For all of their training, soldiers are people first and soldiers second. This simple fact can be seen yet again in the breakdown of one of these people, resulting in him shooting dead 16 people, in an unprovoked, premeditated act of murder.
Is a man guilty if he loses his mind? What are the ethical views of a society towards such a man; a society who recruited him, trained him, armed him and sent him out into a workplace – an arena of war, where he lost his mind. Does that society have a duty of care to this soldier? Is it really likely that such a person would be a mass killer in other circumstance? Lost his self regulation, forgot his empathy for his fellow man and took away their right to life.
This incident in not unique – just over two years ago, a middle ranking Officer and a senior professional (a US Army Major, serving as a psychiatrist), shot dead 13 people and injured 29 others, in the worst single act to take place on a secure American military base. How bad can things be, when the professional employed by the Army to address and resolve mental health issues in the soldiers for whom he has responsibility, himself loses his mind and instead of caring for and counselling his charge, he kills them.
On the latest figures we found (for 2010), US Army suicides were up 80%, from 2004, following the invasion of Iraq – to a total of 160 personnel. Previously suicide rates were far lower than amongst the civilian population. This was for a host of well documented reasons: camaraderie; purposeful occupation; role of physical exercise in mental well being; the importance of “joint purpose”. For this situation to have so catastrophically switched around is devastating to the lives of the serving soldiers, their families, the broader Army ethos and not least for their victims.
In a war that is operationally winding down – and all parties know this, its outcome will be measured by hostile actions of the Taliban in Afghanistan, within two years of US withdrawal, and the civil disorder still prevalent in Iraq. For the ISAF soldier, this outcome will more tangibly be measured by the mental health state they are left managing as they retire from the military and return to civilian life, along with the rest of us.