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Updated on November 7, 2009

We All Have Within Us, The Potential For Wonder As Well As Horror

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The Horrors Of War! Did We Forget? We Are At War!

Major Nidal Malik Hasan. Do you recognize that name? Do you think that Major Dr. Hasan would have had that explosive episode if we were not at war in Iraq or Afghanistan? Hold on, stay with me, here. Just follow me for a moment. What do you think? If there was no war in Iraq or Afghanistan, would any of us know about this psychiatrist today?

Or is it possible that Major Dr. Hasan would have flipped out anyway, and he would be equally infamous today even without the backdrop of the wars?

What do you think?

Why does it matter? Soldiers are dead, and they hadn’t even left the country yet! A cruel form of “friendly” fire. Isn’t that the real bottom line here?

Well, my brain, like yours, is driven to make sense out of my experience. For whatever reason, I have a personal and professional investment that this story be examined with a big picture frame and not from the simplistic frame that I have heard thus far on the news. I want to be intelligent about sizing up this story. I would like all of us to be intelligent in sizing up this story, but perhaps that’s just my idealistic self getting a little too utopian.

Dr. Amen, a very prominent psychiatrist and an expert in brain imaging, said on the Bill Handle show yesterday that it is quite possible that Dr. Hasan had a psychotic break. That’s an important piece of information, not in terms of his guilt or innocence, but simply in terms of us understanding how such heinous events occur.

So if he had a psychotic break, what brought that about? Was he on any medication that may have contributed to that psychotic break, if that is what it was? I hope someone checks that out, and I hope the Pentagon doesn’t conveniently erase anything from the record. Our soldiers receive all kinds of medical treatment in preparation for deployment.

Another thing that is curious to me is that this story is BIG news compared to the story about the the special forces soldiers at Fort Bragg several years ago who came back from Afghanistan and killed themselves, and in four of the cases, they took their wives with them. I believe there were a total of six such incidents in a very short period of time in 2005. I don’t remember the same news coverage that this terrible event is receiving.

Some investigators of the Fort Bragg incidents suggested that perhaps the medicine Lariam, which was given to ward off Malaria, was the culprit, but the Army has worked hard to dispel that “theory.” Lariam is known to have side effects such as extremely vivid and realistic dreams, suicidal ideation, and psychosis. But who knows? Maybe the Lariam had nothing to do with it at all, but again, we are driven to make some kind of sense out of soldiers coming back from serving their country only to kill their wives and then themselves.

Just for speculation sake, if we had moved thousands of troops into the Vatican, would it be a surprise if some fervent Catholic soldier might do as Dr. Hasan did? Or if we took our troops into Mexico to prevent illegal immigration, can you imagine a Mexican-American soldier riddling bullets into a crowd of fellow soldiers? Or if we invaded Canada, would we have to be on the alert for soldiers loyal to their Canadian heritage going off the deep end? Doesn’t this kind of thing happen in every war? The war forces us to choose up sides even when we have no desire to choose a side. Perhaps, we experienced this, in an intense way, in our own American Civil War.

Or is it that this recent incident with Dr. Major Hasan has absolutely nothing to do with politics or psychosis, but we’re back to Columbine and other similar events, where folks who for whatever reason feel isolated and bullied, and finally their rage takes over, similar to the scene in the film, “Christmas Story” where Ralphie finally cracks and beats the snot out of the neighborhood bully, only Ralphie didn’t use a semiautomatic weapon.

I think it is important for us to examine all the possibilities, so we do not become vigilantes and move into our own form of psychotic thinking and become blindly dedicated to rid our society of all the bad and evil and undeserving people. Even if our weapon of choice is “only” talk, hype, and prejudice. It seems to me that that kind of talk, hype, and prejudice ironically leads us to feeling isolated. We begin to imagine that our society is riddled with evil folks who are taking over and leading us all down a path of economic destruction, and if you want to add extreme religious beliefs to your “cocktail,” it’s all just a sign that the rapture is at hand.

For whatever reason, I just don’t go there, and maybe I can’t go there. It doesn’t mix or fit with my own experience of my day to day life, which, as stressful as it may be on any given day, is basically packed full of wonder-filled experiences, whether it be walking six miles in ninety minutes at age sixty four or having my back scratched by my sweetie pie or watching my thirty seven year old son bring his dreams into fruition, or being inspired by a fifty eight year old woman struggling to bring her dreams into fruition. It is all GOOD stuff.


Having reflected on all of the above, there is yet another piece of the big picture that I would like to offer you to look at.

As a country, we are only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to looking at war as war. War is not as it is depicted in the John Wayne movies. I know you know that, but are you willing to look at what war really is?

