Philosophy News writer, Kelly Perez, is the spouse of an active member of the military in the United States
The tragic shooting of a member of the military community at Fort Hood at the hands of SPC. Lopez has prompted a surprise show of support for the gunman from military soldiers and families. In a way, our community failed to see the signs of a soldier hurting and depressed that escalated to such desperation that he committed a cardinal sin against his brothers.
Gustave Flaubert once said, “[When] a friend dies, it’s something [inside] of you that dies.” For the military community this is not merely a quote but a way of life. “No man left behind” is not a phrase reserved for political statements and bumper stickers. We take this idea very seriously. When the news broke that there was a shooting on a military base, each soldier looked to his or her left and right, and each spouse wondered if their soldier was hurt, or worse, if he was the shooter. As the news trickled in we learned it was a shooting at Fort Hood, and for soldier and spouse not stationed at Hood, a sign of relief washed over them, quickly followed by a shameful head shake. It was not shame for SPC. Lopez, but for the sad situation that involved each one of us. You have to understand that, for those of us in the military, SPC. Lopez is a brother related by sweat, dirt, and blood to 400,000 service members and to see a brother fall, and more so fall in such a disrespectful manner, hits home hard.
When a tragedy like this happens, words and phrases such as “Craziness”, “I can’t believe it”, and “What the hell is happening to us?” run through every soldier’s mind. The soldier secretly takes on so much guilt and then stoically continues with his or her duties. Soldiers train to die as heroes having defended their brothers in battle, but not to die at the hands of one their own. A soldier is not concerned with God and Country; instead, he is concerned with the safety and well-being of his battle buddy. For every soldier knows the truth of the words spoken by General George Patton, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” The soldier is not equipped to break routine and deal with the loss of his brother to suicide. Every day soldiers overseas defend innocent bystanders from suicide bombers. Of course, SPC. Lopez didn’t strap a bomb to his chest but he did kill innocent people then turned the gun on himself. “Craziness”, “I can’t believe it”, and “What the hell is happening to us?”– that’s all the soldier can think.
For the spouses, SPC Lopez could have very well been their husband. The triggers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) don’t come while the soldier is in the war theater but manifest when the soldier returns home. Spouses send their soldiers off to work everyday with the understanding that, despite the ring on their finger, they’re still second in that soldier’s life but, they tend to be the first blamed when the soldier exhibits any signs of post traumatic stress. It goes like this: the soldier goes to war as if it were routine (it isn’t but the solider exercises his or her duty as a job he or she is trained to do and so it can appear routine-like). He knows when he will go to chow, go to bed, and go on patrols. He may see horrible things and do horrible things but at the end of the day, he is not different from the soldier next to him who, did horrible things and saw horrible things. When he returns home, his mind is pure chaos. There is no schedule to follow and no routine to keep him busy. So much thrown his way as quickly as possible in an attempt to bring him back to reality (and secure a sense of normalcy for those to whom he returns). He has his kids to raise, he’s given the bills to pay, and to his side is his devoted spouse desperate to reconnect with her long-lost soldier. There’s structure to be sure but its of a very different kind. The solider and his or her family are forced to create “a new normal.” Many times that normal is extremely hard to achieve.
Who knows what SPC Lopez was thinking the day he took his own life and the lives of three of his fellow soldiers. Was it depression, PTSD, frustration and anger? No one knows. SPC. Lopez had not seen direct combat but he clearly was troubled. The pressure to rejoin society as a normal person takes a huge toll on any veteran’s mind. Every day soldiers suffer silently and trek on. Some cannot bear the burden and it manifests violently. In this way SPC. Lopez could be any soldier out there. I’m sure he will be diagnosed as having a series of mental disorders that will account for his tragic actions but in reality, the military community knows better. They know there is work to do to help SPC. Lopez and this shame must end. Until then, the stoic soldier shakes his head in amazement and some may even silently hope to return to war (at least there, life makes sense).
It was Cicero who once said, “The life of the dead are placed in the memory of the living”. To the families who lost a loved one in Darnell Army Medical Hospital at the hands of SPC. Lopez, our hearts bleed for you, and to the family of SPC. Lopez we hurt with you.