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November 07, 2009

Stop Making Apologies for Murderers

By: Bernard Chazelle

We're not sure yet but we're not exactly going out on a limb by assuming that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was, indeed, mighty upset to be part of a group, the US military, that measures the safety of our nation by the number of Muslims it bumps off. We can draw one of two conclusions:

1. Either Hasan is a mental case who snapped; or

2. Hasan applied the skills he learned in the military to kill the "militants" who are a threat to his coreligionists. His action was regrettable but necessary.

Me, I go with 1.

The media, they go with 2. Naturally, they'll remind you that Hasan killed 12 militants for only 1 civilian, a 1/12 ratio which is as good as it gets in that line of business. US drones kill "10 or so civilians" for every militant. So Major Nidal Hasan did an outstanding job limiting civilian casualties. He didn't pulverize a wedding party after all. Take note, CIA.

I know I am in the minority here, but I find that kind of talk disgusting. Hasan's objections to US foreign policy may be sound and legitimate but that's no reason to mow down random people. Why is the media making apologies for the guy? Yes, almost all victims were potentially dangerous "militants." Yes, the base harbored people with the blood of thousands of innocents on their hands. So what? They were still human beings with families and friends, no? So just because Hasan is a US soldier makes it OK to kill random people he viewed as a threat? The media's reflexive defense of the murderous actions of its government is sickening.

OK, I'll admit I haven't read the news. I only assume this will be the media's reaction because Hasan is a government employee who did exactly what our government does every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, and no one in the MSM has ever called our government "a mental case." Hasan's shooting spree was just another CIA day over Waziristan so I expect the media to make excuses for the slaughter. As usual.

Of course I could be wrong.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at November 7, 2009 12:00 PM

According to this:

Predator Drone kills 40 in Pakistan.

And I agree with you.

Posted by: Partizan at November 7, 2009 01:35 PM

According to this:

Predator Drone kills 40 in Pakistan.

And I agree with you.

Posted by: Partizan at November 7, 2009 01:35 PM

Here, I can't tell what level of irony is being deployed -- if any.

The media is the handmaiden of the nation-state and of the imperium and supports those actors' claim that they have the sole authority to employ violence in support of their goals. The media does not compare ends or even means of non-state actors with those of state actors but rather the "right" as between them to act violently. Hasan's motivation will be seen as, perhaps, interesting but ultimately irrelevant.

Of course I could be wrong.

Posted by: Ellen1910 at November 7, 2009 01:47 PM

One of the advantages of making friends that aren't rich New Yorkers is that some of them are in the military.

You think of them when you read the news. You're smart enough to know it's all tribalism, but human enough to care anyways.

You're not really open to a philosophical response. You don't really care about larger morality. People you care about are more important than logical consistency.

You're human enough to get angry when people equivocate a threat to the people you call your friends--regardless of whatever larger moral issues you know surround it.

Your frontal lobes are quick enough, however, to point out that the response you are having is precisely the response that a wide swath of people who vote against their own interests have, and start to understand the nature of the term "counterproductive".

Posted by: James Cape at November 7, 2009 02:14 PM

James: I am glad you care but the post was not about you. It was about the media. And the media does not give a flying crap about the Fort Hood deaths. Or if they do, then how did they miss the 400+ Fort Hood soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan? Funny how it went unnoticed.

Hasan matters because he hit at the heart of power. Because he gave the military a taste of its own medicine.

As for the dead, I am glad they had friends like you who cared for them. Because the government and the media sure never gave a damn.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at November 7, 2009 02:40 PM

Just as Obama decides on 34K more troops to Afghanistan.

That's how much he cares!

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at November 7, 2009 02:43 PM

Bernard, you are exactly right and on target.

It is so absurd that this latest massacre was even reported.

As you established last year at the time of the Mumbai killings, any reporting of one death over another death is inherently biased and an act of imperial propaganda.

Thanks for reminding us once again not to notice when an unusual act of violence takes place

Posted by: Seth at November 7, 2009 03:46 PM


As for the dead, I am glad they had friends like you who cared for them. Because the government and the media sure never gave a damn.

I'm not so foolish as to believe the people that pull the strings---or those who dutifully transcribe their press releases---actually think deeply about either the dead or the ramifications of their actions. But it's disingenuous to insinuate that's what your post was about in anything but superficial ways, and more still to suggest that I'm arguing in opposition to that.

Hasan matters because he hit at the heart of power. Because he gave the military a taste of its own medicine.

You should give your soul a call. It misses you, and would like to get back together.

I suppose we're all conservatives at heart: Need Another Seven Astronauts is funny until you actually get to know an astronaut.

Posted by: James Cape at November 7, 2009 04:18 PM

Bernard, it would probably be better to wait a week or two before pointing all this out. OTOH--

James, did you actually lose somebody at that base?

