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Chris Kyle, Navy SEAL Murdered: Some Thoughts

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It is also unseemly to immediately speculate that PTSD was the cause of the shootings. This reflexive labeling unfolds every time vets are involved.

Just an hour after it was learned that a US Soldier was the likely murderer of 17 people in Panjwai, Afghanistan, many people were clamoring that he had PTSD.  His name had not yet been revealed.  We knew almost nothing about him.

His experiences were not yet public, yet he was already labeled with PTSD, despite that experts know that PTSD does not lead to mass murder.

The American public in general is so ignorant about PTSD that reading popular commentary is like consulting people living under bridges for financial advice.

In Panjwai, since Afghans were killed and not Americans, many people thought that this still nameless Soldier (Robert Bales) was innocent due to PTSD. “Poor guy just snapped and killed the savages.  He deserves our sympathy.”

Just as PTSD is not a cause of mass murder, it is not an excuse for criminality.

Until recently in Korea, drunkenness was a bona fide defense in rape cases, and people used it.  Any excuse we leave on the table will be misused by some.  That is human.

Where PTSD honestly can be a defense is in rare cases such as, say, police slam down the wrong door, and rush into a home and get flat-blasted by someone who did not realize they are cops.  No PTSD would be needed for that response.  Many people would do that out of fear and self-preservation.

Conversely, if Robert Bales (the accused Panjwai murderer) had killed Americans in Boston, many would have said he is guilty because he has PTSD, despite that practically none of these self-appointed experts have any idea what PTSD really is.

If he killed Americans, we would say, “That worthless, cowardly, bastard.  He deserves the rope.” 

When an Afghan soldier who saw years of fighting commits an insider attack, we say, “That cowardly, worthless filth is not even human.  We should feed him to the dogs.”  We usually call them cowards, despite that they may have fought for years.

When Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 people in Norway, it was not because of military service.  The man is various species of sick.  His mental conditions might lead to the causes, but not to excuses.  He is still a murderer.

In popular commentary, PTSD can make someone innocent or guilty, depending on whether we like the victims or the perpetrator more.

The enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan were never labeled with PTSD because we could not care less that they are human, too.  They are just savages.  If the savage is afraid after seeing years of combat, he is coward, while if our folks exhibit the same symptoms, they are considered wounded heroes or ticking bombs, depending on whether or not we like vets.

Iraq and Afghanistan are awash with people suffering from PTSD.  This will damage some of their families for generations.  But if they shoot our people, we will not afford the dignity of saying they suffer, or are fighting to be their version of free.  Their label is Muslim.

I knew a Green Beret who murdered his wife and committed suicide.  He told me long in advance that he would kill her if he ever caught her fooling around.  He caught her and shot her.  These days, we would say he had PTSD, when the fact was that he had anger issues.  Everyone who knew him could see it.

He had not been to war.  He was simmering.  I got along great with him.  He was very smart, with a PhD in entomology.  He was fun to talk with, but you could sense something was off.  Turns out, he was a murderer.

PTSD surely is real.  The price for even a small war reverberates through generations.  An absent or diminished parent creates conditions for children with fewer prospects, which vibrate up the family tree.

The results of war literally echo through generations.

There is no doubt that some children born fifty years from now will suffer from the echoes of our wars.  They might not understand that the reason their parents did not attend university was because their grandfather suffered severe PTSD from war, and uprooted the tree.  We can never calculate for that damage.

When we send our young people to war, we send many of their great-great grandchildren along for the ride.  The entire society suffers for decades from every war.

PTSD often leads to family destruction, but seldom to violence. Yet this speculation is like seeing a shooting in the news and blaming it on polio. “Yep, another shooting. Must be that polio again.  Is he a vet?  Yes?  That means it’s polio.”

Many employers will not hire vets if they think they are apt to “snap.”

Most of the mass-killers never were in the military.  Columbine was an example. The murderers were high school students.

More likely, the killings derived from simple anger or uncontrolled rage, or crime of some sort.

Prescribed drugs are becoming suspect, but this idea cannot be taken too far because mass killings happen around the globe, and many occurred long before modern pharmaceuticals were widespread. Something is there, but it cannot be the whole story.

We look for something to blame.  Guns.  Drugs.  PTSD.  Video games. Culture. Sociopaths. Hollywood.  Media.  Vets.  Religion.

When we blame religion, we blame the other religion, while atheists blame all religions.

Murder in the name of religion happens many times per day, without end.  But if someone from our religion commits a despicable act, we call him a nutter and change the topic.

