November 06, 2009


Sam Smith

The recent murders at Ft. Hood recall Pascal's observation that "Men never do evil so cheerfully and so completely as when they do so from religious conviction."

Of course, the assumption in this country at the moment is that only Muslims are evil, which ignores Christians doing evil to Muslims in Afghanistan or Jews threatening to nuke Iran in the name of civilization.

In the end, it doesn't make much difference whether your husband or son is killed by a Muslim major in Ft. Hood, an American drone in Pakistan, or a Israeli soldier in Gaza. In each case the dead are victims of violent religious and cultural hubris.

The media, though, was quick to smell the bait. Even before Fox News had corroborated the suspect's name, Shepard Smith asked Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, "The names tells us a lot, does it not, senator?"

Replied Hutchison, "It does. It does, Shepard."

And the White House, joint chiefs and national security advisors treated it all as another wartime crisis rather than a solitary case of madness.

Which is logical, perhaps, because it is getting harder and harder to separate individual and mass insanity.

We assume there are people who are crazy and those who are rational but when your government reacts to those that brought down the World Trade Towers with an eight year futile war in Iraq that has killed, by the most conservative estimates, over 40 times as many innocent people, that line disappears.

Or consider that the war, along with that in Afghanistan, was the creation of politicians blithely willing to cause that many deaths to win reelection and supported by generals and admirals who thought it was a good idea and who then ordered Major Hasan and tens of thousands of others to engage in battle as an absolutely indisputable act of responsibility.

Or think about one little symbol of all this. Pull up a photo of the Joint Chiefs, those responsible for conducting wars like Iraq and Afghanistan and sending people to fight in them. Notice their chests bedizened by ribbons.

Now ask yourself: in what other field of human endeavor could one wear ribbons indicating areas of service, major campaigns, training, unit achievement, and personal accomplishment without people regarding you as completely mad?

And in what other job can you wantonly kill so many people and be treated as a normal human being?

None of this excuses Major Hasan but it puts his acts in perspective: a uncontrolled act of madness in a deliberately insane system.

We don't think about such things much, because most of us don't have to. The business of war has been outsourced to the weakest parts of our economy, to victims of our pathological economic system among others.

This is one reason there are so many suicides amongst soldiers. War is no longer a one time misery; troops are being recycled through it because there are too few to take their place.

One of the reasons, although we don't talk about it, is that an increasing number of people see war as a crazy idea of which they want no part. For the better off, that's a choice, but for others madness is simply the best job they can find.

The good news is that while perhaps a third or more of history's major wars (in terms of fatalities) have occurred in the 20th century, since WWII the death rates have gone down. We seem to be tiring of war but don't yet know it.

Which is good, all morality aside, since the only war America has won since the 1940s has been the invasion of Grenada and no government has surrendered to us since Japan.

There is a parallel madness to be found in other aspects of our uberculture - our approach to the environment, economy and education for example. This can lead one to an alternative subculture, depression or violent acts. The more we tend to the first course, the more haven we offer to those who might otherwise slip into the latter.

It's not easy to do but it helps to bear in mind when something like the recent killings occur that it is only a small outward and visible sign of a massive inner and invisible madness that can drive us crazy as well.