Ft. Hood: We’ve Seen This Show Before

Is what happened at Ft. Hood a tragedy, madness, evil, carelessness? Can something be done, or are we doomed to endure one slaughter after another? One thing is certain, we don’t seem to know how to talk about these things, which is surprising since they are now commonplace features of American life.

On the radio a relieved woman said she was so happy that it hadn’t been bad. Then, catching herself sounding careless about three dead and 16 wounded, she said it was terrible, of course, but at least not as bad as the 2009 Ft. Hood mass murder – 13 dead, 30 wounded. She sounded too young to remember the Luby’s Cafeteria shooting in the same town in 1991, 23 dead, 50 wounded. If she had, she probably would have regarded the latest holocaust as no worse than a hangnail.

The mayor of Killeen said you could judge a place by how it dealt with adversity, but “adversity” seemed a tad too euphemistic for a fellow buying a gun where the last mass murderer had bought his gun and blazing away at his fellow soldiers and then killing himself. It would be interesting to ask the mayor why he thinks his town has so much adversity to deal with. Yes, these things can happen anywhere, but some places seem “adversity” prone.

There’s such a thing as Tornado Alley and it is less than surprising that ‘hoods that play host to gangs and their turf or drug wars have a higher body count than Darien, Connecticut or Salt Lake City. Are areas with a lot of military more likely to experience mass shootings or suicides? I wasn’t able to turn up useful statistics, in part because those available lump all military together including active duty, guard, and veterans.

How about Texas? It wouldn’t exactly astonish to learn that the home of chesty, cowboy, gun totin’ machismo was also disproportionately violent. In addition to Ft. Hood’s serial killings, there are the Texas Tower shootings, a presidential assassination and a vice president shooting an elderly lawyer to consider. But in fact the statistics show Texas to be in the middle as these things are counted. Rhode Island has half as many gun murders as Texas but places as diverse as Delaware, South Carolina and Hawaii have a higher incidence.

Soon it came out that the shooter had been a truck driver briefly in Iraq and was being treated for depression but had not yet been diagnosed with PTSD. Some idiot TV commentator implied Lopez would have been less guilty if he had been in actual combat or had a purple heart, but that a mere truck driver could hardly claim he was traumatized or under stress.

This is so wrong so many ways it is almost possible to respond. Just for starters, nobody – decorated hero or troubled loner — gets a pass for going on a murder-suicide spree. But as to the relative stress of combat and truck driving, it obviously depends on the person and how he reacts to stress, the combat and the truck driving.

In Iraq, beginning in 2003 the preferred targets were vehicles that could be destroyed using roadside IEDs. So every drive became a dance with death — 63 percent of military deaths and 66 percent of casualties in Iraq were due to IEDs. The NY Times called the first half of 2011, about the time the Ft. Hood shooter served, “the deadliest yet for IED attacks.” If being a truck driver there didn’t give you stress, what would?

Ultimately what was going on in Lopez’s head is unknowable. We must pity the poor deluded shooter and his poor hapless victims. But we do know a few things. The laws of the land allowed him easy access to the gun he used. Security on the base allowed him to get it in. The army’s mental health system failed to understand how dangerously troubled he was. A culture than glorifies violence and gunplay can hardly be let off the hook, either.

And what about our bad habit of asking young men and women to take part in wrongheaded wars we come to regret and would just as soon forget? As a result, we fail in our duty to bind up their wounds, as Lincoln said we surely must. A world of pain resides in this heartbreaking thought from the memoir of Irag war veteran Brian Turner, forced to conclude America “is not a large enough space to contain the war each soldier brings home. And even if it could — it doesn’t want to.”

So nothing will change. Nothing will be done to prevent the next catastrophe. There will be glib grief, a glib recital of all the issues for a week or two, televised last rites, interviews with experts, promises to do more and then business as usual. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Japan has 10 gun deaths a year, Australia has 30, the UK has 138, Canada 173, Texas alone 800 and the US as a whole in 2010, 8,306.

How could this happen? You know. We all know.

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