Although details are still fuzzy, we know that U.S. Sergeant Bales took the lives of 16 innocent people in Afghanistan. The rampage left families without mothers, fathers, siblings. It was a brutal, senseless, life crushing event for these people, one that they will forever be changed by. I have grappled with my sister's tragic death for four years, trying to wrestle it to the ground and pin it, so that the grief does not cripple me. I know these families in Afghanistan, feel death, just like I felt it; a hard blunt object driven into the core of their soul. Their lives will never be the same.
Sergeant. Bales went into the military after 9/11 to defend his country. He was a man that had no history of being a sociopath, or criminal; and seemed only devoted to supporting his country and his family. However, the human brain can only take a certain amount of trauma before it starts to react. Each traumatic event that happens to the human psyche is etched in its intricate coping mechanism. After time, the brain begins to have maladaptive responses to stress, and the wiring starts to mis-fire. It has been documented that the brain of a victim with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is physically different. It is inflamed in certain areas from the actual emotional trauma recorded within its cells. Sergeant Bales also had received a brain injury in the war, as did my sister in a biking accident. A traumatic brain injury can also permanently change the brain waves, and feedback center; causing the brain to not function as it should.
My sister died in a Dissociative State from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She did not recognize her friends any longer as caring, but rather her enemy. She disconnected from reality and fell into a flight or fight state. She chose to flee. She ran into the depths of downtown Portland and disappeared. We found her 2 weeks later in a pond, with no clue or idea about how she died, only that she was trying to run from her imaginary demons and instead ran into death.
My son also suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and dissociative states. His urge it not to flee but to fight. He disconnects into a reality where nothing seems real, where his fears are no longer phantoms but objects. He wants to kill. He wants to murder the ones who abused him, who hurt him, who took away his innocence. He is no longer grounded with his conscious, or his morality, but only the re-enactment of what happened to him, and how this time, he will take revenge. I sit with him, and put my hand on his leg, and tell him to look me in the eye. I tell him that he is still here, on this earth, with me - not back in his childhood hell. I try to keep him present and in touch with reality, as he rattles on and on about death. It is hard for me to listen to; it is hard for me to stay present, as my own fear about him actually killing others flashes in my head. The devastation, the horror I would feel, if my own son took others lives. It would be unbearable to endure; an unthinkable travesty.
Sergeant Bales more than likely took those lives in a dissociative state, disconnected from reality, fighting people he thought were the enemy. Yet another distinct loss in this whole story - his mind. He more than likely is sitting in a prison cell unable to comprehend what he did, or why, or perhaps he has no memory of it all. Our military needs to bear this burden. They deployed him four times in ten years, despite numerous injuries and witnessing innumerable deaths. Our military knows that the human psyche can only contain so much stress, before it is irreparably damaged. The fact that they continued to push this once valiant and honorable man over the edge, I hope is now their own personal demon to fight.