Prominent psychiatrist Dr. Joseph McClellan comments below about Dr. Nidal Hasan, the army psychiatrist who, during a rampage early Thursday afternoon November fifth, reloaded two automatic pistols to sustain fire on unarmed soldiers in a medical facility at Fort Hood, Texas, killing at least thirteen and wounding more than thirty.
As I addressed the media and assorted army and law enforcement officers two days after the tragedy, many seemed perplexed by my assertion, delivered three times, that this slaughter may have been prevented if Dr. Nidal Hasan had had a psychiatrist. It is as logical for a troubled psychiatrist to seek psychiatric care as for a cardiologist with an ailing heart to offer himself to a cardiologist for examination. And in each case it would be equally illogical to fail to seek specialized medical care.
Nidal Hasan is assured infamy for murder and treachery, and I hope he will at the same time be condemned for lacking the medical insight and common sense to try to stop himself. Hasan, despite being born and raised in the United States, by parents who had emigrated from Jordan, viewed himself as a righteous holy warrior confronting those he believed were murdering his fellow Muslims in the Middle East. I will not engage in a political debate here. I will instead make the psychiatric observation that politics, ultimately, did not compel Nidal Hasan to do the unthinkable. Politics were his excuse, for he was no more a warrior or terrorist than the depressed and angry people who, with frightening frequency, open fire on their fellows in public.
This Associated Press list is instructive: in April 2009 a man killed eleven in an immigrant community center in Binghamton, New York then killed himself; in March 2009 a man in Alabama murdered ten people, including his mother and four relatives, then killed himself; in February 2008 a former student returned to a Northern Illinois University lecture hall and slayed five students then killed himself; in December 2007 a man with a rifle in an Omaha mall fatally shot eight people then killed himself; in April 2007 Seung-Hui Cho slaughtered thirty-two people at Virginia Tech then killed himself; in February 2007 a man shot five people in a Salt Lake City mall before the police killed him; in October 2006 a Pennsylvania man murdered five girls in an Amish school then killed himself; in March 2005 a sixteen-year old Minnesota boy killed his grandmother and later five fellow students then killed himself; earlier in March 2005 a Wisconsin man murdered seven members of his congregation in church then killed himself; in July 1999 a former day trader in Atlanta slayed nine people in two brokerage offices then killed himself; in April 1999 two students at Columbine High School in Colorado murdered 12 students then killed themselves; in October 1991, in the same Killeen, Texas community as Fort Hood, a man rammed his pickup truck through a cafeteria window and shot and killed twenty-two people then killed himself.
These people weren’t making political statements. Feeling depressed, lonely, harassed, and degraded, their most imperative need was to die and their most fanatical wish to punish the world before departing. There is not space here to address the grievances of anyone but Nidal Hasan, who, I must emphasize, would have killed himself if not for bold action and precise shooting by civilian police officer Kimberly Munley.
Why did Hasan want to die? First, it is ninety-eight percent likely he suffered from biological depression, a chemical imbalance of the brain, that is, and was locked in a world of solitude and pain. He tried to relieve himself by seeking a traditional Muslim wife. Reports indicate the matchmaking services could not find a woman he wanted. That is possible. It is more likely, however, that he never met a woman in the United States ready to commit to a man who insisted she wear a hijab and treat him as her master. He perhaps could have found someone willing had he gone to the Middle East, paid her family, and brought her back to this country. At least he could have found a father willing to make such a deal. But could Malik Hasan – portly, bald, obsessive, nervous, and sweaty when contradicted – have found a woman who would tolerate him? I doubt it. One must take the inquiry an edgy step further and ask: had thirty-nine year old Nidal Hasan ever been with a woman? It is most unlikely.
So his brain was chemically imbalanced and his life, almost inevitably, was barren. And into this abyss the American psychiatrist hurled his complaints: soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome were traumatizing him not only with their emotional traumas and often ghastly physical wounds but with stomach-twisting stories of things they’d done to his Muslim brothers and sisters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regularly listening to such grief is a painful task for many therapists, but it neither justifies nor explains the barbarism of November fifth.
Dr. Hasan was further aggrieved by his order for imminent deployment to war zones in Iraq or Afghanistan where he would be counseling those who fought Muslims. It should here be noted that Hasan had often referred to himself as a Muslim first and an American second. For that belief and the conviction “war against terror is really war against Islam,” which he often asserted in private and public, he was rebuked – harassed, he told relatives – by other officers. One vandal badly scratched the doctor’s car.
Malik Nadal certainly lived in a difficult and stressful place, and he asked superiors, and attorneys, if he could be relieved of his military commitment. He was even willing to pay the army back for medical school. No, he was told, you’re going to war, if only as a psychiatrist. (I cannot imagine why the army failed to discharge him.) Before he broke – and be assured he’d long realized he was breaking – he should have deserted. That would have been immeasurably less harmful than maniacally firing guns in a crowded room. He convinced himself he was making a political statement but in truth he was another mass murderer who should have simply shot himself first.