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What Made Him Snap? Soldier Goes on Killing Spree in Baghdad 'Stress Clinic'

Yesterday's attack was the deadliest by a fellow soldier since Bush's wars began. The trauma of combat may be the source.

At 2 p.m. (Baghdad time) Monday, a U.S. soldier opened fire on his fellow troops at the Camp Liberty stress clinic.

The stress clinic is where service members are treated for psychological conditions. As of this writing, the military is reporting that the shooter killed five American soldiers, wounded three others and is now in custody. His name, his deployment history and his association with the clinic have not yet been released.

The incident, according to military sources, is the deadliest attack on troops by a fellow soldier since these wars began.

Since our invasion of Iraq, compelling analogies have been made to the war in Vietnam. Specifically, but not exclusively, we have again invaded a country in the name of freedom. We are again treating civilian populations as collateral damage. And we have again betrayed the soldiers who are fighting in our name, soldiers who were told they would be greeted as liberators, who were given inappropriate training and shamefully inadequate equipment and asked to risk their lives for reasons that have repeatedly shifted as each of the justifications for the invasion have been exposed as lies.

To my knowledge, there were no comparable massacres of American soldiers by other service members during the Vietnam years, but that is not to say that there weren't plenty of examples of American guns being turned on other Americans. Those examples have, to a tragic degree, been erased both from official history and even communal memory, leaving us far less prepared for the present, not to mention the future.

First, there were the so-called "fraggings," (a term used to describe attempts by soldiers to kill or injure their own officers with a fragmentation device, usually a grenade). In 1972, Sen. Charles Mathias, R-Md., called fragging the most tragic word in all the lexicon of war, "with all that it implies of total failure of discipline and depression of morale, the complete sense of frustration and confusion and the loss of goals and hope itself."

In 2006, when I was doing research for my book Flashback, I discovered the extent to which American soldiers resorted to such desperate measures:

The U.S. Army does not have exact statistics on how many officers were killed in Vietnam in this manner, but in December 1972, the Defense Department acknowledged between 800 and 1,000 actual or suspected fraggings. It also admitted that it could not account for the deaths of over 1,400 other officers and NCOs.

It should be noted that this number does not include incidents that occurred in other branches of service. Neither does it include attempts to kill by other means. In eloquent militarese, (military historians Richard A.) Gabriel and (Paul L.) Savage write, "The category of assaults by 'explosive device' excludes attempts to kill 'leadership elements' by other means, such as a rifle, automatic-weapons fire, ambush by claymore mines and misdirection to hostile ambush."

These figures suggest that 20 to 25 percent -- if not more -- of all officers killed during the war were killed by their own men. In 1971, the Americal Division (of My Lai infamy) was experiencing one fragging a week. The Army was clearly at war with itself.

Fraggings in Iraq have reportedly been rare, but in today's Army, officers aren't rotated every six months, as they were in Vietnam. That allows them more than just a narrow window of opportunity to win the trust of their troops and means they're less likely to be to be naïve and inexperienced. They may also be less likely to take excessive risk with their soldiers' lives to prove themselves worthy of promotion.

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