Going Postal at Fort Hood: Hasan's Rampage and Office Violence

It’s too soon to draw many conclusions from the shooting yesterday at Fort Hood–I added a link, as though anybody would be like, “Um, what are you talking about?”–but I think there are a few things worth mentioning about Nidal Hasan’s shooting spree.

First of all, I’m surprised that the Washington Post included this paragraph about religious discrimination in their reporting:

“In an interview, his aunt, Noel Hasan of Falls Church, said he had endured name-calling and harassment about his Muslim faith for years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and had sought for several years to be discharged from the military.”

And the New York Times included a similarly informative paragraph about Hasan’s view of American foreign policy:

“Fox News quoted a retired Army colonel, Terry Lee, as saying that Major Hasan, with whom he worked, had voiced hope that President Obama would pull American troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, had argued with military colleagues who supported the wars and had tried to prevent his own deployment.”

In trying to understand yesterday’s tragic events, it’s important to remember those two important facts, especially as reports that Hasan yelled “Allahu Akbar” begin to surface.  That America’s continuing occupation of two Muslim countries, and its participation in the occupation of a third, creates anti-American sentiment in the world is undeniable.  Whether Hasan’s actions were a direct response to our Imperial presence in the Middle East is not yet clear, but it is certainly a possibility.

That, of course, is not an attempt to justify or excuse his behavior, but it is counterproductive and simplistic to pretend that Hasan’s actions weren’t political.  We’re best to understand it, at least partially, as such.

As Mark Ames brilliantly documents in his book Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion–From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Schools and Beyond, whenever society is faced with a tragedy of this sort–one or two gunmen shooting people they know either at work or school–the reporting follows a very similar script.  The shooter is often painted as a psychopaths who snapped and began killing co-workers or fellow students at random.  Their actions are almost never seen as a response to outside forces, but rather as weakness (“He couldn’t handle it”) or lunacy (“He snapped”).

That’s why it’s important to highlight the politics, both personal and geopolitical, of Hasan’s situation.  Those kinds of facts are often absent from the narrative that gets told about the shooter, and we’re left with a caricature of the crazy loner.  Ames demonstrates that often times it is the case that these rage murderers are motivated by their environment, and that there are real grievances that the shooter felt he had to address.  To borrow and slightly tweek Ames’ thesis: If we want to understand why this happened and how to prevent similar events in the future, we shouldn’t be profiling Hasan, we should be profiling the army.

Again, whether this particular situation fits in with Ames’ thesis is still unclear.  As more facts arise about the yesterday’s events specifically and Nidal Hasan generally, we may get a clearer picture of his motives and goals, if he had any.  I bring this all up only because once the narrative of the Muslim who screamed “Allahu Akbar” and wanted a woman who wore a hijab gets set in stone, it will be very difficult to dislodge.

More than anything else, the shooting at Fort Hood should be a reminder to all the blood-thirsty pundits who constantly call for unending war and occupation that there are consequences for their actions.  They can ignore the death when it’s Iraqis and Afghans who are dying, and even when US troops die overseas we rarely see it.  When 12 are murdered at an Army base, the consequences of war become far more immediate.

Though the specifics of yesterday could not have been predicted, in general nobody should be surprised that a soldier snapped.  It happens far too often.  And it will continue to happen for as long as America’s sick addiction to war continues.

UPDATE: Read Mark Ames’ always insightful opinions on the matter here.

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One Response to Going Postal at Fort Hood: Hasan's Rampage and Office Violence

  1. Mr. Knefel,

    A tragedy like this quite naturally has multiple dimensions. I do not doubt that Dr. Hasan’s actions have some political aspects and his role as a psychiatrist helping combat veterans with the effects PTSD no doubt played a role as well. There is however one additional, more generalized aspect. Mental illness can be culturally bound, which is to say, how that illness gets expressed is culturally determined. There are troubled, single male of between 20 – 40 years of age in all societies but only in some societies do they burst into murderous rampages with little obvious forewarning that generally end in their own death, often by suicide. However there are other socieities where this does happen on a regular basis. In Malay societies it is called “amok” but it is know elsewhere as “mal de pelea” or “cafard” and various other names.

    The phrase “running amok” entered the English language as a result of the US-Philippine War. The United States “acquired” the Philippines from Spain as a result of the Spanish-American War. However what is little known is that the Filipinos had been waging for independence for sometime and had already defeated the Spanish. In 1898 when the US navy arrived in Manila Bay, the country was largely out of Spain’s control. In order to secure its claim to the Philippines, the US had to then go to war against the Filipinos which last for many, very bloody, years.

    In the southern islands of the Philippines there was (and is) a large Muslim population with a very long tradition of resistance to outsiders of all sorts. The Spanish had only limited control of the area in the best times and those had been gone for a while. When the US troops showed up there was considerable armed resistance there. One form this took was a single warrior would charge a column of troops marking through the area with only a large knife and kill quite a few before being killed. These “amoks” could be shot many times and kill many soldiers before they themselves were killed. The story goes that the US changed the general issue side arm for officer to a 45 caliber because it had more powerful bullets that could bring down one these men “running amok” better than the previously issued, smaller caliber pistols.

    Amok syndrome is still to be found in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines but now it is divorced from political and military resistance and survives as personal act of rage and futility. The United States is one of those societies where this sort of periodic epidemic of “going postal” occurs, albeit with fire arms rather than knifes or swords. Canada, a country with a very similar culture to the US, does not see this sort of outbreaks of rage.

    So my point is this, while each new outburst of desolate and homicidal rage is unique and personal, and even sometimes political, there is a collective, cultural element that makes it entirely predictable, if no less tragic.

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