To use the massacre by an American soldier of 16 Afghan civilians to making any kind of point about the war in Afghanistan would be cheap and demeaning, but that probably won’t stop anyone.
I’m not interested in trying to predict what might happen next, but I was interested to see that the New York Times has published a report about a ’blog written by the wife of the accused, detailing the family’s struggles during her husband’s four deployments. Regardless of your opinion of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I urge you to read it and this related article about the pressures of multiple deployments.
Everyone knows (or if anyone doesn’t, then they ought to) that the first rule of war is to dehumanise your enemy. It’s so much easier to be barbaric towards them once you can stop thinking of them as people. What we see in these articles is an attempt to rehumanise a mass murderer.
There can be little doubt that if an Afghan murdered 16 Americans, then a summary bullet to the head would be too good for the monster. If an American murders 16 Americans, then he will either be declared insane and locked away for the rest of his life, or after a long and drawn out process, be put down like an unwanted animal.
Time will tell if either of these things happens to Staff Sgt Robert Bales. However, I have no disagreement with these attempts to understand him better. There should be more of it. I am not trying to diminish or mitigate his (alleged*) crime. If he is convicted, he should be punished appropriately. But if we don’t try to fully understand what led to this, it will only happen again and again and again. This also applies to the Afghans who have murdered Americans. The US military is already stretched to breaking point and this killing spree has the potential to set peace efforts back by years. Understanding what drives someone to such an act is our best chance at preventing it happening again and, by extension, ending the war.
(*Sorry Mr O’Reilly, is it okay to use that word in this case?)