A recent PBS series provided the remaining World War II vets the opportunity to publicly reflect and talk about World War II. Their personal stories, the depth of emotion they each have sat on for over fifty years lets us know that World War II was not the glorious event that it is so often thought to be. War is never glorious. I know you know that as well, but are you willing to look at just how inglorious war is? If you are willing to look at just how inglorious war is, rent and watch the film, “Harrison’s Flowers.” And keep your eyes open during each and every frame.

As great a cause as we may think World War II was, every soldier in World War II paid a very high price. One World War II Vet told me that, as many times as he tried to confess in the confessional all the people he had killed, the nausea never left and the guilt never resolved. Nor did the intellectual awareness that he killed all those people in the service of his country make any of it go away. He was eighty years old when he shared that with me.

Another World War II Vet told me that he had never held his grandchildren because the thought of holding them triggered such an emotional upheaval of conflicting emotions, everything from intense sadness and pain to murderous rage. In general, he could never allow himself to feel any kind of tenderness after returning from war. So as much as we “glorified” World War II, there was nothing glorious about it for those who fought in it.

So lets keep scratching the surface even more and take a hard look at war and what it is all about.

According to the dictionary, civilize means to lead away from the savage. Savage, in turn, means untamed or uncivilized. Civilization is defined as a society that is organized around a higher order. The second definition of order is a state of peace!

So is it an oxymoron to talk about civilized nations going to war, holy or otherwise? What do you think? No “but...but...but!”

Obviously, there are many civilized nations who go to war, but the reality is war is untamed and savage. War is not civilized. No matter how strategically one targets, people are blown apart and disintegrated. When the targeted bomb goes a little astray, it is not just military personnel, but CIVILians–real people, who are blown apart. We can’t even be direct about it. and we say there was “collateral damage.” Next time you hear that phrase, picture bits and pieces of human beings, known as civilians, scattered about the “killing field.”

Whether one is fighting hand to hand, which our soldiers are well trained to do, or one is fighting from a video-game like installation in an office building thousands of miles away, or in an airplane, a ship at sea, or even from a cannon some distance behind the front lines, the aim of all weaponry, tactics, and strategies is to KILL the enemy, not to have the enemy surrender. This becomes particularly clear with bombs. One would look pretty stupid standing there waving a white flag as the bomb approached, although, we could capture it live on the warhead’s video camera!

To train for war, a person must regress. You must learn to be uncivilized and savage. And we all know that once you train to become savage and uncivilized, it takes a LOT to come back, to trust again that anyone is civil. The wives and soldiers who are “victims” of murder suicides upon a soldier’s return are a dramatic testimony to that reality. The majority of soldiers who do not kill their wives or themselves but return emotionally frozen are also a testimony to that reality.

When Johnny comes marching home, his brain stem and the cells in his body do not know that he is safe. The brain stem and every cell in the body stays on alert. The wonderful dialogue between one’s thinking brain and one’s emotional brain is short circuited, and the soldier lives his or her life as if he or she is still in combat.

The horrific events that occur when Johnny comes marching home, a soldier’s inability to live an emotionally connected life upon return, or a soldier’s difficulty “getting over” what he or she had to do to survive is not about a bad or deranged soldier or a soldier who has a weak character. It is about war.

And just maybe, Dr. Hasan has let us in on a little secret. The savagery of war begins once a nation decides to cross from civilized to uncivilized and to use war as a solution for national and international conflict. Perhaps basing one’s economy on war, training for war, preparing for war, and deploying for war has a pandemic effect and a flood gate of events becomes possible, including the likes of events at Fort Hood.

And if we say, there is no solution for certain conflicts other than war, then Okay, maybe that is true (I don’t think it is true). But I will concede the possibility that war is one of those necessary evils. But then, as a society who chooses to use war as a solution, we must be willing to take ownership of the consequences of our decisions. Instead of blaming, pointing fingers, deciding whether or not someone is psychotic, angry, isolated, bullied, whatever, we are left holding the bag of our country’s decision to use military force when we think it is necessary. We have blood on our collective hands. And we open the flood gates to all kinds of horrors.

I would guess, in past history, many of the horrors of war have been left to fade away in the wounded recesses of our soldiers brains and stomachs. That overpowering guilt and nausea is the only visible remnant of horrors to which most soldiers will firmly exclaim, “We don’t talk about that sh-t. You just bury it.” Only that sh-t is like any toxic waste and it just never goes away.

In this day and time of “civilization,” it is next to impossible for any horror to disappear or be buried. It’s becoming more and more in our face. And maybe that’s the best thing that could happen to us because for once we are seeing ALL the consequences, everything that goes along with WAR.

You know why the Taliban is so powerful in Afghanistan? You don’t know the answer? Why not? In that answer lies a big piece of the equation. What little I know about Afghanistan, tells me that the Taliban offer jobs and economic security to young people. No one is going to follow the Taliban on their own. That’s why they need a strong military force to keep people following them, and that means JOBS! And for many of our soldiers, military service is that as well. The army will pay for my medical school. I’ll be trained to be an airplane mechanic which means a job for me when I get out. Or I’ll get free of this hell hole I have gown up in. Or I’ll have a chance to bring some kind of structure to my otherwise chaotic life.

