He Snapped! He Snapped? (Norman Costa)
I have no words to address the actions of Sergeant Bales who did the shooting of civilians in Afghanistan, nor the horrors experienced by the dead and wounded, nor the bereavement of the families. I do have words, however, for the officers who have direct authority and control over the enlisted men and the non-commissioned officers in their charge.
Officers Are Always In Charge
Officers are responsible for the training and direct supervision of their soldiers. In turn, their superiors have the same responsibility, but of greater moment. They are supposed to set the example, the tone, and the limits of behavior for all their people.
An officer is supposed to know his or her men and, with the NCOs, watch them, direct them, lead them, and discipline them. It is the duty of the officers to curtail and restrain the violent impulses of their soldiers when the shooting and killing is over in combat.
A good officer will know when a soldier is beyond his discipline and contol, and then remove him from a situation where the soldier will harm himself or others. Senior officers can be oblivious to signs of emotional and personality dysfunction in their units.
In almost all tragedies, like the murders in Afghanistan, an after-event analysis shows there were signs the size of billboards that indicated something horrible and devastating was waiting to happen. In the case of the My Lai massacre, the officers themselves were in a state of decomposition, and there was no one looking out for their wellbeing and ability to lead.
A combat officer has only two priorities, in the following order: 1. accomplish the mission, and 2. take care of his soldiers. If the officer didn't see it coming, then the officer has to pay as well - right up the line. A failure of this magnatude is rarely without warning signs announcing the coming.
Snap, Snapped, Will Snap
There is very little in the press to enlighten us on what happened. There are some things that raise questions in my mind. The military said the soldier "snapped." In my opinion this is code for, "We were just as surprised and caught unaware as was the soldier, himself." The implication is that there was a smoldering violence that was hidden from view. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, there was an explosive eruption that no one could stop, let alone foresee or prevent. This is nonsense, in that an after-action assessment almost always uncovers a trail of glaring clues with no one paying attention, or passing the buck.
In my personal opinion, a true unforeseeable "snap' into a killing spree could be plausible if there were an organic cause in a brain tumor or brain injury. If there was alcohol involved, then there should be a history of alcohol related hostility or aggression in behavior, words, or attitudes. Based on a statement by Bales' attorney after talking to his client by phone, the Sergeant seemed to be unaware of some of the facts of the shootings and murders. This is speculative at this time, but it suggests looking for a dissociative episode. It is not rare to find that alcohol can trigger a dissociative-like state, with total amnesia of the person's actions.
Speculation About Anti-Malaria Drug
A new matter has come up regarding the use of an anti-malaria drug. Sgt. Bales had taken the drug. There is a question about the side effects of the drug, especially for anyone who has suffered a brain injury. Bales suffered at least a concussion at a prior time - in Iraq, I think. This is a speculative line of inquiry, at this time. However, it should be pursued.
Back To The Officers
I have to get back to something very fundamental in the command responsibility of our military. In a combat theater, especially in a combat theater, all officers are responsible for the actions and omissions of the soldiers in their unit. War is not a pick up game, or pick up orchestra. Officers train their soldiers, and train with them. You MUST know every person in your charge, because you need to make life and death decisions based upon knowledge of your men - knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses.
When new people are assigned to your unit, you are given that person's record and are expected to pour through it in detail and in depth. You must know the men you are leading, and you must know what they can and cannot do. If a soldier is losing his nerve when it comes to combat patrol, the officer has to fix it, show leadership and command, and move the soldier to a position where he is less likely to be a danger to himself and to his fellow soldiers. The soldier may have to be reassigned, retrained, or refered for medical, spiritual, or psychological counseling.