“… now this may sound convoluted, but not if one tracks the cultural response of hostility from every passionate point of view when a leadership itself is so prone to unjustifiable violence and un-American diminishment of the constitution. What do you think is going to happen? What do you think the American hopeless will do…? We better consider what the fundamentalist within will put on our table…”
This quote is from Sean Penn speaking last August in Denver, CO at a rally to open the presidential debates to “third parties” and independent candidates. This excerpt was part of Penn’s attempt at foreshadowing how violence could become the last line of defense against a corrupt government and debased political process that is devoid of substantive democratic debate and participation.
Last Thursday afternoon at the initial press conference regarding the Fort Hood shooting, it would take General Cole over a minute – and a check of his notes – to quickly and begrudgingly clarify that “the shooter was a soldier”. To be fair, this was probably a difficult and embarrassing admission for the General; indeed, the reservation, disbelief, and shock that embodied the General’s speech and demeanor during this press conference smacked of genuine surprise and exigent circumstances as opposed to premeditated, administrative misdirection. Linguist John McWhorter has noted that the pervasive and grammatically incorrect use of the term “troops” to identify individual soldiers killed or sent to war is impersonal and demeaning; additionally, he states that “using a name for soldiers that has no singular form grants us a certain cozy distance from the grievous reality of war”. Nidal Hasan as “shooter”, and not the more accurate, descriptive, and clear “soldier”, further decouples the actions of the Major from the appropriate military context and pushes it into the realm of inexplicable civilian criminality.
The real shock of last Thursday’s events is that they were much of a shock at all. There was the justifiable visceral shock of individuals having to emotionally internalize and absorb this act of brutal violence and murder; on the other hand, there was a larger, needless, abhorrent, and dishonest intellectual shock and morally-bankrupt flight to fantasy used by individual actors within our reified mainstream media to explain the day’s events. This faux shock took the form of prejudiced, irresponsible, and sadistic language, images, and fabrications designed to cover-up our society’s colossal failures of military aggression (i.e. global war on terrorism), soldier care and protection, and American democracy as a whole. One General using the term “shooter” to allay the cognitive dissonance associated with his soldier’s behavior is perhaps understandable. The corporate-crafted-elite-friendly news coverage provided a nefarious distraction from the more obvious and likely motives, context, and factual circumstances of the event. The media projected the collective guilt and ramifications of this nation’s larger war ethos and bloodlust onto this “shooter” in an attempt to further ameliorate the discontent of the citizenry brought on by a duplicitous permanent war economy.
Last Thursday’s media spectacle unfolded as a disgusting montage of avoidance and denial. Prior to General Cole’s initial address to the media, TV news outlets focused on the more improbable and far-fetched scenario that outside actors penetrated the base to carry out an attack – stories and questions abound about lax and inadequate security measures, permeable gates, etc. The focus was traditional “terrorists”, like the ones we’re supposedly fighting overseas, or homegrown “domestic terrorists”. Though not impossible causes, given the type, breadth, and scope of operations of Fort Hood (soldier returning and debarking centers, psychological services, etc.), the media conveniently discounted the likely scenario that a soldier(s) instigated the attacks and instead focused on terrorist perpetrators working from the outside-in. Even after the General’s announcement that this was soldier-on-soldier violence, the language of the media did not embrace the basic facts – we continued to see “suspect”, “shooter”, the very convenient and oft-used “lone gunman”, and more problematic “Muslim” splash across our screens. Hasan was no longer a soldier – perhaps a justified, if not trite and childish redaction of a murderer’s factual stature – but now was part of a possible “sleeper cell” or domestic terrorist conspiracy. No evidence abound to substantiate these theories, but reiterating the factual scenario that this was an apparently stable, accomplished, and respected American soldier turned murderer had to be avoided – it begged the larger questions and challenged America’s narcissistic mores. Any factual and empirical analysis of context, one that could actually occur in the absence of the more tactical facts of that day, was avoided in deference to further innuendo and speculation. The potential spectacle of terrorism would be much more useful to state-corporate power than a humiliating analysis of America’s global military folly coming home to roost with devastating consequences.
