I can’t get the comparison of Assistant Professor Amy Bishop and Major Nidal Hasan out of my mind. The superficial similarities are all there: two highly educated professionals, both described as “oddball,” finding themselves in a place they never wanted to be. In Bishop’s case, that place was the purgatory of the terminal year post-tenure decision, where she lived in dread of what came next, the hell of unemployment. Hasan, marking time with the infidels before he could put his plan for jihad into motion, was in a kind of living purgatory as he waited for the moment when he too, like Bishop, would turn his weapon on his colleagues. Both yearned for paradise: Bishop’s being the blissful security of a job for life; Hasan’s a heavenly garden replete with the requisite houris.
It will be interesting to watch how Bishop’s story unfolds, and if it will follow the same trajectory as Hasan’s. Right now, the facts about Amy Bishop almost defy belief: as a teenager or young adult (the math is fuzzy here) she accidentally pumped a rifle bullet into her brother’s gut. As a graduate student she was a person of interest in an attempted letter bombing of a professor who evaluated her work. As a young mother, visiting an International House of Pancakes with her brood, she pummeled another mother who had the temerity to accept a booster seat, offered her by the IHOP staff, that Bishop wanted for one of her kids. As an assistant professor at the University of Alabama Huntsville her application then appeal for tenure denied, she apparently fell back on the tried-and-true. Pipe bombs proving unreliable, fisticuffs not lethal enough, she purchased a gun and then in another family outing, this time with her husband, went to a shooting range to fire at targets. Academic to the end, she stuck with what she knew—guns—and practiced to enhance her performance. In serial coups de grace, she shot her fellow department members in the head, blowing out their gray matter in a manner symbolic of her blown research program into the functioning of the brain’s neurons. Her research partner/husband/apologist then wonders in a supremely unfortunate choice of words about what “triggered” her rampage.
Likewise did similar apologists wonder what drove Major Hasan to commit mass murder. He was crazy, some said. He wanted out of the Army others argued. After what by all accounts was a jihadist slideshow presentation at Walter Reed Army Hospital was resurrected, those offering Hasan a one-way ticket to the funny farm backed off. Maybe he was a terrorist, after all. And here is where the stories of Bishop and Hasan diverge.
Bishop failed to measure up to the tenure criteria that obtain at the University of Alabama Huntsville. Because she could not meet the standards set for her and other assistant professors seeking jobs for life, she would be expected to leave the university when her terminal contract expired. She would not have her job for life; she would not receive a promotion to Associate Professor. She did not want to go. Hasan, in a nightmarish mirror image, did want to leave the Army. At least that’s what he is reported to have said, repeatedly. And although those charged with evaluating him at Walter Reed found many serious faults in his performance as a doctor and his attitude as a soldier, their solution was to avoid the messy paperwork of a discharge and send him instead to Fort Hood, where, they thought—wrongly—as it—grimly—turns out, he could do no harm. And they promoted him from Captain to Major.
The world that Bishop and Hasan inhabit is a bleak one of lethal consequences; that both were highly trained to delve into the mysteries of the human mind makes it bleaker still. One wonders what their studies revealed to them.