The Politics of Fort Hood And Lack Thereof

By Matthew Cooper

Yesterday's tragedy at Fort Hood has already given rise to a cottage industry of bloviation and idle speculation. Last night, I flitted around the cable universe. Sean Hannity asked if there was enough security on military bases. On Larry King, Dr. Phil offered the stunning insight that the shooter had had a break from reality and that this was a "major mental event." Rachel Maddow was more measured in her discussion of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, noting that we don't know if the shooter suffered from it. Since he hadn't seen combat, perhaps he had not.

Mass shootings have set off kabuki rituals before, usually in the form of gun control debates with both sides rehashing familiar arguments. Then, sometimes, there's really nothing to be said. As Andrew Sullivan notes today, there was a tragedy in Killeen almost two decades ago when a deranged man drove his truck into a Luby's Cafeteria. I wrote about it at the time. The man shouted epithets about the county where he was raised and where the killing took place. Since the weapon of choice was a truck, there was no gun control debate.

I suppose it's worth noting that the Virginia Tech massacre did little to revive gun control debates or discussions of mental health on campuses. Sometimes even signal events fail to stir the national appetite for argument.

That the shooter was of Arab descent and Muslim will no doubt keep this story in the news more than if his name was Fred Smith. That's not surprising in a nation that's seen 3,000 citizens murdered on its soil by terrorists and is now conducting two wars abroad because of that fateful day. I predict in the coming days the media will almost certainly focus on the Army's failure not to notice a deranged man in their midst, who seems to have offered up Internet rantings of a menacing kind and have received poor evaluations. No organization can predict what people will do. A few years ago, a day trader in Atlanta shot wildly, setting off an orgy of speculation about the stock market and its relationship to violence. So this time, despite the temptation to theorize, let's wait and see what really happened.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2009/11/the-politics-of-fort-hood-and-lack-thereof/29757/