The real story was not broached in deference to the morbid advertisement of the body count, a sadistic drive to understand the killer’s exact path through the buildings, how he managed to fire so many rounds, trite detail about where his handguns originated from, etc. The true thrust of the story should have been that the act was committed by a soldier, and why? Predictably, the only suitable means for the media to address this fact was not on the public policy level, but exclusively on the private level of neoliberal tenets: personal responsibility and individual pathology: What, literally, was wrong with Hasan’s brain? What about his personal life and religion? Why didn’t he have a wife? Why did he require psychological counseling? Did he not relate well to others? Was he exposed to interpersonal discrimination because he was a Muslim? Etc.
The media conveniently ignored the prescient questions and relevant policy issues that could have been informed by military experience and empirical fact. A more appropriate and probative line of questioning and investigation might have gone as follows: What is the prevalence of violence, murder, and/or other antisocial/self-destructive behavior among soldiers and veterans to our recent wars? Under what conditions and why have similar acts occurred – how have we addressed them? What drives other soldiers to resist deployment? What is fueling the soldiers’ and veterans’ record levels of domestic abuse, divorce, suicide, substance abuse, unemployment, poverty, bankruptcy, homelessness etc? What do the difficulties of our enlisted soldiers and veterans tell us about our war efforts? What ramifications of our wars could inspire such violent behavior? Does military violence overseas beget violence at home – how? Do civilian casualties of war inspire soldiers and others to commit crimes? Are soldiers empowered with a constructive way to stop civilian casualties within their work scope and operating procedures? Are objecting soldiers encouraged to leave active duty? Can soldiers object or opt-out of war and still maintain their military livelihood? Are soldiers helpless, powerless, disempowered, and driven to violence because they have no means to prevent their duplicity in unjust wars? Are foreign soldiers and civilians respected by our military? Are war crimes prosecuted adequately? Are appropriate reparations consistently granted to innocent civilians affected by our wars? Can soldiers be heard and bring charges against military personnel without retribution? Are military strategies coherent, defensive in nature, and do they have a moral and ethical foundation? Is military strategy and justification understood along the chain of command – is soldier input considered and valued? Is conscientious objector status too onerous? The military knows the wars are unpopular at home, abroad, and with soldiers – why weren’t they prepared? Shouldn’t this act have been expected? What does this say about our war efforts? Some of these questions seem naive, even after the killings, given the nature of the military and our pernicious appetite for invading; however, if they were seriously considered in the past, maybe we wouldn’t be counting the dead at Fort Hood.
The vile and cruel nature of the media was further evidenced by the impugning of Hasan’s reported history of psychological counseling. A simple sound bite in the news let viewers know what the proper cultural attitude should be: seeking psychological help is a sign of weakness; worst yet, by implication, it is a precursor to murderous rage. Major Hasan became a double-whammy of weakness: not only did he seek psychological counseling, but he inflicted it on other soldiers and thereby facilitated the weakness and stigmatization of his fellow soldiers. The hypocrisy of this media teaching is overwhelming. How many of the media-dubbed “heroes” killed by Hasan had sought psychological counseling due to their exposure to warfare? This malignant labeling by the media is akin to calling a soldier who seeks mental health support a “ticking time bomb” or “sleeper cell agent”. More importantly, it devalued the ongoing importance of mental health services in the military and diminished the level of cultural caring for those who suffer psychologically.
Similar correlations (i.e. not causality) were mangled in a prejudiced attempt to impugn Muslims. When soldier-on-soldier violence is between Caucasian parties of strong Christian faith, we don’t start investigating the perpetrator’s church and reverend as a source of motive. America’s imperialist wars disproportionately affect followers of Islam. It is common sense that many Muslims are resistors to our empire; however, the implication by the media that there is something inherent to being a Muslim that drives anti-American and antiwar sentiment is false. This assertion is only useful in a propaganda system designed to demean and devalue our enemies, to make those affected by aggression more disposable and invisible, and divert attention from the human toll of state terrorism.
