Robert Bales As Victim


The title of David Brooks' column about Robert Bales—the Army sergeant who slaughtered three Afghan women, nine Afghan children, and four Afghan men; then burned several of their bodies—is "When the Good Do Bad." Without claiming to know anything the rest of us don't, Brooks blames the rosey worldview of secular humanism and argues that "in centuries past"

most people would have been less shocked by the homicidal eruptions of formerly good men. That's because people in those centuries grew up with a worldview that put sinfulness at the center of the human personality.

According to this older worldview, Robert Bales, like all of us, is a mixture of virtue and depravity. His job is to struggle daily to strengthen the good and resist the evil, policing small transgressions to prevent larger ones. If he didn't do that, and if he was swept up in a whirlwind, then even a formerly good man is capable of monstrous acts that shock the soul and sear the brain.

Was this the same "whirlwind" that swept up Maj. Nidal M. Hasan in 2009, and led him to kill 13 Americans at Ft. Hood? Not according to Brooks, who wrote at the time:

Major Hasan was portrayed as a disturbed individual who was under a lot of stress. We learned about pre-traumatic stress syndrome, and secondary stress disorder, which one gets from hearing about other people's stress. We heard the theory (unlikely in retrospect) that Hasan was so traumatized by the thought of going into a combat zone that he decided to take a gun and create one of his own.

There was a national rush to therapy. Hasan was a loner who had trouble finding a wife and socializing with his neighbors.

[This] absolved Hasan — before the real evidence was in — of his responsibility. He didn't have the choice to be lonely or unhappy. But he did have a choice over what story to build out of those circumstances. And evidence is now mounting to suggest he chose the extremist War on Islam narrative that so often leads to murderous results.

To recap: The white man who killed brown people after seeing brown people kill white people "was swept up in a whirlwind"; the brown man who killed white people after hearing about white people killing brown people "chose the extremist War on Islam narrative that so often leads to murderous results." 

Meanwhile, the headline of the Times four-page profile of Bales is "At Home, Asking How 'Our Bobby' Became War Crime Suspect." (Clearly, Bales' family members are not regular Brooks readers.) The first sentence of that piece goes like this: "He was not the star, just a well-regarded young man who seemed to try to do the right thing." Not until the eighth paragraph does the Times tell us that Bales was once arrested for assaulting a woman; nowhere do they tell us that at the time of enlisting, Bales was under investigation for defrauding an elderly Ohio couple of their live savings. 

Neither Brooks nor the 10 reporters who the Times tasked with redeeming Bales names the victims of the "massacre." That burden is take up by Al Jazeera, who somehow managed to carve out enough Internet real estate to remind readers that Afghans have names, relationships, &c:

Many mainstream media outlets channelled a significant amount of energy into uncovering the slightest detail about the accused soldier – now identified as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. We even know where his wife wanted to go for vacation, or what she said on her personal blog.

But the victims became a footnote, an anonymous footnote. Just the number 16. No one bothered to ask their ages, their hobbies, their aspirations. Worst of all, no one bothered to ask their names.

In honoring their memory, I write their names below, and the little we know about them: that nine of them were children, three were women.

The dead:

Mohamed Dawood son of Abdullah
Khudaydad son of Mohamed Juma
Nazar Mohamed
Shatarina daughter of Sultan Mohamed
Zahra daughter of Abdul Hamid
Nazia daughter of Dost Mohamed
Masooma daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Farida daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Palwasha daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Nabia daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Esmatullah daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Faizullah son of Mohamed Wazir
Essa Mohamed son of Mohamed Hussain
Akhtar Mohamed son of Murrad Ali

The wounded:

Haji Mohamed Naim son of Haji Sakhawat
Mohamed Sediq son of Mohamed Naim