Combat Vets Are Not Insane
Yesterday, Esteban Santiago-Ruiz, an Iraq combat veteran since discharged from the Alaska National Guard, opened fire in Ft. Lauderdale’s airport, killing 5 and wounding 6 more. He boarded an Air Canada flight in Anchorage and flew to Ft. Lauderdale. Upon arrival, he took his lone bag into the restroom, unpacked and loaded a 9mm pistol (along with two spare magazines) and then went into the baggage claim area of Terminal 2. It was there he went on his murderous rampage. Once he was out of ammunition, he assumed the position and waited for the police to arrest him.
Those are the facts. What we do not know is Santiago-Ruiz’s motivation, but two explanations seem likely. One, he joined a terrorist group and carried out an attack. According to news reports, he visited the Anchorage FBI office in November and said he was hearing voices that were telling him to join ISIS. The other probability is that Santiago-Ruiz is suffering from a form of schizophrenia, suffered a psychotic break, and the voices in his head told him to carry out this attack.
Based on the evidence so far, the second scenario seems the more likely – and that worries me greatly. For much of the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, the public perception of combat veterans was that they were all ticking time bombs. Movies like Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter and Rambo: First Blood were all Hollywood blockbusters and terrific viewing. Unfortunately, they all showed combat veterans as being psychopathic murderers when the reality couldn’t be further from that portrayal.
Already, news outlets and social media are reverting to that image of the combat vet when discussing Santiago-Ruiz’s actions. Yes, his aunt said he “changed” after his combat tour. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Everyone I know who has been in combat is changed by the experience. Odds are, that Santiago-Ruiz suffers from PTSD. It’s a relatively common occurrence among combat veterans, and for good reason. Any experience where you spend months on end in life-and-death situations, where not only your life but the lives of your closest friends depend on your actions and reactions, is going to rewire your brain.
However, PTSD is not related to homicidal rage, nor does it even begin to closely resemble the type of psychotic break required to shoot up an airport. Indeed, the type of break exhibited by Santiago-Ruiz generally isn’t induced by combat, unless there’s a traumatic brain injury involved (from what we know thus far, it doesn’t seem he suffered one).
So far, these basic truths haven’t stopped the media from reverting to the tired “psycho vet” meme as an explanation for Santiago-Ruiz’s actions. That’s lazy journalism at it’s worst, and it’s too bad this is the route the media has chosen to exploit. I urge you to ignore any outlet that tries to push this narrative. Remember, combat veterans make up less than 2% of our population. They answered the call the rest of the nation ignored and put their lives on the line to defend the United States; a test of public service most would fail. To ostracize them over fake story lines generated for cheap ratings, is to cheapen their service and lessen our nation. Shame on those who would advance such stories, and shame on those gullible enough to believe them.