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Robert Bales: Mass Murderer and PTSD Poster Boy

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The trial is likely to be long and involved, and I make no predictions as to the outcome: however, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he gets off with life imprisonment, or less. While the rules and atmosphere of a military court make it harder for the defense to pull off a PTSD plea, the "no blame" cultural ethos permeates every aspect of American society, including our military, and the decision to precede the trial with a sanity hearing may prefigure just such an outcome.

In the meantime, while the "mainstream" media is running interviews with Bales's wife, who appears to be in complete denial, and writing long articles on the generally debilitated mental state of our military, questions as to how the military has conducted its investigation arise.

Why did it take the army three weeks to return to the village and collect forensic evidence? The official excuse is that they didn't want to antagonize angry villagers -- except, as Marcy Wheeler points out, the villagers had vacated the crime scenes, which were undoubtedly compromised in the interim. This hardly portends a desire to get the facts in this case. In addition, Marcy raises some intriguing questions about the number of soldiers involved: the official story is just one, Bales, but discrepancies in that narrative combined with the testimony of Afghan witnesses indicate otherwise.

Our "mainstream" media isn't interested in these discrepancies, however: they are too busy thinking up excuses for Bales, their PTSD poster boy: they're eager to spin another sob story about how our poor persecuted Praetorians are carrying the Burden of Empire all by their lonesomes, ever since we got rid of the draft and went to a professional army. The narrative is usually capped by a solemn sermon on the need for "shared sacrifice," whatever that may mean.

What's striking about all this is the focus on Bales instead of his victims. Was he on medications? What about that "traumatic" brain injury? Had he been drinking? What was his childhood like -- his marriage, his work history? Isn't it true that "he loved children" (touted by Matt Lauer)?

As for the victims, even their names are rarely reported.

John Henry Browne has declared he intends to put "the war" on trial, but this is less promising than it sounds. Unless he intends to claim, as Calley did, that his client was only following orders, what this no doubt means is that the "stress" and "strain" of warfare, as conducted under the current rules of engagement, is at fault, and that his client succumbed. This is not putting the war on trial -- it is pandering to the same culture of irresponsibility that gave rise to this war in the first place.

That soldiers who grew up in and absorbed this cultural ethos are, in a sense, insane, is an argument I doubt Browne would care to make. Yet how else can we describe the guilt-free shame-free amorality that allows us to devastate an entire region in the name of "liberation" and "peace"? When Madeleine Albright replied to a question from journalist Leslie Stahl about the half a million children who died in Iraq due to US sanctions, averring "We think the price is worth it," she was expressing a view that used to be considered crazy. If Bales is insane, then so are the policymakers who made this war possible and prosecuted it long after its utility and justice were in serious doubt.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (ISI, 2008), (more...)
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