In the mid-1960s, when American cities erupted in rioting that left dozens dead and billions of dollars of devastation, many people rightly perceived the events as a sign that the unprecedented violence of the War in Vietnam was “coming home to roost.”
What better way to perceive the killings this week at Fort Hood?
A massacre carried out by an American service member at a domestic military base may still – and I emphasize, still – be a rarity; the same certainly isn’t the case in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just as the My Lai massacre was not an isolated incident during Vietnam, just one that happened to come to light despite an attempted cover up by Army officials, among them Colin Powell, so the 1995 Haditha massacre in which a squad of Marines killed 24 Iraqis, merely stands out because we know about it, once again despite an attempted cover-up.
Of course, as at My Lai, the killings at Haditha differed from the killings at Fort Hood where the victims were themselves Army personnel – men and women trained to be sent into harm’s way — not unarmed non-combatants: men, women, children, and infants who had the misfortune of finding themselves in the harm’s way created by an out-of-control U.S. military machine.
Another difference? If Major Malik Nidal Hasan, the presumed killer at Fort Hood, survives, he will undoubtedly pay the ultimate penalty for his crime, even if there is incontrovertible evidence that he is crazier than a loon on Angel Dust. On the other hand, only one American soldier was ever convicted of a crime at My Lai – where hundreds died – and he was pardoned by Richard Nixon. And to date, not a single U.S. Marine implicated in the sickening slaughter at Haditha has been convicted of anything.
Implicit in the ideology of American exceptionalism – which is embraced by a broad spectrum of our citizens, including Barack Obama – is a claim of absolute impunity. If our motives are pure, our objectives good, our country “the last best hope for mankind,” than surely we escape the kind of accountability that other peoples face when they commit crimes against humanity.
So ingrained is this assumption that it now even extends to our chief international partner-in-crime. Surely it is no coincidence that, just one day before the Fort Hood killings, the U.S. Congress voted by a lopsided margin for a resolution condemning the Goldstone Report, the meticulously documented, scrupulously fair U.N.-sponsored examination of war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out both by Israel and Hamas during last year’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
If the report had merely pointed a finger at Hamas, you can rest assured that no such obloquy would have been heaped upon the report or its authors. But Israel?
One would like to believe that the Fort Hood massacre might cause a moment of reflection about the current phase of the Endless War that we have been engaged in virtually without break since 1941. But don’t hold your breath. Similar hopes inspired by 9/11 were quickly dashed as even the blowback murder of nearly 3,000 Americans was not enough to keep us from doubling down on the madness and rallying behind George W. Bush and the neocons.
Nonetheless, it’s important to remember: American exceptionalism – and the claim of impunity that goes with it – is merely a conceit, not reality.
By the Defense Department’s own, undoubtedly conservative, estimate, some 300,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars now suffer from PTSD – a higher rate than from Vietnam, whose veterans even now continue to be overrepresented in our homeless shelters, psych wards, and prison populations.
How many more Fort Hoods do we have to suffer, how many more My Lais and Hadithas do we have to inflict on others, before we finally reckon honestly with the moral balance that prevails in the universe? Before we finally face the truth?
We cannot make war on the world without making war on ourselves, since we are, after all, part of the world.