A headline from today's Reuters News Service online edition, broadcasts that an Army Sergeant killed five other U.S soldiers at Camp Liberty, "a sprawling military base northeast of Baghdad airport that houses thousands of U.S. troops." The article goes on to say, "The soldier walked into a center for soldiers who are experiencing stress and opened fire, killing the five." A later television news report said that the Sergeant had his weapon taken away from him earlier in the day after an argument, but that he apparently found another one. Exactly where is the surprise in that accomplishment? A soldier in a combat zone, with thousands of other armed personnel around him, managed to access a weapon other than his own... SURPRISE! (As I continue, I will use the term "soldier" as all-inclusive - embracing Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force personnel.)
Where did the soldier do this? "A center for soldiers who are experiencing stress." The initial "guesses" are that he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Ya THINK? Am I the first person to realize that not everybody, no matter how big and macho they seem, can wrap their mind around the stresses of prolonged combat. I think this is especially true of those who serve multiple tours in a war zone. Many members of our military services have literally "dodged the bullet", and many have also done it more than once.
Would it not be "normal" for a soldier to have a significant increase in apprehension each time he was reassigned to Iraq or Afghanistan? Some soldiers have served three or more tours in those areas of armed confrontation, and they can force themselves to perform the routine physical tasks required of them because those tasks are necessary to their survival. The body continues to function, even as the mind suffers - and in some cases the mind cracks - under the psychological weight of the things that soldier has had to do to protect himself and his friends. A normal person will reconcile those acts under the intellectual heading of "it was him or me", but how and where do those acts get reconciled emotionally... or do they?
Existing in a war zone is something that has to be experienced to be fully understood. The first thing a soldier has to come to grips with is that there is a very distinct possibility that he could be killed at any given instant 24 hours a day. Your first thought now is, "That's true everywhere, not just in a combat zone! I could get hit by a car crossing the street, or slip and fall in the bath, or an elephant could fall out of a tree and come crashing through my roof and kill me." The difference is that the car wasn't aimed at you, your bathtub didn't have a landmine in it, and the elephant was a ridiculous example you just made up to try to put me off my game. Violent, intentional, man-made death - the inhumanity of one person toward another, wantonly extinguishing the life of another human being that you don't even know - is not something we "civilized" folks easily accept on an emotional level, therefore we have to intellectualize it. Seeing human beings reduced to pieces and parts on a routine, day-to-day basis will eventually effect most psyches, the only difference is to what degree.
The other things a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan must deal with are blisteringly hot 140º summer days, spiders the size of a Frisbee, erratic mail from home, concerns about family, and all the other normal concerns that most people have. To the American soldier serving in that part of the world, sleeping in a tent is often considered a luxury. And, any day nobody that you knew was killed, is a better than average day.
Today at Camp Liberty, there were six victims. Five are dead, and one is at least temporarily lost... even to himself. The stressors were more powerful than was his ability to resist and reconcile them. Tonight six families grieve the result of an unexpected, unreasonable, and totally incomprehensible act, perpetrated by an American soldier against his brothers in arms.
In war there are no winners... the victor simply loses less than the vanquished... and second place doesn't get a red ribbon.