Because if not, anyone who knows anyone who works in Manhattan could match your feelings right after 9/11. Me, for instance. None of them rich, btw. I spent a lot of time worrying about what might happen next for several months afterwards and anytime I myself was in Grand Central I walked through very fast, since I thought that was an obvious place for a suicide bomber to strike.

Several people right after 9/11 pointed out that America had inflicted this kind of pain on others countless times and they were jumped on as heartless, soulless, worthless human beings, kinda the way you are jumping on Bernard. Which was shocking to me, because in the very moments I was fearful I might have lost people I knew I was also thinking that this must be how it feels to be at the receiving end of American power, or that of our allies. I took absolutely no ironic pleasure in the contemplation either. Anyway, worthless people with more courage than me said these things publicly and tried to warn America not to overreact. And of course they were vilified and we started a war in Afghanistan that still continues and about 18 months later we started a war in Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands (maybe more). Some several thousand were American soldiers.

I wish a lot more people had been heartless and soulless the way you perceive Bernard to be. Though I'd say that waiting a week or two would be a good idea.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at November 7, 2009 07:09 PM

Hi Bernard,

What I see is different. The media is working to stir up resentment towards Middle-easterners in our midst, but also to seal off the damage to the canopy that supposedly protects us from perceptions of the cognitive dissonance that this horrible act may represent-- the psychic toll that the wars take on the foot soldiers who serve the empire.

In other words,

(1)stress he was sane(that SOB Hindraker at Powerline is already calling Hasan a terrorist.)even though we don't know this.

Which dovetails into

(2)don't call too much attention to all the other military personnel who carry psychic wounds from their participation in our wars. Yes we could care about them more, but what if it reminds us how fucked up and just plain wrong these wars are?

And it seems to be working. Look at the mostly disgusting comments that follow this crazy WaPo article:

"Fort Hood attack is 3rd this year by antiwar radicals targeting military on U.S. soil"

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at November 7, 2009 07:10 PM

James: I appreciate your honesty in describing your own reaction as illogical, amoral, and tribal.

You won't be surprised therefore to be told you're making a categorical error. Fort Hood does not train astronauts. It trains killers. And killers kill. I know, sometimes it does surprise everyone.

This time, the killers killed the wrong people. But kill the right innocent folks (by James's definition, anyone you know nothing about qualifies) and then all manner of excuse making is legit.

I link to an article by a pro-war outfit that claims that we kill 10 innocent people for 1 "militant." These are war crimes of the highest magnitude. The MSM is virtually silent about them. But for 3 days in a row, the shooting spree at Fort Hood has been headline news.

I am exposing the hypocrisy of the media. You may not like it, but you haven't argued against the hypocrisy itself.

Also I don't get the kinship thing. Are you saying I am supposed to care more if a university prof I've never met gets killed than a taxi driver? Doesn't work for me.

Meanwhile, our old friend, Seth, back from his self-imposed silence to mourn Mumbai victims must be now ready for another long mourning period. We'll miss him.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at November 7, 2009 07:41 PM

Donald: I took a wild guess that no friends and relatives of the victims read ATR. But I may underestimate the galactical reach of this blog.

Re. 9/11, everyone in Princeton knows someone who died. My daughter's friend was taken to the school counselor to be told her dad had died.
I started my seminar at 1:30 with a minute of silence and it was very very tense. But I don't see humor as being necessarily disrespectful. On the contrary. I heard some of the funniest jokes in moments of great tragedy. Insensitivity is a different beast altogether.

JV: I agree with your analysis. But I didn't question the motives of the media (and I am glad you did). Hypocrisy is never a motive: it's a means to an end.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at November 7, 2009 08:03 PM


No friends of mine were killed, thanks only to timing and coincidence. Had they been among the victims, I wouldn't be anywhere near as rational: as it was, Bernard's words were just infuriating.


Let's go to natural selection, wherein those with traits that are beneficial to survival will outlive those without those traits. Visceral loyalty to people you believe you can count on in a time of need is one of those traits---because that is more likely to help you survive than not. It's why we have friends and kinship and tribes. These have grown into bigger and bigger groups, culminating in the multinational state. Obviously, it's an instinct, and it can be abused, and I'll make the claim that a large share of the gasoline fueling the conservative side is the abuse of that instinct, in one form or another.

That said, pointing out the hypocrisy of the media---hypocrisy only so far as it pretends to be "objective", rather than a reflection of the prejudices (instinctive or not) of it's audience---the way you are doing so is a type of equivocation that flies in the face of four million years of evolution. That's a battle you're going to lose. Along the way, however, people who don't already agree have associated your goals with a rejection of a survival instinct---perhaps you'll recognize that sentiment from the conservative milieu---and no one else can come along and tell them otherwise.


