Discuss as:

Failure And Tragedy

Moments after the shooting began at Fort Hood, the media began analyzing the thin and often contradictory data that streamed into the newsrooms: there were two or perhaps even three assailants; one was cornered near the post exchange or commissary; one was shot dead. None of this was true, but it is difficult to avoid the mention of inaccurate and incomplete stories, since we are all captives of the viral information and misinformation that spreads rapidly in the Petri dish of modern communications.

Not long after the story of the Fort Hood massacre broke, it was revealed that there was really only one murderer, and his name was Hasan. You could hear the sharp intake of breath and stammering that accompanied the revelation. For some time after the disclosure, one could almost feel the discomfort of anchors and commentators, as they pointedly ignored both the fact and the implication that Hasan was most likely a Muslim.

There are a few aspects of the tragedy that deserve some brief analysis because they figure so heavily in the speculation that will continue until the story runs dry, and many of the people commenting on them do not have the experience to comment cogently.

Magic Bullets There were over 40 casualties, at least some---if not many---suffering multiple gunshot wounds. And it was reported by Fort Hood officials that Major Hasan fired about 100 rounds before he was felled by four shots from a policewoman employed by the installation. It is difficult to envision how all 100 rounds could have come from Hasan's weapon, because, even if the pistol's magazines were filled to their 20-round capacities, he would still have had to reload four times, all the while giving those who were not incapacitated the time to overpower him. The numbers do not make sense, and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that at least some of the wounds were from friendly fire. Having been in many firefights myself, I can attest to the great likelihood of unintentional fratricide, and one should always be suspicious, especially before investigations are completed, when officials aver information with absolute certainty.

An Armed Camp Many commentators refer to Fort Hood as an armed camp, registering astonishment that someone did not shoot Hasan immediately. Fort Hood is home to a corps headquarters and its support elements, two divisions of soldiers, and numerous other tenant organizations, and more than 100,000 people call it their home. It is bristling with troops. But it is not bristling with weapons. Except for the military police and contract security on patrol or on guard, all weapons are under lock and key until they are issued---one at a time and by serial number---to troops for training and range firing. All personally-owned firearms must be registered with the office of the Provost Marshal, and Hasan, who evidently lived off post, concealed the weapons and ammunition when he entered Fort Hood on that day.

Harassment Another story that circulated unchecked was that Hasan was being harassed because of his Muslim faith, and the impression intended was that it was a regular occurance. There is some evidence that a soldier removed an Arabic-language sticker from Hasan's personally-owned vehicle, which was located off-post, and that the soldier was subsequently disciplined, but the kind of harassment alleged by his family sounds specious to someone who has spent much time in the Army. The armed forces contain more than 1.7 million people, people of all faiths---and quite a few atheists, too---and Muslims have fought and died side-by-side with Christians, Jews, Buddhists, animists, Hindus and others. In any large organization, there will be harassment, but the services are particularly attuned to that probability and do an excellent job of preventing and punishing it. In any case, one should be mindful of this: Majors don't get harassed.

PTSD There has been plenty of talk in which Hasan and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder have been linked, as if PTSD were the cause of the tragedy. But in his case, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there was no "T." He had never been deployed and as a medical doctor was trained for years in the messy intricacies of the human machine. Indeed, in his first semester of medical school, he had to participate in the complete dissection and disassembly of a human body and later was educated to become familiar with, and inured to, the diseases and insults that the human body suffers. Hasan himself said that he just did not want to go overseas, and suggesting that he had PTSD does a tremendous disservice to those brave Americans who have endured actual combat and as a result suffer its debilitations.

A Failure of Leadership That Hasan had problems is now evident to us, but it should have been abundantly clear to everyone with whom he had contact. The FBI was investigating that he was the author of troubling on-line postings that equated American battlefield valor with the actions of suicide bombers, but it had not interceded. Hasan was reported to be a loner with few acquaintances, let alone friends. There is evidence that, when he was assigned to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, very few patients were referred to him because of his manner and inadequate performance. Indeed, it appears that he was given at least two evaluations in which it was noted that he was professionally substandard. It is difficult to see how, given the low esteem in which he was held, he managed to become certified in his specialty and promoted to the rank of major.

The Army has policies that direct comrades and the chain-of-command to identify people like Hasan and remove them from the system. This process also failed. Some have suggested that political correctness had something to do with ignoring Hasan's inadequacies. Others have said that perhaps specialists with his purported skills are in such short supply that officials ignore a problem like Hasan. The former seems possible---we see it in life every day---but the latter makes less sense.

But whatever the reasons for Hasan's sliding under the radar, military and federal officials have a lot of explaining to do, and in the meantime they need to insure that they do not fail in their duty again.