And here’s another way to look at it:

What do Nidal Malik Hasan, Timothy McVeigh and the Beltway Sniper have in common?

They all were scarred by war, says Nora Eisenberg, at AlterNet. In regard to the Beltway Sniper for instance:

Consider the case of John Allen Muhammad, (formerly John Allen Williams). In her recently published memoir, Scared Silent, Mildred Muhammad, the later of his two ex-wives, writes that her husband, a sergeant with the Army’s 84th Engineer Company, went to the 1991 Gulf War a “happy,” “focused, and “intelligent” man, who returned home “depressed,” “totally confused,” and “violent,” making her fear for her life. On appeal, Muhammad’s lawyers stressed that his “severe mental illness” never came up at trial, where he was allowed to represent himself despite his obvious mental incompetence. His attorneys’ brief included psychiatric reports diagnosing Schizophrenia and brain scans documenting profound malformations consistent with psychotic disease.

Their petitions failed to impress the U.S. Supreme Court or Virginia Governor Tim Kaine — a declared death penalty opponent–and one day before Veterans Day, John Allen Muhammad was executed by lethal injection. (Till the end, he maintained his innocence, claiming to his lawyers that at the time of the killing spree he was in Germany for dental work.)

If we factor in war wounds — mental wounds, what we used to call “battle fatigue” — when reviewing the heinous actions of these men, we have to change the conversation a bit, don’t we?

8 responses to “And here’s another way to look at it:

  1. “Psychological trauma alone, scientist now tell us, affects not only psyches but brains. Sophisticated neuroimaging shows the brains of those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to be abnormal in areas regulating memory retrieval and inhibition (hippocampus), fearfulness and focus (pre-frontal cortex), and emotionality and lability (amygdala).”

    Yes, I’ve heard that before. It’s pretty sucky. I wonder why some people become violent because there are plenty that suffer from PTSD that do not lash out (although some lash inward and we don’t hear much about them).

    • I don’t know what the research is on this, why some people respond to PTSD by lashing out, and others just wander into a corner to hurt themselves. And others just live with a low-level pain that feels like it’s never going away. Makes me want to find out, though, research more, I mean.

      • I think if you’re going to try and understand PTSD, you should be sure and examine non-combat-related PTSD as well as combated related.
        Eisenberg touched on it briefly in reference to Hasan as a potential victim of secondary PTSD.
        Military related PTSD can become a rather dangerous stereotype. Not that Eisenberg isn’t correct in her assessments and conclusions, but when trying to understand the seemingly disparate manifestations of the disorder, non-combat-related information may shed some light on the complexity of interaction between the psychological and physiological.

        • Can’t find it, but “Saturday Night Live” once did a very funny skit on a Vietnam veteran who didn’t have PTSD, though all his neighbors kept trying to act like he did. Research into this is still relatively new and I don’t mean to say PTSD made these men do these horrible things. But if it’s a factor, we ought to consider it. I will never be comfortable that John Allen Muhammad wasn’t mentally ill. And I say this with a full heart for the people who had to live through his rampage.

          • PTSD may very well be why these men did, or were capable of doing these terrible things. They all suffered a similar type of traumatic stress, had similar training and possible exposure to neurotoxins, (with the exception of Hasan.)
            But why do some react violently and some not? Or why may the effects come on years or even decades later? It can make you dizzy going through the data scattered out there. (What?!? No links leftover?)
            I don’t know if anyone’s done this, but I would like to see a study where scans and various other forms of PTSD related physiological data was obtained from soldiers before training and at various times leading up to deployment and after deployment. It might shed some light on the physiological “chicken or the egg” end of the argument.
            It’s so complex.
            I’m going to watch this later. We’re just starting to scratch the surface of the science of the brain.

            • We are, and imagine how much good could come of being able to answer your questions.

              • I watched the Nova presentation. Fascinating. Highly recommended.
                The focus on the difference between dreams occurring during REM and non-REM sleep is especially interesting.
                If you get a chance before they pull it, give it a view.

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