The inconvenient truth is the deplorable act committed by Major Hasan cannot be a shock because we knew it was coming; in fact, it was foreseeable, unavoidable, and inevitable to a moral certitude. It takes no leap of imagination to understand this act as a predictable outcome of criminal wars of aggression, torture, and indifference to the slaughter and displacement of foreign peoples under the guise of freedom, democracy, and the market. The tragedy at Fort Hood represents a failure of the ubiquitous rotten soul shared by our major political parties – a soul that throws taxpayer capital and the weight of corporate campaign contributions behind the projection of American power and empire. Contrary to the current state of our nation’s maniacal foreign policy denial, the “liberated” foreign recipients of American interventionism are not disposable or invisible – Major Hasan’s mass murder was a simple violent inversion of our military expansionism. Last Thursday, in the absence of the more or less trivial, private, and logistical facts surrounding Major Hasan’s actions, our country’s blatant criminal indifference to the ramifications of expansive foreign policy is what truly informed the events of the day. If we disregard the media delving further into the sadistic and titillating spectacle of details – along with its use of discriminatory deflection masquerading as informed speculation – our focus could have been narrowed to the scant but significant known facts at the time: an apparently successful and otherwise stable American soldier had turned on his fellow soldiers in cold blood. The context in which to evaluate such an act is painfully obvious, empirical support abounds, and analogous events involving soldiers were readily available to use as a lens to understand Major Hasan’s actions. They were all discarded because of their common thread: what they tell us about war and how it affects people.
The mangling of language surrounding Hasan was best evidenced by the yet unproven attribution of a Scribd comment to him regarding suicide bombings. Whether Hasan is the author is beside the point because the quote was used in a very real way by the media as disinformation, propaganda, and distraction. The quote was never addressed or explained in its full context; additionally, selective text and interpretation of the full post was leveraged by the media to create a false impression of equivalency. Omissions played on our nation’s larger cultural pedagogy of fear. Here is text of the full post:
“NidalHasan scribbled: There was a grenade thrown amongs a group of American soldiers. One of the soldiers, feeling that it was to late for everyone to flee jumped on the grave with the intention of saving his comrades. Indeed he saved them. He inentionally took his life (suicide) for a noble cause i.e. saving the lives of his soldier. To say that this soldier committed suicide is inappropriate. Its more appropriate to say he is a brave hero that sacrificed his life for a more noble cause. Scholars have paralled this to suicide bombers whose intention, by sacrificing their lives, is to help save Muslims by killing enemy soldiers. If one suicide bomber can kill 100 enemy soldiers because they were caught off guard that would be considered a strategic victory. Their intention is not to die because of some despair. The same can be said for the Kamikazees in Japan. They died (via crashing their planes into ships) to kill the enemies for the homeland. You can call them crazy i you want but their act was not one of suicide that is despised by Islam. So the scholars main point is that "IT SEEMS AS THOUGH YOUR INTENTION IS THE MAIN ISSUE" and Allah (SWT) knows best.”
What is immediately clear is that this is not in any sense a direct, first person equivocation of suicide bombing with a soldier sacrificing his own life to save his comrades. This is clearly a man using metaphor and real life examples to explain another man’s writing and interpretation of Islam relative to suicide and what are contemporarily called suicide bombers. At any rate, this is hardly a direct endorsement of suicide bombing; additionally, neither example used in the post reference the killing of civilians.
Let’s take what the media intended to construe after they mangled, circumscribed, quoted out of context, and generally reshaped the meaning of this post: an American soldier throwing oneself on a grenade to save fellow soldiers is equivalent to a suicide bomber. We all know “suicide bomber” in western-corporate-media parlance means killing civilians. The media’s assertion is obviously true: throwing oneself on a grenade to save your fellow soldiers is in no way morally equivalent to preemptively killing civilians.
