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Should the Purple Heart be Awarded to Terrorism Victims?

By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security

On Feb. 6, Secretary of the Army John McHugh approved the Fort Hood Massacre Victims as eligible to receive the prestigious Purple Heart and all the honors and benefits associated with it.

The Fort Hood Massacre was carried out by Nidal Hasan (formerly a U.S. Army officer and psychiatrist), and many have since labelled him a terrorist. In 2009, Hasan fired on personnel around the base entrance, killing 13 and wounding 30.

Secretary McHugh’s said:

“The Purple Heart’s strict eligibility criteria had prevented us from awarding it to victims of the horrific attack at Fort Hood. Now that Congress has changed the criteria, we believe there is sufficient reason to allow these men and women to be awarded and recognized with either the Purple Heart or, in the case of civilians, the Defense of Freedom medal. It’s an appropriate recognition of their service and sacrifice.”

The Purple Heart review for Foot Hood victims comes after the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015. This law changed Purple Heart Criteria to include those wounded or killed by “a foreign terrorist organization” and was a long fought effort of petitions and Congressmen supported by family members of the slain victims. Beforehand, only uniform personnel wounded in combat could receive the award.Purple Heart Fort Hood victims

In a way, the change satisfies a stricter expansion for traditionalists and opens the door for the Purple Heart to be given to future victims of terrorism. The Army said that the attacker was in connection with a foreign terrorist organization and was inspired by them as well. Hasan personally furthered his moniker as ‘terrorist’ when he applied to become a ‘citizen’ of the Islamic State (IS) last year. Hasan’s acts at Fort Hood were neither friendly-fire nor combat, so the key change is to honor the victims of terrorism from inside or outside attacks, regardless of an external enemy.

Nevertheless, a future incident similar to the one at Fort Hood will determine the limitations of these changes. At the extreme, it makes little sense to award the Purple Heart for noncombat injuries or deaths at the hands of foreign terrorists when lone wolfs and homegrown terrorists are just as potent a threat and just as real an enemy. Moreover, it makes little sense to limit the criteria to a specific attacker at all. It is more important to judge the intent, situation and circumstance of each attack to deem whether such was legal (i.e., was the uniform personnel in the wrong, a provoker, not acting on orders, engaging in dishonorable and or criminal conduct, etc.) or was the attack illegal and or immoral. However, going that far is problematic in that every bar brawl might become a matter of submitting for a Purple Heart—with the possibility of presenting evidence that a victim succumb to a “national enemy.” So, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 reached an important compromise.

The Purple Heart has always been somewhat a victim of warfare injury badge. All who were wounded in combat had the right to it as an entitlement rather than a petition of award, as with other medals. It is not the highest honor awarded, but it is one of them. The highest medal in the service is given for those most extreme brave acts during combat which go beyond the call of duty: The Medal of Honor. That will remain an active award for heroic achievements in the rarest of circumstances.

The Purple Heart is also awarded to victims of friendly fire. It makes sense that this medal should be offered to all Army uniform personnel injured or killed by terrorists who seek to undermine the U.S. government, the national interest and take the lives of its warriors in ambush or even when they are relaxed at home.

Nonetheless, the Purple Heart is not watered down by its awarding to victims of terrorist attacks, who deserve such an award in their chosen line of service and with their inherent dangers of high risk. The battlefield must now include any place within the U.S. and may extend to all places and all uniformed service members who are wounded or killed by an ongoing threat and enemy of America.

Fort Hood was a game changer; such an abhorrent incident was labelled as “workplace violence” in the past. The change of Purple Heart criteria rightly honors those in uniform killed in cowardly attacks.

Note: The opinions and comments stated in the preceding article, and views expressed by any contributor to In Homeland Security, do not represent the views of American Military University, American Public University System, its management or employees.

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