Why must we insist that Bales “snapped” before murdering Afghan civilians?

Robert Fisk examines the near-universal insistence that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales must have “snapped” before he killed sixteen civilians—mostly women and children—near Kandahar. If an Afghan had done the same thing, killing civilian workers in Afghanistan, he’d be labelled a terrorist. But since he’s on our side, we interpret his actions in the kindest possible light. It’s noteworthy that General John Allen—the army’s top guy in Afghanistan—pleaded with his troops last month not to murder civilians in response to the Afghan riots over the accidental burning of Korans. A few weeks later, that’s precisely what happened. 

8 thoughts on “Why must we insist that Bales “snapped” before murdering Afghan civilians?”

  1. Maybe, but couldn’t we also look at his deployment and medical histories, as well as his reported family situation, and draw a similar conclusion?

  2. He started being described in those terms long before anything was known about him. Even now, we know so very little that it’s awfully tough to draw any conclusions based on those scant details. After all, there are thousands of troops deployed under similar circumstances, and not one one of them has massacred civilians. What’s different with Bales? Why do we assume the best? Why don’t we assume (for instance) that he was a radicalized Christian extremist trying to go out in a blaze of glory?

  3. When one of “our” soldiers hunkered down in a foxhole suddenly jumps up and charges the enemy in a mad dash — on his own, without orders to do so — if for some inexplicable reason he is able to kill a good number of enemy combatants before they kill him, it’s not unusual for such a man to be given a medal for valor … posthumously.

    Whatever signs there were that he had “snapped” and was literally on a suicide run will be forgotten. Fog-of-war rules sometimes allow for “our” dead madmen to be seen as heroes. And, apparently, the same rules can sometimes be used to whitewash the deeds of “our” bad actors, by casting them as victims of battle fatigue.

  4. I’ve never been sure exactly what “snapped” means, in a mental health sense. It has always struck me as an imprecise, laymen’s term, a popular (mis)understanding of how mental illness might work. The mental image it conjures for me is of a person going about life perfectly normally and then very suddenly transforming into someone completely different and completely irrational, with no bridge or transition into that state. I have a feeling that it is in fact rare that someone transitions into mental illness in this way, but, like I said, I’m curious to know more, preferably from an expert. I’ve known only one person with what I would consider a truly severe mental illness (schizophrenia), and while he did indeed have a marked break with reality, it was preceded by pretty obvious (in retrospect) signs of transition.

    I tend to think “he just snapped” is what people who want to excuse a violent act like to think about the actor.

  5. It really pains me to see other progressives trying to make this guy an outlier. I mean, of course he is, because others do not kill innocents like this. No, they either kill themselves or others when back home. Four (4 !!) tours of duty. Can anyone who’s commenting here really…really understand what that means? And I am in no way excusing his actions. But….

    This sucks. He sucks for having done this. But c’mon, people, this is a by-product of a prolonged and no-win war. History has shown us this, yet we’re still outraged. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner.

  6. I think the point here is that when “others” act like butchers, we start with deeming them irredeemable monsters, and when people start to introduce nuance, analyze motives, and examine environmental triggers, those people are dismissed out of hand or demonized as liberal extremists.

    When this guy acts like a butcher, we start by introducing nuance, analyzing motives, and examining environmental triggers. When people suggest that he might just be a monster, they are dismissed out of hand or demonized as liberal extremists?

    “Their” suicide bombers and “our” murdering soldier? I don’t know who did what and why, but neither is anywhere within the realm of being excusable. Both are monsters for killing innocents. The difference is that for our guy, we start the dialogue with “He may be a monster, but…” and throw in mitigation. Anyone who says that about a suicide bomber or terrorist hates both liberty and America.

  7. Waldo- We wouldn’t assume that Bales is a radicalized Christian extremists because we don’t see that as a pattern. I don’t see how any of the recent actions of wayward US Military individuals could be seen as that, and if you burn a pile of Bibles you aren’t going to have bands of roving Christian extremists running around killing people. Atrocities are nothing new to our military or any other; I wonder how much loathing and hatred builds up among soldiers in the closed system they have to adhere to in such areas. It surely must have a deeper impact on some, just as extremist rhetoric would in some Muslim circles.

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