“Sorry, we couldn’t find a match,” read the search box on the Military Times’s “Honor the Fallen” Web site. I had looked for the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan or Iraq last month and came up with that ironic answer. The algorithm must be so accustomed to the death of our soldiers that it hasn’t come up with an alternative response. In fact, March was the first month in eleven years that no U.S. military personnel died in those long wars. But as the shooting at Fort Hood yesterday reminds us, violence and death follow some of our soldiers home.
An average of 22 veterans a day commit suicide, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Thousands more suffer from mental and physical disabilities, and many of them will need long-term care for the rest of their lives, which are now only just beginning their third decade.
Yesterday’s shooter at Fort Hood, a veteran of Iraq, was in psychological treatment. But instead of only committing suicide, which has been called “murder turned around 180 degrees,” he also killed others. No one can ever know what demons drive these tragedies, but unimaginable anger and despair must be lodged in one’s heart before turning the gun inward or outward.
While our country is aware of the extraordinary challenges facing our returning veterans, and hundreds of private and public organizations are doing heroic work to assist them, yesterday’s tragedy is a reminder that we will be dealing with the repercussions of Iraq and Afghanistan for the rest of the century.