Afghan massacre: What blame rests on society?

March 14, 2012

As a psychologist who has spent more than a year in the Middle East, I have been following with great interest the commentary following the massacre in Afghanistan by the U.S. soldier last Saturday ("Killings of 16 appall Afghans," March 12).

Almost all of the opinions expressed by leaders, pundits and talk show listeners betray a fundamental cultural myopia. They seek to find the pathology in the individual and not in the wider society. We think that the soldier must suffer combat fatigue from multiple deployments or suffer from post traumatic stress disorder or another mental illness and rush to declare the incident an isolated one of a rogue soldier.

It is precisely this myopia that is lost on Arab populations who see any behavior as reflecting the values of the society at large, and this is why apologies for the behavior of individuals fall on deaf ears. In truth, the U.S. is one of the most violent societies in the world today. We see it in our crime rates, in our arms trade, and in our video games and TV programs.

For the Arab world, the soldier's efforts to exorcise whatever demons he was experiencing by random killing would be as sad but tragically predictable as all the incidents of our high school kids or disgruntled workers shooting up their schools and workplaces.

Jerry T. Lawler, Baltimore

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