In a time of war, they volunteered to defend us. They would have died as heroes for us. Had they, at least their families might be making some sense of the terrible loss they must feel now. With loss, there might at least be meaning — the understanding that their loss is what history has always deducted from our hearts to keep evil at bay for a greater good, for freedoms that are not free. But Nidal Hasan’s murder of twelve soldiers at Fort Hood will be all the more agonizing for the families because there is simply no making sense of it. It had no meaning. There are no words to express how contemptible it was — this cowardly theft of brave young lives from the parents who invested decades of love in their children, of spouses who will never be consoled, and of children who not know mothers and fathers.
There are no root causes, “legitimate” grievances, or divided loyalties that can explain Nidal Malik Hasan, though in due course, some will try to find them. Here, I do not refer to the Army defense counsel who will be burdened with the dreaded duty of defending a man they will assuredly and justifiably loathe, but must defend anyway. For four years, I was an Army Trial Defense Counsel myself. The military conditioning to protect young soldiers is so deeply instilled in commanders and noncommissioned officers that most deeply appreciated my zeal even as I attacked the evidence for the charges they had sent to trial, often with reluctance. For Hasan, the dynamic will be very different. Those who judge Hasan will see repellent dishonor in a man who murdered the soldiers every officer swears he will lead and protect, who betrayed the country he swore to defend, and who killed and maimed despite swearing an oath to heal, to do no harm. If religion was Hasan’s motive, his was an extraordinarily promiscuous view of the meaning of one’s oath to God. No officer can be, or should be, forgiven for betraying and harming soldiers.