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Human Nature, Not Mental Illness, Accounts for Fort Hood Shooting

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After the Fort Hood shooting, which as of press time had left 13 dead and scores wounded, there were reports first that the alleged shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, was dead, and then that he was not talking.

We would learn later that Hasan was in a coma, but upon hearing the early news that he would not talk, I thought immediately of Iago. The famed villain from Othello says at the end of the play, after he has been apprehended as the orchestrator behind the death of Desdemona and others, "Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I will never speak word."

It may turn out that Hasan, who has now been taken off a ventilator, will speak, but my initial impression stays with me. That is because Iago epitomizes the dark side of man. To use a legitimate word that has been ruined by former President George W. Bush, Iago is the ultimate "evildoer."

Iago expresses his philosophy in what Harold Bloom has referred to as the ontological negation, "I am not what I am." Showing his kinship with Satan, Iago refutes Yahweh's "I am what I am" ethos.

No one would ever accuse Iago of being mentally ill. He calculates all of the murders he perpetrates, and as his final lines evidence, he shows no remorse. He is a psychopath, a killer, who lives by a code of sadism, hatred and violence.

Hasan evidently felt persecuted by the other soldiers in the U.S. Army, but then again Iago feels persecuted in his own way; he feels that he hasn't gained the promotion he deserves while fellow soldiers, Cassio and Othello, have reaped rewards. That is why he plots against them.

Hasan may not have plotted against any particular soldiers, though he did target quite a few mental health professionals who were about to be deployed, but he clearly planned the murderous rampage at Fort Hood.

He gave away his furniture and other belongings to his friends. He told them he would not be seeing them again. He even used a neighbor's computer presumably so as to avoid detection of his murderous scheme.

Several days after the attack, the New York Times noted in its Nov. 8 issue that Hasan may also have destroyed documents and used fictional identities on the Internet to conceal his plan. The Times then pointed out that the killings may have been "premeditated and not the spontaneous outburst of a mentally impaired malcontent."

President Barack Obama got it exactly right when he said of the Fort Hood massacre that "we saw the worst of human nature on full display." Obama did not make the mistake, as some did, in ascribing the killings to mental illness.

Retired Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore said on CNN's AC360 that Maj. Hasan may have had a "mental problem." Dr. Phil, appearing on Larry King, characterized the tragedy as "a major mental event" and Dr. Daniel Amen, author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, said that the shooter had a "deranged mind."

While Honore, a career soldier, has no expertise in mental health, Dr. Phil and Dr. Amen theoretically do. It is unfortunate that trained doctors could be that callous in their remarks on television.

We should all learn from our president in recognizing that most murders have nothing to do with mental illness. As I have pointed out time and again, studies show that the severely mentally ill, with no substance abuse problems, commit only 3 to 4% of violent crime in this country!

Whether one accepts the Biblical story of the Fall of Man as a metaphor or reality, there is no denying that we all have within us the knowledge to do good or to do ill.

As children we have all sometimes knocked down someone's Lego sculpture or sand castle; ripped up another's painstaking penmanship, as a kid did to me in second grade; or stolen toys from a sibling. We all know that most kids grow out of this kind of sadism and become socialized into a world where there are penalties for extreme, anti-social behavior.

In a sense, Hasan may be one of those people who never grew up and accepted the responsibilities of adulthood. He had trouble meeting women, never got married and received poor performance evaluations at work. Rather than serve the country and military that had paid for his education, he chose unfortunately to destroy the lives of many of his fellow soldiers.

Just as Hasan's rampage has nothing to do with mental illness, it probably has little to do with his religion. Gen. George Casey, U.S. Army chief of staff, indicated on CNN that there are roughly 3,000 Muslims in the U.S. Army, Army Reserves and National Guard; they must feel tremendous pain over what transpired at Fort Hood.

Why don't we accept that we all have within us the capacity for both good and evil and that most of us have learned not to act on our darkest thoughts! Those who do act on such thoughts tend to be modern-day Iagos. Blaming the mentally ill or the Muslim community for massacres such as that at Fort Hood serves only to reinforce ignorance and to polarize people in this country.