However, consider the following quote given that the civilian “kill ratio” of American drone bombings inside Pakistan have been reported by the Brookings Institution to be 90% (9 civilians are killed for every 1 “terrorist”) and perhaps much higher according to other sources:
“They tellin' you to never worry about the future
They tellin' you to never worry about the torture
They tellin' you that you'll never see the horror
Spend it all today and we will bill you tomorrow
Three piece suits and bank accounts in
Wall Street crime will never send you to the slammer
Tell all the children in the arms of their mammas
The F-15 is a homicide bomber”
(Yell Fire!, Michael Franti & Spearhead, 2006)
So, how is our “homicide bomber” different from Hasan’s purportedly righteous suicide bomber? They aren’t - they are both the same: morally repugnant and based on the vacuous logic of preventive killing. This kind of preemptive, criminal murder is sanctioned and largely unquestioned US policy – the kind committed by our enemies is condemned. Moral equivocations that do not justify American empire are outside the spectrum of what is considered polite, acceptable political discourse. Perhaps our version is just more cowardly, as the bomber is not eviscerated in the cause and doesn’t become a martyr. Our bomber sits behind a computer, maybe flies a plane hopped-up on amphetamines, and is always in some manner detached enough (physically and psychically) from the act to confer continued legitimacy on the act’s criminal planners. The inevitable “collateral damage”, as it is repeated over time, is not aptly designated as state terrorism - it becomes an Orwellian “accident”. This is the policy of our President; a man Libertarian Christopher Dowd has called a “criminal sociopath” for labeling our misadventures in Iraq as an “extraordinary achievement”, among other things. Obama is the “Teflon Don” behind the uniquely American version of the suicide bomber: he is instant judge, jury, and executioner. He is a recidivist homicide bomber who will remain legally infallible until the civic imagination and courage of his countrymen put an end to his run.
A cogent and fact-based analysis of the effects of unjust war on the health and attitudes of soldiers was lost on our “leadership” as well. It is indeed shocking to have to digest the mind-numbing hypocrisy of a President decrying “a horrific outburst of violence”, while he is on the verge of sending tens of thousands more “troops” to a bottomless pit of US-sponsored death and despair in the Middle East. Obama’s impending “surge” of violence and manpower in his “war of necessity” is of course acceptable when conducted by our corporate-imperial state. The results of this brand of leadership are as predictable as the events of last Thursday: more acts of criminal violence justified as legitimate resistance by the powerless, more budding jihadists overseas, and hundreds of thousands more innocent women and children slaughtered on foreign soil. Shocking is the deviousness of a leader willing to minimize the ramifications of bankrupt imperial hubris – his logic of preventive war and empire, through its own weight and internal logic, collapsing inward and consuming itself along with the victims at Fort Hood.
Our leaders are well aware of the bubbling undercurrent of rage and resistance regarding our unjust wars and the disproportionate-to-rank physical, mental, and moral toll it places on soldiers; they know all the reasons for the discontent of their “troops”; and they know that soldiers are disempowered, discouraged, punished, and stigmatized for speaking-out or seeking help. In doing absolutely nothing of significance to rein in our criminal wars, they are responsible to forestall the foreseeable violence that will be enlisted by soldiers who feels powerless, overwhelmed, and boxed-in, a la Major Hasan. They abrogated this responsibility and have yet to offer anything but puffery and palliative solutions when it comes to soldier discontent and preventing inevitable soldier-on-soldier violence.Our President, oft dubbed a brilliant orator, didn’t manage to mention soldier-on-soldier violence during his initial remarks last Thursday at a Tribal Nations Conference. Instead, he opened with several minutes of inane rambling that included a mislabeled “shout out” to “Congressional Medal of Honor” winner Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow before vaguely addressing the situation at Fort Hood (Crow was award the civilian Medal of Freedom). Obama’s performance was eerily reminiscent of George Bush Jr.’s Booker Elementary fiasco on the morning of 9/11.
The President’s weekly radio address on Saturday was another dilatory exercise that reeked of distraction: Hasan, not mentioned directly, remained a “shooter”. Obama let us know that any painful exploration and reexamination of the unintended consequences of our war machine was off-the-table – preemptively. Obama divined: “We cannot fully know what leads a man to do such a thing.” No – but we are obligated to explore all causes, including the ones that lie beyond the waters-edge of personal responsibility, deviance, and unintelligible rage and murder. We also can’t brush aside the unpleasant, blatant, and searing facts staring us in the face – the ones that blind us from reality and conveniently remain outside the acceptable spectrum of American political discourse.
