Terrorist or nut job?

Word is out that Nidal Malik Hasan, the “alleged” Fort Hood shooter, is paralyzed. For most of us, it’s hard to feel sorry for him.

Boots_Fort_Hood_Memorial2_091110_sshWhen this event broke last week, the reporting of it reminded me a little of 9/11 – information pouring in rapidly, some of it wildly inaccurate (as many as three shooters, possibly coordinated attack), heroic and selfless acts counteracting the horror of the attacks.

And of course the ensuing investigation, the reaction, the recriminations (How could he have not been noticed? How did he get promoted? Blame the Muslims! Blame the Army!) also sound vaguely familiar and predictable.

But, also like 9/11, the Fort Hood shootings were a bit of a Black Swan: Nobody (or hardly anybody) really expected it, it changed how we view the world, and now we try to explain how it happened. For a full treatise on the whole Black Swan thing, check out Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book, titled appropriately enough, The Black Swan. (Self-serving link alert – I wrote about the book two years ago for DelMio.com.)

As the Fort Hood story unfolds, we’ll again find ourselves trying to strike a balance between protecting ourselves and our loved ones from maniacs and terrorists with guns and bombs, and preserving the free society that most of us treasure above all else. Quoting Ben Franklin from wikiquote: “Those who would give Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temorary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” 

Part of me wants to pump a few rounds into Hasan, part of me just shakes my head in sadness and bewilderment that an Army major – a psychiatrist, a bit of an oddball, alternately described as gentle, a loner and loser, spewing anti-American vitriol to medical colleagues – could have operated under the radar the way he did.

But by God, you’d better take my shoes off at the airport! And lose the toothpaste! National security is at stake.

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