In the days ahead, there will inevitably be countless psychological analyses of Aaron Alexis, the man, now deceased, who is alleged to have been the killer at the Washington Navy Yard. Alexis had recently complained that people were harassing him with a microwave machine and that he heard “voices speaking to him through the wall, flooring, and ceiling.”
In the process of conducting those analyses, I wonder if it wouldn’t be productive if analysts were, at the same time, to analyze the overall effects on a society whose government is engaged in violence as a permanent part of its operations.
The U.S. government has now been killing people on an ongoing basis for some 12 years. We’re talking, of course, about the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, where the U.S. military machine has killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of people and also set into motion events that continue to bring more death and destruction to those lands. We’re also talking about the U.S. government’s assassination program in Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere, which continues to kill people on a regular basis.
I’m no psychologist but I wonder if it’s truly possible for all this permanent and ongoing death and mayhem not to have a deep and profound psychological effect on the American people themselves, notwithstanding the fact that they are not directly involved in the ongoing death and destruction.
Most Americans are nothing more than the funders of all this. They are the taxpayers. They dutifully pay their taxes that fund the war machine that is doing the killing. But they’re not doing the killing itself. Does the fact that they themselves aren’t doing the killing immunize them from the mental and spiritual consequences of what the military machine has been doing with their money for the past 12 years and continues to do with it?
Perhaps. I don’t know. I’m just tossing the subject out here for consideration.
After all, we’ve seen the effect on those who are involved directly in the killing. Before soldiers were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, they seemed to be regular people, dedicated to going to work, raising their families, and enjoying life.
After repeated tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, however, many of them have returned as changed individuals. We’ve all come to accept that alcoholism, drug abuse, violence, family violence and abuse, suicides, guilt, mental anguish, and murders are now regular features in the lives of countless troops who served the war machine in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, it would be interesting to see if the analysts point to Aaron Alexis’s military service as a critical factor in his mental problems.
When it comes to the soldiers, the analysts call it PTSD — Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which they attribute to being in a high-stress battle zone in which anyone can kill or die at any moment.
But my question is: Is it really possible for the citizens not to be adversely affected, in a psychological sense, when their government is engaged in an orgy of killing as a permanent, ongoing part of its regular operations.
The federal government, aided by the media, has done its best to protect American citizens from the horrors of what has been going on over there. The media has dutifully complied with the government’s wishes to not publish photographs of coffins of U.S. troops and also pictures of all the dead people over there — including the brides, grooms, children, parents, grandparents, and other people who have been killed by U.S. forces. Sure, we hear about people dying in bombing attacks but we’ve been pretty much immunized from the real horrors that come with all the death and destruction.
But it seems to me that there is a possibility that the factors that have adversely affected the soldiers, leading them to violence, suicide, alcoholism, and all the rest, inevitably have to seep into the subconscious of the citizenry themselves. It’s just difficult for me to believe that when people’s government has become a permanent killing machine that that’s going to have an effect only on the soldiers and not on the people whose taxes are funding the machine.
For the past 12 years, Americans have developed a remarkable ability to discount or ignore the deaths of foreigners. When Americans are killed in some horrific massacre, such as the Navy Yard or the Boston Marathon, there is a deep outpouring of sympathy and concern, even when people don’t even know any of the victims. That’s because Americans place a high value on human life and feel deeply when a person’s life is extinguished by some accident, disaster, or killer.
Yet, for the past 12 years, however, that deep concern for human life has not extended to foreigners killed by the U.S. government. Instead, the mindset that has developed has been one of indifference and lack of concern. They probably had it coming to them, is the way people have come to rationalize what has been happening over there.
Which raises the real root of the problem: the mindset of deference to authority that Americans have paid to the U.S. government throughout the past 12 years. The attitude has been: Let the government do what it needs to do to keep us safe. If the government invades Iraq or Afghanistan or assassinates people in Pakistan and Yemen, that that’s just the way things are. The government had no choice. It doesn’t like killing people. It just needs to do so to keep us safe.
And that’s the mindset that needs to be questioned and challenged. Did the U.S. government really need to invade and occupy Afghanistan and Iraq? Were there other alternatives to dealing with the 9/11 attacks, especially since the 9/11 attacks themselves where the result of previous foreign interventions by the U.S. government? Is there something structural about the U.S. government that has led our nation into this direction? What if the U.S. government had not been killing hundreds of thousands of people for the past 12 years in response to the almost 3,000 people killed on 9/11? How would alternatives have affected the lives of U.S. soldiers and the American people?
What we really ought to be doing is figuring out how to restore a healthy, prosperous, peaceful, and harmonious society to our land. Asking these types of questions is a necessary part of that process.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation
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