Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fort Hood and U.S. Foreign Policy

I've been meaning to put some thoughts down about the shootings at Fort Hood for a minute, but just haven't gotten around to it yet. There has been plenty of typical sensationalist media coverage (best exemplified by the common "terrorists in America?" theme going around), along with some crazy racist nutjob stories (the "Muslim conspiracy theory" stuff, linking this all to the plot to infiltrate Congress through interns and the military through officers like Hasan - really insane stuff). I'm going to stay away from that stuff because, well, there's not really anything there. If you want to read about the Islamophobia that arose after the attack, check out this piece. Instead, let me talk about the one angle we haven't heard much about - how this tragedy is directly linked to U.S. foreign policy.

As we find out more information, we discover that Major Hasan had serious grievances with American foreign policy in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan. Not unlike a lot of other people. Pretty legitimate beef, too...the unreal number of civilian casualties, the number of U.S. casualties, the manipulated WMD evidence, the occupations, the pliant governments, the sweet military contracts and business deals, the trampling on international laws/norms/institutions...lots of beef. The closer you follow things, the more clear it becomes that Hasan's act of violence was driven primarily by his rage at these issues. And, while his actions are deplorable and should be condemned, that doesn't get U.S. foreign policy off the hook. There are serious problems with what we've done and are doing in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hasan's anger at the situation is not dissimilar from the anger millions around the world feel about the conflicts. Had he opted for civil disobedience instead of murder, he'd be like so many Americans, infuriated by the government's foreign policy.

In fact, Hasan provides us a domestic example of what we might be doing to Iraqis and Afghanis. He worked with vets returning from the wars, many with serious mental and physical injuries. Hasan apparently had a hard time dealing with the pain he saw them going through. He obviously opposed the wars, identified with the victims of the wars (both the soldiers he worked with, and the civilians with whom he probably identified with as Muslims), and, despite attempts to be discharged because of his concern about his difficulties serving a military whose actions he could not reconcile with his own beliefs, was about to be sent over to Afghanistan. In a simple sense, Hasan clearly snapped. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sure comes to mind.

Now, imagine a civilian in Afghanistan. You've seen countless neighbors, friends, and family members either killed or seriously injured in the continued war, possibly by NATO forces, bombing raids, or extremist elements running rampant in the country due to the lawlessness aided by Washington's support of an inept regime (and lack of financial backing to stabilize the country). You're in a worse place than Hasan. There is a pretty good chance you're on the verge of snapping, or just waiting for a chance to attack and kill somebody. There is countless psychological research on versions of prospect theory, social identity theory, and post-traumatic stress disorder that can be used to explain both Hasan's actions, as well as those of civilians stuck in horrific wars. Basically, if Hasan did what he did, what do you think the civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan are likely to do if they got a chance? This isn't some ideational thing...these violent outbursts are very specific to the context of the situation.

Thus, we could see Hasan as possibly a tamer version of what we might be producing abroad with policies that many inside and outside of America have serious qualms with. Um...shouldn't that be, I don't know, a pretty important angle for the press to cover on this story? It's all about foreign policy. You'd think it might even trigger some re-evaluation of our policies.

One other point...Hasan tried like hell to get out of the military. Some stories suggest he hired a lawyer to try to get discharged. His aunt says he offered to pay for his medical training in exchange for a discharge. He himself suggested the military allow Muslims to be conscientious objectors when America was fighting Muslims. No matter how you slice it, he had serious qualms and wanted out. Would you want a psychiatrist, who worked primarily with veterans who were dealing with serious physical and mental issues from the wars, to stay in such a position with his concerns? No way. Yet, they wouldn't discharge him. Why? I don't know, could it be our massive military footprint all over the globe? Over 750 bases in 39 countries (plus over 100 additional bases outside of the continental US, troops in 151 foreign countries, occupiers in two separate countries where we have major conflict still raging...yeah, we're probably slightly overstretched. And by slightly, I mean unbelievably. So much so that the Army can't really spare any soldier, including someone like Hasan. link to our foreign policy. Are we stretched so thin that we're putting people in the field who really shouldn't be there?

Anyway, aside from the stories about the victims and the tragedy itself, it seems to me that these are really important issues that we should think about when reflecting on the Fort Hood shootings. The event has a very direct link to U.S. foreign policy, one that should be probed pretty deeply. This connection hasn't been looked at enough, but hopefully we can convince people it should be examined. It would be a way to really do justice to the memories of those who lost their lives in that tragic event, along with countless other innocents who have died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

(For a sharper analysis on Fort Hood, check out this FPIF article. For a discussion of Fort Hood and PTSD, check out this piece by the always-excellent Dahr Jamail and this NPR article)