Linking the Fort Hood shooting to terrorism

The Fort Hood shooting should be analysed within the larger context of US militarism.

The April 2 shooting at Fort Hood resulted in 4 deaths [Getty Images]
The April 2 shooting at Fort Hood resulted in 4 deaths [Getty Images]

On April 2, US Army Specialist and Iraq war veteran Ivan Lopez opened fire at Fort Hood military base in Texas, killing four people – including himself – and injuring 16.

According to Fort Hood commander General Mark A Milley, Lopez had “behavioural and mental health issues“. He was under evaluation for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The New York Times reported that, “[i]n Washington, intelligence officials said they were investigating potential terrorist connections to the shooting, but so far had no evidence to suggest any”. The Washington Post concurred: “[S]enior US law enforcement officials said the incident did not appear to be linked to any foreign terrorist organisations.”

The trotting out of the possibility of terrorist connivance in the incident is, of course, unsurprising. In fact, the terrorist menace has become so institutionalised in US discourse and analysis that one half-expects to open the newspaper in the morning to find reports to the effect of: “A collision on such-and-such highway killed four people last night. Terrorism did not appear to be the motive.”

In this case and in other cases of intra-military violence, official reminders of the ever-present terrorist threat serve to justify the deployment of US soldiers abroad to combat said threat. But it’s hardly difficult to see that “war on terror” venues like Iraq and Afghanistan can exacerbate or even trigger “behavioural and mental health issues”.

Obama’s ‘broken heart’

Among the precedents for the April 2 affair is the 2009 shooting rampage – also at Fort Hood – conducted by Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan. Thirteen people were killed and 32 were injured.

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Given the ethnic connotations of the man’s name, media pundits had an easier time selling a possible terrorist connection. The New York Times‘ Thomas Friedman, for example, speculated that Hasan was “just another angry jihadist”.

A less sensational view was, however, offered in a BBC News profile of Hasan, which emphasises that his “commitment to the army may have been broken by his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and by plans to deploy him to a war zone”. The profile furthermore notes that Hasan was “said to have been affected by injuries he saw at the Walter Reed Medical Army Center, where he worked until recently as a psychiatrist treating troops returning from combat”.

Hasan’s family claimed that his disillusionment also stemmed from harassment by other members of the armed forces on account of his Middle Eastern heritage, which naturally doesn’t bode well for the treatment of full-fledged Middle Easterners on the receiving end of US military ventures.

Regarding yesterday’s shooting by Specialist Lopez, Barack Obama announced on behalf of the US establishment: “We’re heartbroken something like this might have happened again.” But such professed heartbreak never accompanies other “somethings” that have happened more than once – and have entailed much greater carnage – such as US drone strikes on Arab/Muslim funerals and wedding parties

According to a July 2013 Al Jazeera video report, US drone strikes on Yemen had killed nearly 800 people, most of them civilians, since 2002. As was revealed in 2012, Obama had personally presided over many drone targets.

As for slightly more hands-on killing taking place in the region, the “Collateral Murder” footage released by WikiLeaks illustrates the video game approach to war and the complete dehumanisation of victims that enables carefree slaughter.

Investigative journalist Nir Rosen has emphasised that these “big scandals[,] like Abu Ghraib, or the ‘Kill Team‘ in Afghanistan”, are far from uniquely malevolent manifestations of occupation, which he defines as “a systematic and constant imposition of violence on an entire country. It’s 24 hours of arresting, beating, killing, humiliating and terrorising.”

Indeed, individual behaviour in such cases must be analysed within the larger context of destructive militarism, an industry that combats human compassion in the interest of corporate profit.

It should thus not be overly startling, perhaps, when US soldiers conditioned to operate in such fashion and to view human life as devoid of value turn their guns on fellow military personnel – and on themselves. In fact, these episodes could be construed as symbolic of the military institution’s contributions to individual dehumanisation and alienation from humanity.

The larger context

In the aftermath of the April 2 shooting, Obama stressed that Fort Hood troops “serve with distinction, and when they’re at their home base, they need to feel safe”.

The appreciation and concern for the wellbeing of US soldiers that is perennially voiced by the country’s leadership is, however, somewhat at odds with the situation on the ground. As CNN reported in November 2013, the suicide rate among military veterans may be at least 22 per day, and possibly higher – which suggests that Washington is not immensely preoccupied with ensuring that the people who fight its wars are properly looked after post-combat.

Veterans continue to enjoy disproportionate rates of homelessness, and in 2012 the Department of Veterans Affairs calculated that 247,243 returnees from Afghanistan and Iraq had already been diagnosed with PTSD. Oftentimes, psychological trauma is aggravated by repeated deployment to conflict zones.

Although Specialist Lopez’s precise circumstances aren’t known, his reported “behavioural and mental health issues” can’t be seen as occurring in a vacuum – as much as the US political-military establishment likes to portray such incidents as the isolated fallout of individual defectiveness rather than as evidence of a diseased system.

Indeed, individual behaviour in such cases must be analysed within the larger context of destructive militarism, an industry that combats human compassion in the interest of corporate profit.

Without speculating too much about Lopez’s motives, it’s worth recalling Rosen’s reference to the constant “terrorising” that has characterised the US’ recent wars. Seeing as the process of inflicting terror on other populations in the name of the “war on terror” has undeniably had adverse behavioural and psychological repercussions for many of its participants, it might actually be accurate to declare a connection between terrorism and the Fort Hood shooting. 

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine. 

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