Robert Bales was no ‘lone gunman’

Our entire society is responsible for the trauma faced by veterans

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By VCS Advocate Christopher Miller


Monday, March 19, 2012, 11:36 AM

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Our country today is in the enviable position of being able to fight a gritty multi-front counterinsurgency far away in unfriendly and inhospitable terrain. And we’ve been doing it for over 10 years now. The average American hasn’t felt so much as a bump in the road for it. There has been no draft, no fuel rations, no chocolate shortages. When I served in Iraq, we used to say “the military is at war: America is at the mall.”


Since the recent murders committed by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales in Afghanistan, the perpetrator as has been called “troubled,” “crazed” and other such adjectives. The military is probing for alcohol involvement. He received a medical exam prior to deployment but, no surprise, was given a clean bill of health by military doctors. He was injured twice and witnessed fellow soldiers maimed and killed on previous deployments. He was also reportedly having family troubles back home.


They’re looking for the reasons why Bales did it. Yet, none of these single things caused this incident on their own. All of these circumstances were caused by yet another circumstance: sending a man to Iraq three times and then to Afghanistan for a fourth tour.


It is true no one made him pull the trigger, so he should bear personal responsibility for his actions. Bales should be punished to the full extent of the law if found guilty.


But America shares in the collective responsibility for this incident. If you send young men and women off to war, they will not come back the same. If you send them off to combat every other year for a decade, they will not come back okay. War is an action for which there are all kinds of consequences. But because the average American only knows war as something that happens long ago or far away, it is easy to shake our heads and ask how someone could possibly do this.


In fact, the average American hardly notices we’re still at war. Blaming it on the “lone gunman” pushes away the collective national responsibility for the consequences of sending volunteers to war for ten years.


Soldiers returning from war are often accused of being desensitized from violence due to what they’ve experienced. In some cases this is true. But the average American at home is desensitized to the violence that combat veterans face. I can vouch for the fact that I very much feel the toll of what I experienced in Iraq. I think about it daily, sometimes when I don;t want to. I’m sure other combat veterans will say the same. But war and violence are something average Americans only experience on the evening news or watching TV series like “Homeland.” This is an enviable position.


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