It was an offhand remark about jokes and the conservative tendency not to give a fuck until it effects you or someone inside your monkeysphere, not about Fort Hood in particular.

But as you noted, you didn't think anyone with any connection to the incident read the blog, and my position is now mere concern-trolling, if you're into labels.

Posted by: James Cape at November 7, 2009 10:00 PM

O'reilly said something similar to BC's parody. O'Reilly said Hassan was either crazy or a muslim terrorist, and anyone who said otherwise is . . . blah blah blah.

People shouldn't be too eager to take the word of Pentagon leakers. It looks like there has been no decision on sending 34,000 more troops. Leakers and the media try to influence the decision. (Not that I would be all that surprised by that number.)

Lots of those comments after the Post article are indeed outrageously stupid and bigoted and violent etc. But nearly every war in our history has been characterized by sickening racism and brutality, so that shouldn't surprise anyone. What is really astonishing to me about the War on Terror is how much hocus pocus has been involved in starting it and keeping it going. Immanuel Goldstein became Osama bin Laden oh so easily.

Along with the killing of innocent Pakistanis and Afghanis, there is another very important fact consistently overlooked by the media: It is very aggressive for the US to be putting troops in Central and South Asia and disputing that the region is an appropriate Russian or Chinese zone of interests. Most of Central Asia consists of former Soviet states, and of course western China (Xinjiang and Tibet) is right there too. But lo and behold after the USSR dissolved we moved in, especially after the Russian economy collapsed in the late 90s, and we moved in even more once 9/11 gave the military a sufficient rationale.

Americans don't even seem to pause to consider how supremely aggressive it is for us to be trying to be the dominant military power in Central Asia. And of course the media doesn't help with that either, beacuse nobody is supposed to think that.

Posted by: N E at November 7, 2009 10:51 PM

Well, James, on 9/11 I managed to fly in the face of 4 million years of evolution. I take sociobiological explanations with a grain of salt. There's bound to be something to what you say, but I think it's a factor easily within our control.

I'm not someone who does very much for social justice--I write letters to politicians and newspapers and that's about it. Oh, give a bit of money too. On the altruism scale, I'm more or less in the middle--better than some really selfish jerks, but not nearly as good as some people I know in real life.

All this self-analysis is just by way of saying it wasn't that hard for me, a rather middling person on the altruism scale, to see that on 9/11, when I was extremely concerned about some people I know, that what happened that day was no different from what we've inflicted on others. People who pointed this out in public were ostracized, including by many so-called leftists. The argument (to the extent there was one) was that these people (Chomsky and others) were heartless ideologues spitting on the graves of 3000 innocent people. The underlying theme was that it was impossible for any American to sincerely care about what we had done to others on 9/11 when so many Americans had just died and anyone who pretended otherwise was in fact devoid of human feeling, but pretending to care about foreigners. And a deeper underlying theme, though not expressed, was that American lives and the lives of people like us (Europeans and Israelis, basically) were the ones that matter.

Now that's tribalism, but I think it must be a curable disease, because I didn't feel it that day. Not a bit. And I was almost frantic with worry about people I knew (one in particular). It's unlikely, I think, that I'm a mutant missing the tribalism gene--it must be that something in my nurture or reading or upbringing prevented that gene's expression. I'm joking about this--the point is that I think sociobiology is often just an excuse for bad behavior. It's immoral to be tribalistic--extremely common, maybe we have natural evolutionary tendencies that way, but then maybe males have natural evolutionary tendencies to be rapists. But nobody thinks that is any excuse.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at November 7, 2009 11:04 PM

"I heard some of the funniest jokes in moments of great tragedy." B. Chazelle

Bernard, would you mind letting us hear some of these jokes?

When you say that you heard them in "moments of great tragedy," do you mean that you heard them at the site of the tragedy as well as at the time of the tragedy?

What kind of tragedies are you talking about? Personal or historical? And what kind of jokes?

Were you the victim of a monumental tragedy which whetted your famously keen sense of humor? Is that how you can keep mocking the Mumbai dead with such savage glee?

I have been fortunate enough not to have been involved in "great tragedy." Maybe that's why I am not funny like you.

P.s. In the English language we would use "funniest" as an absolute term in the above in "the funniest jokes in the history of the world." I think you probably wanted to say, "Some of the funniest jokes I HAVE HEARD were at moments of great tragedy."

But again, not having heard these jokes yet, maybe I will stand corrected: maybe they really are the funniest jokes in the history of the world.

Posted by: Seth at November 7, 2009 11:14 PM

Is that how you can keep mocking the Mumbai dead with such savage glee?

I didn't realize you'd died in Mumbai, Seth. My condolences.

In any case, this discussion is terminated.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at November 8, 2009 04:41 AM