The suicidal and Pyrrhic forces unleashed as a result of 9/11 need to be addressed in the light of day, as part of a broader, civic self-examination of our nation. This seems to be a moral and ethical exploration that Obama is unwilling or incapable of leading. Obama’s real constituents, like campaign benefactor turned government-sponsored enterprise Morgan Stanley, announced in a report published that day after his election that “…Obama has been advised and agrees that there is no peace dividend…” Indeed, the opportunity costs of the daily outbursts of violence, suffered by citizens of all corners of the globe where US forces are deployed, could never be enumerated by a financial-sector sycophant such as Obama. Fort Hood is just another “no peace dividend” event to Barack. Torture, rendition, indefinite detention, criminal indifference to the suffering of civilians overseas – all these are a slap in the face to soldiers. Sending soldiers to unjust wars and letting them reap the whirlwind of consequences is an abrogation of leadership. Kowtowing to corporate leaches whose single-minded pursuit of profits, no matter the cost to the earth and mankind, does not instill hope. Change is accomplished by addressing the real twin deficits of our supposedly participatory democracy: corporate power and empire.
The second casualty of war: imagination
The events at Fort Hood were a massive security breakdown, not on scale but of type with 9/11; in fact, it was a double failure that we couldn’t protect the soldiers from harm at home, nor ensure the mental “security” of the very people entrusted to maintain the psychological wellbeing of soldiers. This fact represents a complete abject failure of military and civilian leadership at the highest levels: they know the havoc and despair we (as an imperialist nation) are heaping-on foreigners overseas; they know we are indiscriminately killing, displacing, or impoverishing millions in the Middle East; they know that our “accidents” and apologies do not justify criminal murder and fail to meet the standards of international law; they know that US military might is destroying any real hope and opportunities for change available to generations of Iraqi, Afghani, and Pakistani youth; they know that we are torturing, rendering, and denying basic human rights; they know we treat global justice and the sovereignty of nations with scorn; they know all these things – but most importantly – they know we know. Only arrogant denial and lack of caring on behalf of our leaders explain this security failure – that is the shock. This double failure of security merely informs a larger double failure and interdependency of our foreign and domestic policies: our imperial devastation overseas (killing civilians, spurring more budding jihadist, etc.) can only be driven by domestic degradation (police states, inadequate care for soldiers and veterans, civic disenfranchisement, economic exploitation, etc.)
We, as a society, can’t continue to pervert language and sideline the public-private linkages that drive the human cost of war to incalculable levels. We can’t continue to deny Hasan is an American Soldier, a Major, and our native son, just because he turned against our “wars of necessity”. He chose a deplorable and bankrupt path that mimics his own country’s policy of preventive executions and homicide bombings. Apparently we can’t handle this truth – it has to be terrorism and radical Islam – we’re unable to pray for his soul or our own. We can’t imagine the asymmetrical moral horror and evil that is our “extraordinary achievement” in Iraq, our continuously rebranded “Af/Pak” policy, and all our other malevolent “overseas contingency operations”. We can’t continue to avert our eyes from the private suffering of human beings due to these public policy failures.
Much needed and accessible democratic outlets don’t seem to exist in Obama’s corporatized worldview. As Chris Hedges has noted, moral autonomy and political agency are under attack; the results of which are docility and pacification, but also bouts of unfocused, unproductive, and abnormal rage, violence and desperation. Our morbid government-corporate alliance can’t continue to kill with impunity overseas, unleash a police state on the homeland, enslave the majority of Americans to neoliberal scraps from the economic table, and feign shock when homegrown resistance occurs in a radicalized form. Our leaders can’t ignore sane advice and expect peace – consider the following from a Rand Corporation report published last year titled “How Terrorist Groups End – Lessons for Countering al Qaida”:
“Military force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups… and military force led to the end of terrorist groups in 7 percent of the cases… The evidence by 2008 suggested that the U.S. strategy was not successful in undermining al Qa’ida’s capabilities… Al Qa’ida has been involved in more terrorist attacks since September 11, 2001, than it was during its prior history.”
In terms of recommendations, here is some of the language:
“First, policing and intelligence should be the backbone of U.S. efforts… This means a light U.S. military footprint or none at all. The U.S. military can play a critical role in building indigenous capacity but should generally resist being drawn into combat operations in Muslim societies, since its presence is likely to increase terrorist recruitment.”
