Monday, November 9, 2009
These are shared national experiences. Many of us know people or have family who are serving our country in uniform. We track the news. We look up locations on Internet maps. We imagine life in Iraq or Afghanistan; out where the fighting takes place. We think about the dangers of combat and hidden bombs triggered by remote and snipers hiding in the shadows, behind the thick brush or a crag in the rocks or concrete walls around the corner. We pray for safety. We pray for peace.
Many of us have attended the graduation ceremonies and watched the commissioning. We’ve also been there when the troops come home. It all gives us a personal sense of the sacrifice. We get in on the camaraderie and among the troops. We get a taste of military culture. We see at close range the impact of hierarchy; the mutual respect among the ranks.
I always pick up on the phrase “my soldiers.” When one of the guys talks about the battalion, the personal possessive pronoun comes into play. It implies ownership. Responsibility. These are “my” people, they will say.
There is, perhaps, no other context in which American diversity is so plainly evident. Men and women. Every ethnicity. All dressed the same. All learning to work together, and see past the prejudices and biases learned somewhere on the outside, and see rather, the person in battle beside me on whom my life now depends. The differences that seemed so significant back in civilian life melt away in the face of combat.
The stunning moment at Fort Hood, when in one of those crowded rooms as troops prepared for deployment, a high ranking officer in uniform stood to his feet shouting an Arabic phrase, commonly employed as the prelude to an act of violent terror, and then opened fire on an unsuspecting gathering of troops seated around tables, has us all in a state of utter bewilderment. Sadly, stories of individuals who snap and get their hands on weapons and then engage in a killing rampage are not all that uncommon. We are all too familiar with these episodes of senseless violence. But when a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, trained to heal, becomes the perpetrator of such pointless aggression, it takes your breath away.
There will be plenty of commentary coming. The talking heads will present their theories. Experts will be called on to pars all the detail. But because Major Nidal Malik Hasan survived, there will be a trial. Who knows how long it will take? There will be calls for capital punishment. Will the defense claim mental incapacity? Some will plead for compassion and mercy. We will wait for the Major to say something for himself. We will be schooled on the intricacies of military tribunals; and the possibility of the transfer of the case to a civilian criminal court.
In a surprisingly strong statement, Army Chief of Staff General George Casey said, “Our diversity not only in our military but in our country, is a strength. As horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.”
We can predict with a fair degree of certainty that the shooting by the doctor at Fort Hood will, for some, become the occasion for inflammatory rhetoric. But as one soldier put it, “Adversity like this only makes us stronger.”
When victims and close range witnesses are asked, “Are you going ahead with your deployment?” The answer is most often, “Absolutely.”
So we pray for the families who suffered loss. We pray for the injured who now face rehabilitation, and in some cases, permanent disabilities. Some of them severe.
And most of all, we pray for peace.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp