Thank Goodness Robert Bales Might’ve Stolen From Old People
Robert Bales is the 99 percent. According to this New York Times profile, he grew up in a Norwood, Ohio, in a brick two-story that neighbors still call “the Bales house.” He played high-school football with an NFL hero; he was named “best dancer” by his graduating class. He has a wife, two children (a boy and a girl) and a mortgage that, come 2009, he couldn’t pay. He’s just like us.
Except that he can’t be just like us, because he’s accused of shooting and killing 16 men, women and children in the early hours of the morning—in their homes—and then burning some of their bodies. That’s not us, that’s not what we do. He can’t be one of the 99 percent.
Well, he’s not. He’s part of the one.
Which one, you ask? For starters, there’s the one percent of the American population (less than one percent, by some reckonings) currently serving in the military. Bales is most definitely part of that one—he joined the Army two months after 9/11. He’s served multiple tours as a soldier in America’s longest war ever. (I’ll repeat that, in case you missed it, because the first time I heard it I couldn’t quite process it either: our longest war ever.)
So yes, Bales is definitely part of a certain kind of elite—an armed force whose presence in Afghanistan we seem now to be actually discussing rather than forgetting about on a daily basis. I guess sometimes it takes a lone gunman slaughtering civilians in military-occupied territory to get us, as a nation, to actually look over at the territory the military is occupying and ask ourselves why. And while this “why” is mostly specific to Bales and his crime—why did he do it?—in the process of asking, we’ve begun to question the effect this war has had on our beleaguered combat troops, which is, I think, a very good thing.
But back to the one percent for a minute, if only because I’m most intrigued by our collective obsession with this man’s paramount difference. In all the news coverage I’ve read of Sergeant Bales’s origins, the narrative presented seems always tinged with psychological analysis: Does he have a history of abuse? Was this violence and anger somehow innate? We know the very fact of his military service makes him different, subject to pressures most of us have never had to bear; yet somehow it’s not enough that he was a soldier. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers deal with the trauma of combat every day and don’t go around committing atrocities against civilian women and children. Bales must have some other, extra kind of hate inside him, some innate evil.
Enter the Liebschners, a retired Ohio couple who have just come forward to claim that, back in the early 2000’s, Robert Bales defrauded them out of their life savings, and has since failed to pay $1.4 million in damages and remuneration. Gary Liebschner says he’d assumed Bales was in “the Bahamas” or somewhere, until he saw the sergeant’s face on the evening news. It’s a relatively new story—ABC News and the Washington Post just wrote about it on Monday—but it’s a timely one. Sleazy traders and bankers: These are the villains of the Great Recession, the men and women we love to hate. If Robert Bales did cheat a little old lady and man out of their hard-earned cash, might that help explain his apparently vicious character? He’d be part of the other one percent, the cruel and careless class made infamous by Occupy Wall Street. And then we’d know how to hate him.
Because we don’t quite, now. Maybe Robert Bales did gun down defenseless Afghan citizens, people he’d spent the last 10 years allegedly protecting, families in their homes. Maybe he is a monster. It’s easy to hate the evil we know, the one we feel tugging at our wallets every day. And it might be nice, right now, if it were easy to hate Robert Bales.