So that’s my contribution to the puzzle of Fort Hood. Don’t be surprised what comes with war, and for heavens sake, know that we are at war. It’s so far away, not on our television screens the way Viet Nam was, so out of sight, out of mind.

But I am a hopeful person. I take note of all the unbelievable events of the last fifty years.

The Berlin Wall came down. Communism lost the cold war! Moammar Kadafi made an unprecedented move to become more civilized even though his rhetoric may still be questionable. Not to speak of the million acts of kindness that occur every day where and when we least suspect: getting your wallet back with all the money and credit cards undisturbed; an unknown passerby risking his or her life to save another human being. When I was in desperate financial straits a few years back, a group of church members came forward and paid half our mortgage for six months!

And I look forward to the day when we will get it. “Quantum” events happen because people rise up in arms of a different sort.

Thanks for reading. Looking forward to your comments and to your piece of the puzzle.

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    • vrbmft profile imageAUTHOR

      Vernon Bradley 

      9 years ago from Yucaipa, California

      Thank you for your comments and information. I was not trying to imply that lariam was a cause in any way. I was simply citing that example from the Fort Bragg incidents as an example of a piece of the bigger picture that most of us never have access to. Again, if it was coldly premeditated, I still think we need to look at ways that perhaps we unwittingly contribute as a society, not that anyone but Dr Hasan is responsible. And if there is no real evidence of a psychotic break, I hope the defense doesn't use that as a defense, altho, you're probably right, they will. I hate it when "insanity" or "psychoses" are too easily thrown about as causes because it diminishes the importance of accountability and responsibility which is so lacking in our society today. We are always blaming someone or something. So I guess perhaps another question is what goes on for a person that they succumb, so to speak, to sucha level of rage that they begin premeditating such an horrific wiping out of good people. Ironically, the folks who would have protected him if he had been deployed! Thans again for your comments and insights.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Lariam (mefloquine) is NOT likely to figure in this incident in any way at all.

      Please note that Dr. Hasan had purchased the semiautomatic pistol allegedly used in the incident on 5 November in August 2009, shortly after arriving at Ft. Hood in July from his previous duty station at Walter Reed.

      He would not have been introduced to mefloquine therapy precedent to his deployment to Afghanistan (which was, I believe, planned to take place in November or December) that early. When used in malaria prophylaxis, mefloquine dosing begins one week before anticipated arrival in a zone where exposure to the disease is expected, and mefloquine is no longer the preferred agent for this purpose in the U.S. military.

      Right now, by overwhelming preference, they employ doxycycline, one of the tetracycline antibiotics.

      That matter settled, be advised that Roanoke County Circuit court records reveal that Dr. Hasan was issued a Virginia concealed carry (CCW) permit in 1996.

      Got that? 1996.

      That fact and the fact that he was also carrying (though he apparently did not use) a .357 Magnum revolver as well as the FN Five-seveN semiautomatic handgun with which the alleged killings and woundings were accomplished gives more than reasonable suspicion that his actions were coldly premeditated.


      I do seriously doubt that Dr. Hasan's actions on 5 November were the result of an acute "psychotic break" (i.e., a sudden and severe manifestation of a primary psychosis), though I do NOT doubt that his defense attorney will strive to portray it as such.

    • vrbmft profile imageAUTHOR

      Vernon Bradley 

      9 years ago from Yucaipa, California

      Thanks for the comment, David. I am hoping that when folks read my blog, they will think less compassion and more that when we decide, as a nation, to have war as an option in our "arsenal" of tools for solving problems and conflicts, that we are aware that we cannot pick and choose the consequences of such a decision. There is a whole bag of "horror" that comes with war including so-called "friendly fire," which is just another word for a HUGE mistake. As mentioned aabove, "collateral damage" is another one of hose horrific consequences. And let's cut the bologna about the stats with regard to PTSD. Any "sane" person who goes off to war will come back with PTSD in some form or another. We are kidding ourselves and doing our soldiers a HUGE DISservice to fool ourselves into thinking otherwise. The brain responds in certain preprogrammed ways to help us deal with intense emotional experiences so that we can survive. We move away from the experience to survive the moment, but then we need folks to support us going back and revisiting the horror so that eventually the experience gets processed in our hippocampus and we will eventually know the "battle" is over or the war is over. Anywho, I'm starting to write another blog here. So thanks for the comment.

    • David R Bradley profile image

      David R Bradley 

      9 years ago from The Active Side of Infinity

      Very nice and probing questions. This is a buffet of food for thought. Your insight always challenges me to be a little more compassionate. Thanks for sharing...


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