim, he was sympathetic to the Taliban/Al Qaeda, they are here after us, he had gone over to the other side.
    What led him to do what he did, I doubt will be a topic of discussion.

  • clawedlevi

    ‘Officially Speaking: on Condits of
    (anonymitus…).’

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p00e5523476cc8834 DennisQ

    Soldiers end up taking responsibility for the wars they fight because nobody else will accept it. Everybody but the people who actually fight the war has the luxury of putting it either out of mind completely, or by sanitizing the horrors of war. Soldiers can’t do that. Unlike civilians, soldiers do see war up close. They know exactly what their involvement is, and they can’t simply shrug off when they get home – although they are expected to.
    These guys end up trying to fit in with people who deny the terrible experiences these soldiers have been through. Young veterans are psychologically pulled apart – the pain can be intense. Contemporary warfare is like a family secret that isn’t ever spoken about. Soldiers are scapegoated for the dysfunction of the entire society. The suicide rate among veterans is astronomical, beyond what can be attributed to PTSD. We need to take ownership of the wars we send these young people to fight. Blaming them for our ambiguous, unending wars is an unfair burden on them.
    But watch! The very people who agitated for war in Iraq and Afghanistan are going to put the entire blame for Nidal Hasan’s breakdown on him and on his Moslem faith. Nobody else has any responsibility at all.

  • Terrible

    At the least this should spur a Congressional investigation into why Ft. Hood has such an alarmingly high rate of suicides. Is there possibly a culture of political and/or religious intimidation that’s being allowed or encouraged by the command structure there?

  • g

    Terrible, I don’t know, and perhaps there’s something that should be looked into – but Ft. Hood is the largest army base in the world. just the fact that it’s a HUGE number of people who are there at any given time probably has more to do with it than anything else.

  • nordmend

    i agree, that hopefully the incident will result in more awareness of, treatment of, and reintegration of messed up soldiers. (and how could one not get messed up, given the job description)? in the coverage of the ft hood incident, there has already been a surprising amount of media acknowledgement regarding these larger issues.
    i wouldn’t want to be a muslim in the army today though, or for that matter, a muslim civilian in iraq or afghanistan. and my condolences to those affected in ft. hood.
    -
    good photo. the framing, the the line of the building leading towards the “shooter”, the gun of the guy with the smoke, and gun of the instructor leading to the “victim”, the focused semicircle, the hint of terrain in the back ground, the rule of thirds.
    the soldier with the gun evokes nazism, with the short blonde hair and the very swastika-like arm crest. it’s pretty well a white swastika.
    homo-masochist-erotic elements as well, no?
    the translators hands are quite interesting. a woman’s hands? certainly not a farmer, or anyone from a rural area i would think.
    here’s another example of the u.s. training and inspiring local security recruits.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1GrdTakvl8

  • Gasho

    To me this is a photo about exporting and spreading the sickness of war. The idea that domination through firepower can bring peace is like a virus. Once it starts, it perpetuates itself. This is a picture of that virus spreading. Of course the virus will eventually kill the host if it is encouraged to spread. What are the odds that these fine fellows will always and forever be 100% our friends and not our future enemies. It is this idea (war->peace) that must be examined, fully contemplated, and abandoned.

  • Sandra

    Remember Jeff Sharlet’s piece in Harper’s, ‘The Crusade for a Christian Military’ (June 2009)? The Pentagon and FBI ‘investigations’ will address nothing. They need a new box (frame?) to put Maj. Hasan into. He doesn’t fit the returned vet gone beserk, the traitor/infiltrator. They cannot afford to alienate Muslim soldiers who are needed in the Middle East ‘theaters’. The Pentagon doesn’t do introspection. We’ll never hear that this latest horror is a natural consequence, to be expected, from the horror of the last nine years.
    This photo is chilling. I wonder if the rifleman will be one of the growing number who kill himself or, indeed, kill the guy he is pointing at. What are his thoughts? What is he ‘teaching’? The faces on the other students – what think they?
    Seems only the US soldiers need shades.

  • jonst

    Dennis wrote: ” They know exactly what their involvement is, and they can’t simply shrug off when they get home – although they are expected to”. Just curious, how did you reach that both those conclusions? I think people can shrug off a lot more than you think. Though the thought of that often makes others uncomfortable.

  • lytom

    The thoughts from the photo from dirt up.
    Dirt poor country.
    Beautiful mountains and vistas of pure air, and security for local people.
    What are these people in the photo doing that has anything to do with local conditions?
    Armed foreigners who can’t speak the language and understand and respect the customs.
    Armed foreigners who threaten with guns to impress whom? Or is it done to scare the Afghans?
    Armed foreigners crude with guns even toward each other. There is no hope they will make the change, no matter how many infest the land. Technology they bring in is used for destruction.
    I feel the bareness and futility of arrogance. I feel the hopelessness of the people who are visited by this nightmare. Some of the Afghans in the photo for sure have not been brainwashed and they can still remember it is their land. Their vests may have a message how close it is to a suicide vest.
    Can they at least be bought and corrupted? But that is another story…

  • concerned citizen

    Well actually this training was into response of an Afghan Police Checkpoint being completely leveled by fighters. This training is attempting to give the few Aghans who choose to fight for their government a chance. It is one example of many of the coalition partnering with the afghan security forces.

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