Another Perspective

Berg’s Post-Traumatic Bush Disorder

In his powerlessness, the father of beheaded Nick Berg reveals himself to be a psychological wreck.

By 6.16.06

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The spectacle of Michael Berg appearing on national television to lament the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the man who decapitated his son, will probably end up as nothing more than a bizarre footnote in the War on Terror.

But Berg's statements provide a window into the psychological state of those whose hatred of the president has grown into an obsession. It is one thing to dislike President Bush or think that the Iraq War was a colossal mistake. But Berg despises the President so much, that it leads him to sympathize with his son's murderer.

"Well, my reaction is I'm sorry whenever any human being dies," Berg told CNN when asked about the death of Iraq's leading terrorist. "Zarqawi is a human being. He has a family who are reacting just as my family reacted when Nick was killed, and I feel bad for that."

The world should need little reminder of the grisly video in which Zarqawi saws off the head of a screaming Nick Berg, and holds it up to the camera. Zarqawi's group took credit for the May 2004 beheading and the video was published with a caption reading, "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi slaughtering an American."

Berg describes himself as a "pacifist," yet on Fox News, he excused Zarqawi's use of violence. Berg said it was "to defend his region of the country from American invaders." The statement makes even less sense given the fact that Zarqawi was Jordanian.

Perhaps if Nick Berg were a soldier who was killed in action as a direct result of Bush's decision to send troops into Iraq, his father's anger toward Bush would be easier to understand. But his son went to Iraq voluntarily, to make money as a contractor after the invasion.

Given that it's difficult to explain Berg's statements from a logical standpoint, we are forced to examine them within the context of the psychological trauma he experienced.

Psychologists have found that one of the most dominant feelings experienced by those who have been through traumatic events is an overwhelming sense of helplessness and powerlessness. This has been found to be true for Holocaust survivors, combat veterans, abused children and a host of other groups of people who have suffered directly or witnessed others suffer.

Victims of trauma will use many psychological mechanisms in an effort to regain a sense that they are in control of events. This is one of the causes of the phenomenon known as "survivor guilt." By blaming themselves for a tragic event, people become convinced that outcomes are the result of their own actions, and they shield themselves from their raw emotions.

It is difficult to conceive of an event that would make a father feel more powerless than watching his captive son cry for help as a madman across the globe cuts off his head.

Michael Berg experienced something most of us cannot even conceive of, and viewing him as a victim of trauma makes his comments less surprising. He doesn't have any control over the Muslim fundamentalists in Iraq who murdered his son. But by speaking out against Bush and the war, and running for Congress as a Green Party candidate in Delaware, Berg has found a way to empower himself.

In much the same way that Berg reacted to his son's death, the radical anti-Bush crowd reacted to the national trauma of Sept. 11. It is really difficult to come to grips with why people would want to take over commercial airplanes and fly them into buildings in an effort to kill as many civilians as possible. As a result, some people opted for the easier explanation that it could only happen because of something America did. Whether it was having troops in the Persian Gulf, supporting Israel or electing George W. Bush. By fixating on Bush and protesting the war, they have shifted their emotions to a realm that they feel more control over.

President Bush deserves honest criticism, no doubt. But the type of criticism offered by Berg, who declared that Saddam Hussein was "no worse than George Bush," is another matter entirely.

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About the Author

Philip Klein is The American Spectator's Washington correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/Philipaklein