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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Obama Jumps the Gun on Ft. Hood

I was disappointed this morning to hear a portion of President Obama's speech at Ft. Hood, in which he condemned the "twisted motive" behind the mass murder there. He made very clear that he assumed this motive was religious. This was extremely premature in my view.

The only evidence I've seen for this assumption is that the alleged shooter was in contact with a fundamentalist cleric, but authorities who looked at this earlier were satisfied that it was consistent with his official functions. Just on its face, it's perfectly comprehensible that someone charged with treating the victims of violence carried out in the name of a religious ideology would seek to understand the perpetrators' possible motivation -- especially if he's a psychiatrist.

One might consider his actions fully explicable in terms of the "pincer action" of two factors not normally found together: on the one hand, he was repeatedly exposed to the psychic pain of those who'd seen combat in the especially stressful context of occupations resisted by largely native insurgencies. On the other, he couldn't share this burden with fellow soldiers, because of the perception that they saw him only as a Muslim and not as a comrade. This may have led to unbearable feelings of isolation and frustration, and ultimately resentment and anger toward a community whose emotional burden he was obliged to share, but to whom he couldn't himself turn to help him bear it. Given his reported dread of pending deployment, it may also be that in the back of his head was the thought that acting out his rage would prevent that deployment, and that court-martial here was preferable to combat there.

Of course this is speculation -- and I've appropriately labeled it as such. What is not appropriate is to assume that we can do any more than speculate about the motivation at this point. Unfortunately, that is what President Obama did in his speech.

Eric Hamell

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