Fort Hood tragedy should galvanize Army to improve conditions for soldiers

December 6, 2009 — by

In the early afternoon at a Texas army base, an Army major gunned down dozens of soldiers before being shot four times by a female civilian Army police officer. After shouting “Allahu Akbar!” meaning “God is greatest!” suspect Nidal Malik Hasan began his shooting frenzy. By the end of the chaos, 13 people were dead and another 38, including the soldier, were injured.

After treating many soldiers returning from deployment for mental conditions, the psychiatrist responsible for the egregious crime managed to slip through the cracks.

After news of the attack broke out, accusations of terrorism flew through the Internet when it was discovered that he was a devout Muslim. While it is easy to wrap the case up and label it under “terrorism,” these shootings may reflect an issue with impacts far beyond those of terrorism.

Oftentimes, soldiers’ physical injuries steal the spotlight, but at the same time, little is said about the equally pressing mental injuries they suffer. It’s simple enough to put the blame on foreigners, but the true responsibility to care for soldiers rests with the government. To prevent such mental unrest from escalating into murder, the Army should thoroughly evaluate soldiers who will be deployed, as well as those returning from the conflict overseas, and that psychological evaluation should be ongoing and consistent. An improvement on security is necessary as well, since only soldiers are permitted to carry firearms during formal events or training exercises; evidently no one made sure that Hasan abided by this policy.

The media’s eagerness to headline the Fort Hood shootings under terrorism speaks volumes about the stereotypes that America continues to use as a crutch. It is important to note that many displays of terrorism were committed by non-Muslims. In April of 1995, Timothy McVeigh attacked a federal building in Oklahoma City, which resulted in 168 deaths and more than 680 wounded. Also, the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski mailed 16 bombs to various locations, which lead to three deaths and 23 people being injured, further proof that acts of terrorism are not restrained to people of one religion.

In an interview with Fox News, Hasan’s cousin reported that Hasan was “terrified of deployment” and that it was his “worst nightmare.” The shootings have been compared to those of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, and the similarities between the two cases lead analysts to believe that Hasan may have been mentally deranged or unstable, as was Seung-Hui Cho, the assassin in the Virginia Tech incident.

Although it has never occurred on an American military base until now, other members of the military have carried out shootings, such as Sgt. John M. Russell at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, where five soldiers were killed by one of their own in May. Another soldier arrived home after deployment and, after a domestic dispute, fatally shot his two young children. None of these shootings shared religion as a factor, but rather, mental instability.

People, especially the media, should avoid jumping to conclusions until the investigation is complete. Scrutiny on Muslims in America will only increase due to this act of violence and the fact that many people have decided that this is terrorism is an example of prejudice. As a start, the military needs to revamp their harassment policies to be especially conscious of people of Muslim religion and have a series of psychological evaluations for soldiers going into deployment in attempt to prevent events such as these from occurring again.

The Fort Hood shooting was a tragedy. Its underlying causes, however, are even more horrific, as they paint a grim future for Americans at war.

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