Yes, we have a great country and yes, it has involved struggles of various kinds to keep it viable, but it is also a tragedy of sorts that this accomplishment has involved so much sacrifice for so many for so long to ensure this history of success.
This past week is a case in point. SSGT Robert Bales 38, an 11-year Army veteran, allegedly is guilty of killing 16 Afghan men, women and children in two different villages late one evening after having violated military rules by leaving his base, supposedly after having drunk alcohol and walking a mile.
This is a tragedy on many levels. That goes without saying, but it cuts even deeper by its untimely occurrence. It not only cost 16 Afghanis their lives, which is bad enough, but it also became another political football to be kicked around in both the American and Afghan governments as to the purpose the United States has in being in Afghanistan at all.
SSGT Bales is also a victim in this incident. If allegations prove true, maybe he is guilty, but in his defense his circumstance should be understood as well. SSGT Bales’ record indicates that he had three year-long deployments to Iraq and had been assured he would not be deployed again to a war zone. In fact, he was being trained as a recruiter when he was told that he was being deployed to Afghanistan apparently virtually over night.
The average person would say that SSGT Bales was a volunteer serving in the military and was, as a result, obligated to do as he was ordered. True, the military is a job, but it is also very much more than that to those who serve. It is at times, literally, a life-threatening job. Authorities say that for every person on the front lines there are eight people in the rear supporting that soldier. With those odds, the argument could be made that very few soldiers are in a life-threatening position. That very be true, but let’s look further at the job of serving in the military in a war zone for any soldier.
As a soldier gets off his or her plane taking them into a war zone, their life is almost instantly changed. They are given a weapon, ammunition and are under threat of being killed 24/7 until they leave that war zone.
From the Revolutionary War era up through the Korean “conflict,” a soldier could tell who his enemy was by their uniform. With Vietnam, that all changed. Guerrilla warfare became the norm. Today’s soldier doesn’t always know who his enemy is by the uniform.
Think about it: Every hour you are in a war zone you could be killed or severely injured. This pressure crushes some people into absolute mental basket cases almost immediately. Others, through some miraculous mental gymnastics, have learned to cope with that pressure and function seemingly quite well throughout their year-long deployment. SSGT Bales has had to do that three different times and was facing this same pressure for a fourth time when this incident occurred.
The veterans of World War I and World War II went over for the duration. Theirs was a sink or swim proposition. They either made it through it or they didn’t. I don’t know which is worse, staying for the duration or only a year at a time.
SSGT Bales was obviously a good soldier until this incident, as he had 11 years experience and had been decorated several times, but was his inner being still sound going into this deployment? Did anyone check his psyche before his deployment? It is known that he had been injured at least two times rather severely. The big question is: Did anyone check to see if he was wounded inside and able to endure another deployment?
I think this tragedy of war will one day qualify for one of those statues we’re so proud of in our nation’s capital.
Larry Wilson is a 50-year resident of Sparks and a retired elementary school teacher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.