Muslims & America: Considering the ‘Toll of War’ in the Fort Hood killings

here’s no question that Major Nadil Malik Hasan, the alleged shooter at Fort Hood, was troubled, conflicted and in dire need of professional intervention. His trial should (one hopes) shed light on the question on everyone’s lips: Why did he do it?

Meanwhile, thousands of men and women in uniform are suffering the traumas of sustained war—often in dire need and too often not getting the help they need. The suicide rate for soldiers is now the highest it has ever been since records began almost 30 years ago.

We’ve been at war for eight years and troop levels continue to climb. The number of troops deployed this year in Afghanistan, for example, will be at an all-time high—about 68,000. The total cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is now $915 billion. Ironically, that’s about the same as the cost of healthcare reform.

A survey of soldiers conducted by the US Army earlier this year found that mental health problems appeared to be down, but morale had fallen significantly. Increasingly, soldiers reported marital problems and actual or planned separation and divorces.

With a small all-volunteer army (the draft was cancelled in 1973), our troops have been asked to return again and again to the Middle East. As of 2007, for example, 72% of army brigades had seen multiple tours of duty. Compared to those in the 1st or 2nd deployment, those in their 3rd or 4th deployment report much more acute stress and other mental health problems, and married soldiers report many more marital problems.

There’s a mix of conflicting values at the heart of all this. We value safety and security—and we want to minimize the costs of achieving it. We don’t want to reinstate the draft, but we keep the all-volunteer army at a size that demands multiple deployments. These value conflicts result in an unsustainable situation and unreasonable demands on those in uniform.

Where do you stand today on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? This week, Obama announced that “Afghanistan decision” will be revealed in the coming weeks.

What do you hope this decision will accomplish?

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