As far as the thrust of last Thursday’s events, Nidal Hasan was a soldier who turned on his comrades with whom he spent years trying to ensure their psychological wellbeing given the theaters of war in which they operated. Why? Perhaps time will tell, but the private travails and motives of Hasan can’t be decoupled from the larger public policy issues and context that inform his actions.
Our myopic cultural obsession with terrorism forestalls antiwar debate and consideration of the trauma of war – it blinds us from recognizing that peace should be considered, weighed, and debated as an alternative. Peace has become devoid of value, delegitimized, and undeserving of human caring and championing. It has been stripped of cultural fit in a society constantly under the siege of fear – it has lost credibility in the neoliberal-friendly “emergency time” posited by Henry Giroux. Collectively, citizens must find a way to discuss Major Hasan’s action not only as a possible stress response, but as a misguided antiwar statement of a powerless man, in a hallow-out democracy, that is increasingly devoid of personal political agency and power sharing. Explanation, understand, and cause should not be trumped by the fear of “justification” when a legitimate concern is expressed inappropriately. Murder is the desperate flight to fantasy of a “shooter” - why it became the only instrumentality left for a US citizen and soldier requires a pragmatic and realistic investigation of motive, not one moored in a fantasyland of “freedom-hating” Muslims and terrorists.
As a country, we can’t deny our self-destruction masked in the pride of nationalist glory and “justifiable” vengeance. Every soldier sent, every civilian killed, and every dollar spent is just another step in our own ruination, in service of a corporate-military agenda, against a much ballyhooed “evil” enemy. We don’t understand our real enemies, and we do not dare, lest we approach “justification” of their “terrorist” resistance to US military might. We disregard the legitimate concerns of Hasan and our enemies abroad, and they need do nothing but sit back and watch us self destruct as we “spread freedom” around the globe. “Preventive”, “preemptive”: both words mean pre-fact and pre-cause, and result in unjustified criminal violence and aggression. Our military’s self-ascribed omniscient, predictive, and existential abilities do not jive with the realities of the world.
The needs of capital are a critical player in the circle of violence that enveloped the life of Major Hasan and Fort Hood last Thursday. Corporate capital has become the means to its own ends via a publically-subsidized-for-profit-private militia that operates in tandem with the US military overseas. Opening markets by bringing “democracy” to unwilling foreign recipients dovetails perfectly with the needs of capital. In this sense, our county’s wanton, international excesses are inextricably linked to our domestic moral deficits. Our recent historical transfer of wealth upward, regressive tax cuts, corporate bailouts, a business paradigm of growth (profits) at any extrinsic cost, etc. – the preconditions and funding of these capital-friendly events can only be achieved by the exploitation and gutting of the welfare state, the social contract, and any social safety net.
For us citizens, this neoliberal umbrella means more Hasan-like events, police states, privatization, crushing military expenditures, debt peonage, media consolidation, etc. and a blind eye to the suffering of our youth, soldiers, veterans, children, and all those that can’t survive in America’s high-stakes game of state capitalism. The constitution is shred and we are left to cleanup the carnage at Fort Hood. The circle is completed with the debasement of representative government via “regulatory capture”, the “revolving door” between the government and private sectors, and a complete debasement of the electoral process by corporate campaign contributions. Politicians are corrupted and left to engage in what Ralph Nader has called “the politics of avoidance” when explaining events like those that took place at Fort Hood last Thursday. Corporate-imperial leaders, the needs of capital, and overflowing campaign coffers demand continuous war at the reciprocal expense of social justice and real political, economic, and cultural “safety”.
How much more debased and perverted can our war language become? It isn’t just convenient that our enemies lack state affiliation and sponsorship – our culture has embraced and internalized the impersonal language that denies the human dignity of our enemies: “combatants”, “insurgents”, “detainees”, “terrorists”, “extremists”, etc. None of this misdirection changes the fact that our disrespect for them and de-legitimization of their resistance is evidenced in the same lack of care and security we afford our soldiers – both our “terrorists” and theirs are caught up in the same dehumanizing and destructive US imperial drive.