The murder of sixteen Afghan citizens in their homes while they slept, perpetrated by an American soldier, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, is a tragedy in so many ways.
The first reaction is to be horrified at the loss of human life, including nine children, three women, and four men, who were no threat to anyone, and to condemn Bales as a despicable human being who deserves to be punished, and likely to be executed for his crimes.
But upon further reflection, while not dismissing the crimes he committed, it is clear that Robert Bales is also a victim, as well as the people he murdered in cold blood.
This man was under constant stress and pressure, having been deployed previously a total of three times in Iraq, and now on his fourth deployment, this time in Afghanistan.
None of us who have not served in the military can possibly understand what it is like to be in a combat zone, with constant threats to one’s life and safety.
None of us who have not served in the military can imagine the sight of dead bodies, blood all over the place, and the physical destruction brought about by bombings and war action.
None of us who have not served in the military can imagine seeing our buddies slaughtered in front of our eyes, and not be shell shocked by the scene.
None of us who have not served in the military can imagine what it is like for a soldier to be away from his family members–his wife, his children, his parents and his siblings–with the thought of imminent death always on his mind.
None of us who have not served in the military can possibly understand the effects of brain injuries and trauma, and the loss of part of a foot, which Robert Bales suffered and had to cope with.
We who are civilians do not understand the effects of PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and how it complicates and dominates our lives daily, and makes it hard to adjust to one’s surroundings and every day situations.
The tragedy of Robert Bales is one of the loss of innocent human life in Afghanistan; of the loss of a soldier who now faces life in prison or in a mental hospital, or might face execution; of a family with a wife, two young children, parents and siblings, who will all suffer, much of it in silence, as their family member is vilified as a monster, when all he really was, was a patriotic soldier committing himself to protect his family and nation, and should not have had to face multiple deployments, particularly after suffering two injuries.
The biggest crime of all is the idea that soldiers are not seen as human beings, as not having a right to say NO to another deployment, as someone who no one higher up in the military cares about, except to do the job demanded, and to do so without complaint.
Soldiers seem to be dispensable, and no matter what they are paid, it is inadequate for the sacrifices they make, and the suffering, both physical and psychological, that they endure in order to allow all of us to lead peaceful, content lives in safety.
This is a tragedy of multiple proportions, and while we pray for the victims in Afghanistan, we should also pray for Robert Bales and his family, somehow to find peace, but realizing they never will!