I am heartbroken. It has been over a week now, and I still cannot shake the Ft. Hood tragedy, which reaches deeply into this military veteran’s soul and feels like a wound to my body.
I am haunted with memories and images from long ago. I come from a long, Southern military line. We gave our family name to Ft. Bliss, Texas, and I was raised partly on a military base in San Antonio, close to Ft. Hood. The murders struck home.
The mass shooting first came to my attention from a phone call that night from another military family member. Then I got an email from a buddy in our Veterans Writing Group with links to articles about it.
We spoke about the incident in two of my Sonoma State University classes the following week. A psychotherapist who works with soldiers on a contract with the Department of Defense, who had been invited to Ft. Hood to work for a while, came with her insider’s report.
A student informed me that he received a call from his best friend from Ft. Hood as the shooting was happening in the background. I still wake in the middle of the night and hear those shots. It is a familiar, unwelcome sound.
My own post-traumatic stress from being raised military and then serving in the Army during the American wars in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos has been triggered. I did not see combat or kill anyone, but I did lose some buddies; I feel those losses once again as I hear about the mass shooting at Ft. Hood.
The deepest reflection about Ft. Hood that I have read is from Southern California poet and writer Deena Metzger. “Everything that is terrible about war, and particularly our contemporary wars and the two wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, is articulated in this event,” she wrote. “Such madness is what war is, and we are responsible.
“Maj. [Nidal] Hasan is in our lives,” Metzger continues. “We have to wrestle with what drove him to such horrific action.” It is too easy to just blame Maj. Hasan. She charges: “I drove him mad. He said it wasn’t his war; I said it has to be your war.”
Metzger speaks for America, even though many will deny the truth that she utters. But I have indeed been wrestling with what happened and our collective responsibility as taxpayers for it.
What is the mad and maddening context from which the major apparently acted? Our capacity and willingness to understand why he engaged in such destructive behavior could help us to prevent further outbursts.
Or we could just continue on America’s current self-destructive path and send another 40,000 troops to Afghanistan to kill people and return with post-traumatic stress to continue the killing here. When will we wake up to the multiple and complex consequences of war-making? They do not end when the war is officially declared over. Ask any vet who lost part of his or her body or soul.
Veterans Day is now over; the parades are finished. Most Americans outside military families are likely to soon forget what happened at Ft. Hood and what it says about the hundreds of thousands of men and women trained to kill who are and will be returning home.
Few combat vets will forget, even if they do not speak about what happened. Even those not deployed to war zones may experience what is being called “pre-traumatic stress.” Others experience the “secondary trauma” of hearing the horror stories of soldiers. As the war continues, we all become war casualties, some more damaged than others. There are becoming fewer places to hide from the horror that the United States continues to visit on people far away and increasingly on our own population.
Americans are famous for taking action; what we would benefit most from now is reflection. Perhaps the Ft. Hood mess can contribute to an awakening, rather than to another shoot-’em-up. Perhaps some good can come from the Ft. Hood horror, depending on how Americans respond.
Anything positive that we can harvest from this terrible deed will depend on our capacity to feel and think deeply about it, and submit ourselves to the deep grief that is appropriate.
Shepherd Bliss is a former Army officer who currently teaches part-time at Sonoma State University and operates an organic farm in Sebastopol. Contact him: [email protected]