Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Society • What Caused Sgt. Robert Bales to Snap? Commentary
This has been the most blaring case of military personnel meltdown since the My Lai Massacre on March 16, 1968 when Lt. William Calley, an American soldier in South Viet Nam snapped and opened fire on unarmed civilians, killing 347-504. The remorseful man regretted this for the rest of his life.
It is easy to jockey through this current tragedy, start blaming Sgt. Robert Bales as a violent trouble-maker and bring up that he had been guilty of domestic abuse charges and a hit and run charge. A misfit that would always be a misfit. Neighbors say his house was unkempt where he lived with his wife and children.
There is no question that Sgt. Bales must answer to the charges that he killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan and face punishment.
But there are other things that MUST be considered at the same time. Let us start with the military itself. Sgt. Bales had been obligated to go on four consecutive tours of duty. He had already been on the battle field for three solid years and one month without letup. He suffered a concussion in Iraq and lost part of a foot in another battle field injury. And he had to go back on that 4th tour of front line duty.
This is brutal. There should be two tours maximum, then let military personnel be transferred to a non battlefield assignment. Three consistent tours of duty would be really pushing it. But a fourth consecutive tour is unconscionable.
By that time, facing yet another trip to the front lines, a numb soldier would see his life as one battlefield after another with the goal to kill as many people as possible…one after another..
He did not want to go on that fourth tour of duty…had gone on three already, was fatigued and wanted to go home to his wife and children. Indeed, he was told that he would not have to go on that 4th tour after all. He and his family had planned some time together in more peaceful surroundings.
BUT the army reneged on its promise, yanked him up and sent him back to the front lines. That alone could cause a normally balanced individual to snap.Next his house wound up in foreclosure proceedings because of financial difficulties. And he could not be there to help.
On top of that, the day before the tragedy, Sgt. Bales saw a friend of his be hit with an explosive that blew off his leg. He was right there and saw it along with his screaming friend going through unspeakable agony. That was the point when he went berserk. All he wanted to do was kill anyone within the race of people that had done this to his friend. And on March11th, it happened. The same month Lt. Calley went on his rampage. And strangely enough, the date was the 11th….the same day of 9-11.
It could have all been prevented.
There was a time, during the Greatest Generation of World War II when we had professional soldiers. The military did its job swiftly and efficiently. That was then.
Many things have been changed in a military that did not need changing until reaching a point, this point in time during these chaotic years, where we have turned our young people into killing machines instead of professional soldiers, sending them out to battle after battle with no letup where simply killing anyone representing the enemy is hammered into their minds and becomes the way of life.
Sgt. Bales has already been punished. His tortured soul and body emotionally blacked out. He says that he cannot remember one thing about that day. And that is valid.
People who have experienced trauma from a fall or an accident, do not remember the accident itself. Sgt. Bales was pushed by the Pentagon until he snapped.
This new army must share responsibility by changing the way they train and use our recruits. For God’s Sake, limit the regular soldiers to no more than two tours of duty. To do more is inhuman and can push recruits into situations like this one.
We should not simply toss Sgt. Bales away, get rid of him, out of sight,because he has embarrassed America. No, he was let down by America. And he is owed every bit of help, including the very best mental counselors that can be provided. Even so, because of blunders in sensible judgment, he will never be the same.
And better yet: Perhaps people, especially world leaders, can get to a point where we can talk to one another, appreciate the contributions of each other and yes, learn to love each other and see wars end altogether. If the church takes a solid lead in this, it can be done.
Rev. Austin Miles is an active chaplain and a veteran who was hit with mustard gas,altering his life..