Sgt. Robert Bales. We could have gone a lifetime without knowing that name had it not been for his alleged massacre of 16 Afghanistan civilians, many of whom were small children. There have been similar stories coming out of this terrible war, but perhaps none so egregious.
What surprises me is that so many people are surprised this could happen. As horrible as this tragic act was, it was also predictable. Sgt. Bales had served his country through – what was it, 3 or 4 – tours of duty in Afghanistan. He received several wounds in the process, including one brain
injury. The stresses, no doubt, had negative impact upon his psychological health, family relationships (conflicting reports about this), and I would offer, his spiritual life as well as the physical.
Nonetheless, such behavior is inexcusable, repulsive and sickening to most of us. It cannot go unpunished but what might the appropriate punishment be, and imposed by whom? There are so many elements to be taken into consideration; matters of mental health and political concerns are both at the center of extensive debate in peoplesʼ minds. Consequences of decisions that are made in this issue have broad reaching impact on Sgt. Bales, his family, the families of the victims, and both the countries of Afghanistan and the United States, if not the bulk of the Muslim Middle East.
One thoughtless, catastrophic act carrying so much power… I am left wondering if a single, thoughtful, positive act would prove to be as powerful. How many more actions have happened or are yet to be that have been or will be so significant?
For now, the balance between what civilized societies judge to be good or evil has been shifted. For now we are faced with the awful truth of wars. Nobody really wins. For now we ask how long will this go on. For now we must ask ourselves what we can do about it.