Some people are just bad.  They are perfectly sane and will kill us for a wristwatch, for sport, or because they wanted some excitement. 

Culture plays a crucial roll.  Many Afghans will torture dogs for entertainment, which I would not doubt has led to some “accidental” killings of Afghans by our folks. 

If one of our young Soldiers shot an Afghan who was torturing a dog, the Afghans surely would label him a murderer and want revenge.  Many dog lovers and Americans in general would give a standing ovation, and say, “Ah, he has PTSD.  Just let this one slide.  Savage dog killers.”

But that would likely not be the case.  The trooper killed him because he was torturing a dog.  This is simple.  Nobody needs a PhD to see it.  He was not insane, just enraged.

Our troops become enraged when they see dogs tortured, and if an American trooper tortured a dog, he would be labeled a sociopath and tossed into jail, after pulling some boots out of his backside.

If one of our Soldiers were to have sex with an Afghan woman, many Afghans would kill her, and try to kill him.  We would call that murder.  For them it is house cleaning.  They are not crazy.  That is their world.

That Chris is “credited” with killing about 160 humans using a rifle, one by one, is seen by many people as mass murder of historical proportion.

Others applaud it, saying that he saved lives, which is countered by people saying the war was unjust and illegal.

Some of this derives from culture clash.  In Thailand, the idea of Americans widely applauding killing 160 people is shocking.  Chris was a minor-celebrity in America.  Many British are livid.

Other Americans say Chris’s death is karma.  The enemies in Iraq put a bounty on him just as we put bounties on some of them.

A salient point is that cultures and worldviews vary dramatically, and some people will commit acts that we consider barbaric, which in their culture is normal.

The United States is a cultural kaleidoscope.  This makes it even more difficult to divine the actions of others.

Take a subset of people who live in Charleston, South Carolina, and compare them to a similar subset in Boston, and another in San Francisco, and another in Berlin, who share the same race, religion, education, and social status, and you will find that they have remarkably different cultures and worldviews.

Combat units have their own subcultures.  Special operations units have strong subcultures that are invisible to the outside world.

Some people grow up on the streets or with gangs and have fundamentally different views that were not solidified into what we call “civilized.”

Some personalities are shaky and horribly imperfect.  A few of these people end up in uniform, and we send them off to war.  Some return and commit terrible acts.

The accused vet will embrace and play up PTSD as alibi, while knitting a holy cross from the strings in his socks that he can wear around his neck when he stands before the judge.  The realty is that he was ticking before he joined, and he is simply a bad man and should be in prison.

We like cubbyholes.  The uncomfortable truth is that none of these cubbyholes work in a broad sense.

We similarly label Muslims, as if every crime committed by a Muslim is in the name of religion and jihad.  (Few Americans understand the meaning of jihad, despite these many years.)  This is silly, and using this label reveals purveyors to be untraveled, or perhaps just simpleminded.

There are robbers and murderers who happen to be Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jews, and Buddhists.  Name it.  It is there.

In many cases a cubbyhole might work, and there will be some basis in truth, but at some point, in a broad sense, under scrutiny, the models all break down.

Even if someone with severe PTSD kills intentionally, it does not automatically follow that PTSD was the culprit or even partly to blame.  Could be anything. Lovers’ spat. Revenge.  Alcohol.  Meth.  Prescription drugs.  Clash of cultures.  Craziness of some sort.  Anything.  It could be a mixture of many things.

Importantly, most people who go to wars do not suffer PTSD. The chief cause of PTSD in the United States is traffic accidents.

Is there a pattern of murder based on car crashes?  If someone commits a violent crime, should we ask if he has been in a car crash?  Should we, in every media report, feel obligated to mention, “The accused was involved in a fatal car accident in 1983”?

Take this real title of a news report: “Former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’ Killing Puts Spotlight on PTSD”. 

We do not know enough about PTSD.   We must redouble and work to get a handle on this.  It is damaging our country, and many others.

In any case, I am taking a chance that Chris would have said something like this, and so I tried to say it for him. If his close friends or family disagree, I apologize in advance for being presumptuous.

We lost a good man.  That something good should come from this tragedy is important.  PTSD clearly was important for Chris and so in his honor, it is worthwhile to say some heartfelt words about the topic that Chris took head-on.

And another man was lost whom few people are talking about, Chad Littlefield. Many thoughts for their families.

Rest in Peace Chad Littlefield.

Rest in Peace Chris Kyle.  Mission Complete.

Michael Yon

Michael Yon is America's most experienced combat correspondent. He has traveled or worked in 82 countries, including various wars and conflicts.

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