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The confession of Robert Bales

In this courtroom sketch, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, left, stands in a military courtroom as his wife, Kari Bales, right, looks on, Wednesday, June 5, 2013, during a plea hearing at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington state. Robert Bales pleaded guilty to multiple counts of murder, stemming from a pre-dawn attack on two villages in Kandahar Province in Afghanistan in March, 2012. (AP Photo/Peter Millett)

A judge has accepted the guilty plea of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales – the soldier who now admits to the one-man nighttime attack on two Afghan villages last year that left 16 people, mostly women and children dead.

He took a deal to avoid the death penalty. But the military was also eager to avoid a trial that would call attention to what repeated deployments can do to a soldier.

We know there are thousands of soldiers who endured the same stresses Bales was under and never came close to doing what he did. But it’s also hard to believe that his circumstances didn’t play some role. Which is not to excuse what happened, but just to acknowledge the numerous reports of military wives whose husbands have come back from deployment changed men. Sometimes more attentive, more grown up. But other times more distant. Yelling in their sleep.

Throwing and breaking things. Needing to be alone more. Sometimes, just suddenly leaving without even a farewell.

“I need a lot of space,” wrote one soldier on a blog for military spouses, “I still respect and care for my wife, but I don’t have loving feelings anymore. I’m not sure what changed me but I have changed. I can’t surrender myself to love.”

Another soldier wrote, “When I looked at my 12-year-old son all I could see was the faces of children I had seen on the side of the road. I just couldn’t take it.” And still another wrote, “Everyone who comes back from a tour of duty changes. Some change a lot, some not so much, but in the end you have to wait it out till he recovers from the things that happened out there.”

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