Remembrance 2009: Past and Present

By David T. Jones on December 3, 2009

It was a cold, wet, and grim Remembrance/Veterans Day in Washington this year.  Perhaps more than even in the most recent past, moods were irritated, marked by a puzzled frustration over the future of the United States and the most effective manner of management for a multiracial/multicultural/multi-multi society.

The previous day, the state of Virginia had executed the "Washington Sniper" for murdering ten people (wounding three) and, along with his teen age "Robin," terrorizing the Washington metropolitan area for three weeks in October 2002.  Not even the normal anti-death penalty media had much to say in his defense, and his Islamic name, John Allen Muhammad, further reduced the numbers of ritualistic sympathizers.  But there was more of an angry, "finally got it over with" muttering than satisfaction at the end of the seven year slog to his execution.

Simultaneously, the United States was in mourning for the slaughter of 13 armed forces members at Fort Hood, and the wounding of 29 others.  The perpetrator, an Army major and devout Muslim, Nidal M. Hassan, reportedly leaped on a table and shouted "Allah Akbar" (God is great) before opening fire on unarmed soldiers and health care providers.  Among those he killed were a pregnant woman, an Asian-American, a Hispanic-American, and an African-American.

Even more stunning, Hassan was a trained psychiatric doctor with years of experience counseling soldiers returning from and going to combat zones as a resident at the flag ship Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  So what trumped his commitment to the Hippocratic Oath that first a doctor should do no harm?  

Hassan reportedly gave a variety of indicators that he hated U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq; supposedly he wanted to be released from the Army (which had paid for his medical education) and desired to avoid a pending assignment to Afghanistan.  Professional explainers/excusers are muttering about "secondary PTSD" supposedly the consequence of listening to the traumatic stories of those returning from war zones.  However, Hassan had hardly exhausted options either for obtaining release from the Army or avoiding the Afghanistan assignment.  Indeed, as a final resort, he could always have sought refuge in Canada.

Concurrently there are reports regarding Hassan's communications with a radical Islamic cleric were monitored by U.S. intelligence specialists, but determined not to be actionable, and his general hostility to USG action against Islamic countries.  Nevertheless, there is no indication at this juncture that Hassan was some Islamic style "Manchurian Candidate" directed from al-Qaeda or elsewhere.  And those now outraged at authorities ignoring ostensible "signals" would have been matched by others outraged if his "privacy" had been violated by official action based on suspicion rather than direct proof.

But this was doubtless a terrorist act.  And recognition of this reality is one to which senior U.S. officials are in desperate denial.  The alternative is to face the appalling prospect that a significant number of Islamic-Americans are nascent terrorists.  For it is not as if Hassan has been without precursors.  In 2003, Sergeant Hasan Akbar fragged and shot fellow soldiers at the 101st airborne division base camp on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, killing two and wounding another fourteen.  And in June a Muslim convert fired on soldiers at a military recruitment center in Arkansas, killing one and wounding another.  But what does one do with the some 3,000 Muslims currently in the armed forces, let alone the estimated 2.5 million Muslim-Americans in the U.S.?

But it was not always this way and differences can be illustrative.  On November 3, we commemorated the 65th anniversary of the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat team's victory to free the "Lost Battalion" from surrounding Germans.  In the fighting, 800 Japanese-Americans were killed to save 217 other Americans.  (For perspective 840 U.S. forces have died in Afghanistan since the beginning of fighting in 2001.)    Throughout the war, approximately 14,000 Japanese-Americans served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, winning almost 9,500 Purple Hearts and 21 Medals of Honor; an estimated 20,000 Japanese-American males were in military service.  This commitment came despite a United States society that in the 1940s was racially segregated and, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, forced Japanese-Americans on the mainland into concentration camps.  Total Japanese population in the U.S. and Hawaii at the time was approximately 270,000 and over 100,000 were interred.  For the record, there is not a single recorded instance of Japanese-American sabotage.  

One Korean-American when told to transfer from the 442nd due to historical Korean-Japanese animosity declined.  He is quoted as saying, "They are Americans.  I am an American.  And together, we are going to fight for America."

Would that the Hassans of this world learn this lesson.


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