s I’ve read articles and listened to media reports during the past week about the U.S. soldier who went on a bloody shooting spree March 11 in Afghanistan, one thought keeps going through my mind: It’s all so completely unnecessary.
It’s not just the 16 people — including nine children and three women — who were killed or the six others who were wounded that are impacted by the tragedy. It’s also their family and friends, some of whom witnessed the massacre.
And it’s not just U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales who will suffer because of his alleged actions. It’s also his wife and two children, ages 3 and 4, who were forced to leave their home in Seattle and are now in protective custody at Fort Lewis-McChord military base near Tacoma, Wash. Those kids will never know their father as he either will be imprisoned or — possibly — dead as they grow older.
The past week also must have been hellish for members of Bales’ family in Greater Cincinnati, which include a mother who lives in Miami Township and other relatives in Evendale. For many people, love doesn’t simply disappear because one has committed heinous acts.
Make no mistake, what Bales allegedly did was heinous in the extreme. Details slowly have emerged during the past few days about how Bales allegedly began walking around 2 a.m. to two villages near the military base in Kabul.
Reporters who have interviewed villagers said Bales walked to a village north of the base and started kicking the gates in front of homes, but most were locked. When he finally kicked a gate that swung open, he entered the home and killed 11 members of a single family.
The exact sequence of events remains unclear: Some Afghan officials have said Bales gathered the family in one room to kill them, while a local politician said a few were shot as they slept in their beds. “The children had one bullet in their heads each, as if it was a well-planned execution,” a government official told Al Jazeera, the Arab news service.
Bales was laughing as he opened fire, said one of the six people who was injured. Several of the corpses were later burned, although it’s unclear if the shooter intentionally set them ablaze or sparks from the gunfire ignited their blankets. Some of the victims also were stabbed, in what’s usually referred to in police circles as “overkill.”
Then Bales allegedly walked to another village, south of the base, where he killed five more people in two separate homes.
In all, the shooter walked 2 to 3 kilometers in the rampage, or roughly 1.86 miles. It wasn’t a quick, split-second action or a momentary lapse of reason. Afterward, Bales calmly walked back to his base, laid his rifle on the ground and surrendered to guards, according to security camera footage described by U.S. military officials.
In a December 2009 column, I questioned President Obama’s wisdom in sending another 35,000 troops into Afghanistan. Back then, I said the United States had no clear goal and that Afghanistan would probably devolve into chaos no matter when troops withdrew. More than two years and countless casualties later, I’ve seen nothing to sway my view.
By now, we’ve all heard certain facts about Bales designed to engender sympathy or at least understanding.
He served three tours of duty in Iraq and, after he was told he was going home for good, was shipped off to Afghanistan. He lost part of his foot in a previous combat injury. He reportedly suffered a concussive head injury while in Iraq. He was upset that a friend lost his leg in a roadside explosion two days before the shooting spree.
If those assertions are true, they should raise serious questions about how we treat men and women who enlist in the military, and what is the true cost of our aggressive foreign policy.
But it also clearly shows a double standard employed by many U.S. citizens, including some political pundits. How many times in the wake of the 9/11 attacks were we all told that trying to understand the motives of terrorists who attack the United States was unnecessary and possibly offensive to victims?
New York Times columnist David Brooks, a lazy prevaricator and reliable defender of the status quo, typifies this type of tunnel vision.
In his March 19 column about Bales, Brooks writes, “His job is to struggle daily to strengthen the good and resist the evil, policing small transgressions to prevent larger ones. If he didn’t do that, and if he was swept up in a whirlwind, then even a formerly good man is capable of monstrous acts that shock the soul and sear the brain.”
For good measure, Brooks’ column is titled, “When the good do bad.”
Everything Brooks wrote might be true. Nevertheless, he wasn’t so forgiving in a similar incident when the victims were American and the shooter had brown skin.
After U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and wounded 29 others in a 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood, Brooks wrote sneeringly about “a national rush to therapy.”
“Major Hasan was portrayed as a disturbed individual who was under a lot of stress,” Brooks wrote. “(This) absolved Hasan — before the real evidence was in — of his responsibility. He didn’t have the choice to be lonely or unhappy. But he did have a choice over what story to build out of those circumstances. And evidence is now mounting to suggest he chose the extremist War on Islam narrative that so often leads to murderous results.”
This is what’s known as the “damn those Muslims” defense.
Sadly, many Americans — including Bales’ old friends from Norwood High School — seem to share this view.
Consider this for a moment: What if foreign military forces occupied the United States for “its own good” and regularly broke into homes during nighttime raids looking for insurgents? What if one of those soldiers killed 16 U.S. citizens — including nine children and three women — in a spree in Norwood? Would we be so understanding then?
Compassion shouldn’t hinge on borders or ethnicities.
In her only public statement about the incident so far, Bales’ wife, Karilyn, said, “The pain inevitably inflicted in war should never be an excuse to inflict yet more pain. The cycle must be broken. We must find peace.”
Let’s hope our political leaders listen to Karilyn’s plea.