Iraq Violence Spill-Over by Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam (NOVEMBER 11, 2009)

Dr Mohd. Manzoor Alam on the Fort Hood firing by Major Nidal Malik Hasan

Modern warfare is based on the assumption that “everything is fair in love and war”. The first casualty of man’s brutality to man is death of the humanity of both the brutaliser and the brutalised.

Prolonged exposure to sustained violence can disorient anyone and unhinge him or her from their moral and cognitive moorings. This is not my reading of the war situation, but the conclusion of continuous studies by military psychologists over the last 100 years.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s firing in Fort Hood (Texas), which caused extensive fatalities, is just another case of a military officer being overwhelmed by violence all around him. Major Hasan is not the first US army officer to go berserk. Before him there was Timothy McVeigh (among others) who blew the Oklahoma Trade Tower. McVeigh, too, was overwhelmed by America’s violent military campaigns.

Sometimes the constant spectacle of violence changes cognition and one’s moral framework so much that one fails to distinguish between right and wrong. The horrible excesses by American soldiers in Mai Lai in Vietnam and Abu Gharib in Iraq are examples of this. Sadly, what comes to light is a very small portion of what is going on in isolated torture chambers of the military and in less reported battles and “special operations”.

There is yet another dimension of the same problem: healthy soldiers killing themselves in war zones because of unbearable stress created by the horrors of armed conflict and the soul-deadening impact of inflicting violence on others. The number of US soldiers who have killed themselves in Iraq is substantial. US soldiers returning home from war often get violent. Post-traumatic stress disorders are common in such people. Irritability, breakdown in relationship with spouses and girl friends, sleeplessness, violent outbursts of anger and nightmares are quite common.

Major Hasan was dealing with such badly wounded psyches. As a psychiatrist he had been counselling and providing solace to such people. Counsellors can also get infected with the deep sense of doom and meaninglessness that haunts war-weary soldiers. After all, psychiatrists too are human.

Major Hasan, to top it all, had demons of his own that kept on tormenting him. He was constantly taunted by thoughtless fellow soldiers for his Arab origins. He bore the barbs with dignity till the dam burst, inundating several precious lives.

Hasan’s and McVeigh’s unthinking, irrational conduct should force Western statesmen and military leaders to think coolly and revise their destructive policies.


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