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« A Question of Crime (Sujatha) | Main | A More 'Perfect' Music (Sujatha) »

March 19, 2012


Whatever the case here, history shows that more lone wolf atrocities involving civilians occur during prolonged military / police occupation than during active combat.
It is time to get out of Afghanistan. We are achieving nothing of significance there - no nation building, no winning of hearts and minds and not much in terms of ensuring US national security. Let local forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan figure out what they want to do with the Taliban and Al Qaida.

Ruchira, you reminded me of something I've heard over the years about occupying armies. For example, when France capitulated to the German Army in 1940, they were occupied at once. The German Army's behavior during the occupation was described this way: In the beginning they behaved correctly toward the French population. [The term "behaved correctly" is well understood to mean following international agreements on the conduct of war, and the humane and respectful treatment of civilian populations.] Eventually, the Germans stopped behaving correctly. They confiscated personal property and farm produce, and anything that could be shipped home for the war effort. Brutal treatment of the civilians, and reprisal executions of the innocent were common place and went unpunished. Murders, forced labor, kidnapping, and deportation to work/death camps are well known.

I cannot wait for the day we are out of Afghanistan. Until then, we have to hold our officers [and politicians] responsible for the behavior of our soldiers. As in Abu Ghraib, My Lai, and the village in Afghanistan, these are failures of leadership and command. As in Abu Ghraib and My Lai, superior officers who were responsible by failure and omission will never be disciplined.

In any number of these "incidents" (shootouts, terrorist attacks, sexual abuse, massacres, suicides...) there are going to be warning flags that flash red and foot-high in hindsight, no? Question is how well trained the officers are to pick up on them. Are there regular professional psych checkups on the soldiers?

It would appear that no lessons on how to keep soldiers from 'snapping' have been learned from what occurred in Iraq (Haditha comes to mind). Sgt. Bales will likely be let off relatively lightly, given what has already been brought to light about his mental state, just as the perpetrators of Haditha got away with slaps on the wrist, I think.

The Haditha ruling was a legal atrocity and we heard very little outrage in the mainstream media. It is more interesting to talk about Newt Gingrich's wives and Mitt Romney's dog. The light sentences for the perpetrators of wartime crimes come about precisely for reasons that Norm suspects - to protect the higher ups who did not see the time bomb ticking or looked the other way even if they did.

Sgt. Bales seems to have had many problems even before he "snapped" in Afghanistan.

And here at home: If the jury finds that this guy indeed acted in self defence, I might "snap."

"Question is how well trained the officers are to pick up on them. Are there regular professional psych checkups on the soldiers?" --Prasad

The issue is not stated any more clearly than the above.

no doubt, but I don't see where at the moment. I mean (say) routine evaluations of all combat troops by trained psychiatrists every ~6 months. Are you saying that sort of thing happens or that it doesn't? im not talking about officers themselves monitoring the condition of their subordinates.

Today, combat related PTSD has been reduced 85 percent. This is the result of a political will that took years to develop, and the process and training that took a long time to put into action.

The larger issue of routine monitoring of combat readiness can be a hit or miss affair. It requires a political will on the part of the generals, and ongoing training and management. It is not an intermittent (every six months) affair. At any point in time, medical and psychological services should be monitoring and treating actual and potential cases of violent soldiers. Line officers, themselves, should be undergoing constant training and retraining to be able to assess the 'combat readiness' of their soldiers.

Ain't nothing going to happen, though, until senior officers are held responsible for the failings of their junior officers. I am not optimistic.

Cutting to the chase, perhaps?


Thanks for the Fisk article. Half of it is worth considering. The other half shows that he knows absolutely nothing about mental illness and violence. We know nothing at this time about Bales' mental condition. Subject to confirmed facts that are yet to be determined, it seems clear the military wanted to distance themselves and isolate Bales in his guilt by saying he "snapped." Suggestions of alcohol and family/marital problems may have been blatant attempts to send the attack dogs in another direction. Surprise, surprise.

Fisk makes the common mistake in concluding that a genuine mental break, or derangement, or 'snapping' into a murder spree should show no indications of intention and deliberation in choosing victims and carrying out the atrocity. The tragedy of the Texas Tower sniper, Charles Whitman, in 1966 is a perfect example. From Whitman's own notes left behind, it was clear his deliberation and planning went side by side with bizarre mentation and irrational urges to homicide. He was being treated by a psychiatrist at the time, and a post mortem found a brain tumor. Wikipedia has a very good summary.

What Fisk did get right is that the military threw Bales under the bus, as I discussed in my essay. From his experience he noted that commanding officers, General Allen in this case, are usually well informed about what is going on with their men - at least on a macro level. Allen was fearful of reprisals for the vengeance killings of US soldiers and issued a cautionary statement to his command.

Cautionary statement, my ass! He should have issued a directive to every regimental, company, and platoon commander that he was holding these officers personally responsible for any act of reprisal committed or attempted by any soldier in their unit. This is what I have been talking about. OFFICERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERYTHING THEIR SOLDIERS DO.

Norm, I agree that Fisk, the psychologist is not the most knowledgable but Fisk the war reporter in the middle east, is very competent. I took his claim of the US military's weak response in this case more seriously than I did his analysis of Bales' mental state. A soldier on a rampage in a foreign country under US occupation is the US military's responsibility. You are absolutely right about the red herrings about the sergeant's private pain or illness - they are irrelevant here.

More on murder, PTSD, and combat related trauma.

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