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November 12th, 2009
10:41 AM ET

The Fort Hood Killer: Terrified ... or Terrorist?

Nancy Gibbs
Time

What a surprise it must have been when Major Nidal Malik Hasan woke up from his coma to find himself not in paradise but in Brooke Army Medical Center, deep in the heart of Texas, under security so tight that there were armed guards patrolling both the intensive-care unit and checkpoints at the nearest freeway off-ramp. This was not the finalé he had scripted when he gave away all his earthly goods — his desk lamp and air mattress, his frozen broccoli and spinach, his copies of the Koran. He had told his imam he was planning to visit his parents before deploying to Afghanistan. He did not mention that his parents had been dead for nearly 10 years.

And who denied him his martyrdom? That would be Kimberly Munley, the SWAT-team markswoman nicknamed Mighty Mouse, who with her partner ran toward the sound of gunshots at the Soldier Readiness Center, where men and women about to deploy gather for vaccinations and eye exams. It's practically been a motto stitched on their sleeves — "Better to fight the terrorists there than here" — except now they were at home, and there was one of their own, a U.S. officer, jumping up, shouting "God is great" in a language he could barely speak and then opening fire.

For eight years, Americans have waged a Global War on Terrorism even as they argued about what that meant. The massacre at Fort Hood was, depending on whom you believed, yet another horrific workplace shooting by a nutcase who suddenly snapped, or it was an intimate act of war, a plot that can't be foiled because it is hatched inside a fanatic's head and leaves no trail until it is left in blood. In their first response, officials betrayed an eagerness to assume it was the first; the more we learn, the more we have cause to fear it was the second, a new battlefield where our old weapons don't work very well and our values make us vulnerable: freedom, privacy, tolerance and the stubborn American certainty that people born and raised here will not reject the gifts we share.

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