I honestly never thought I’d have to write an article on this subject. I mean seriously … why would this be major news? Terrible things happen in war, but thanks to modern media, the worst, remote incidents can become internationally-acclaimed video vignettes. And diplomatic ramifications aside, our interest and opinions of such an incident are a testimony to our culture or perhaps even human nature.
First, let’s keep in mind that desecration of bodies in war is against the [[Geneva Convention]] and US Military Law. Obviously at some point in our history we had a different view of decency or manners.
Secondly, we can’t even have an informed opinion on this since at the writing of this article, no one knows the identity or affiliation of the bodies, be they civilian, Taliban, or some random insurgent.
Undoubtedly some will say all is fair when the dead (allegedly) perpetrated inhumane acts that defy comprehension. But I will address why I would still never do such a thing.
It is the considering of others not to be worthy of human respect that allows all evils in this world to happen, from the [[Holocaust]] to [[9-11]]. A human being would never do this to another human being unless they percieve in some way the other to NOT be human.
People do evil things. But why do we call them names (non-human ones such as feces or animals, or literally “sub-human”)? Why dehumanize them by blaming ideological brainwashing, cultural inferiority, or mental illness?
It is because we do not want to admit we ourselves are capable of these things. We want to make people (like the Nazis, for example) out to be some alien species different from ourselves when they are not. They were not husbands, nor fathers, not children at one time. They never laughed at jokes around the dinner table or cuddled their children. They never fell in love or cried over the death of a beloved pet. They were just “Nazis” … or “Taliban”.
As human beings, we also fight. Sometimes it is an endless game of retaliation and retribution. Sometimes it is to stop people from doing evil things. But once one is dead, they are no longer a threat. And in death, we are all equals, no matter what we have done beforehand.
If one believes in divine judgment, then our job is done — God will “sort them out”. If one believes in [[reincarnation]], we would ideally hope they learned some lesson in this life and can do better next time. After all, who knows how many of us were Nazis.
But these are the high road. If we take the low road and think we can justify insult after victory instead of giving thanks that a violence is ultimately concluded, that is our problem, not the dead’s. And we have to live with it.
Well written and thought provoking article, Ken.
I’d like to add two comments, one an answer to your opening question and the other an observation about your final paragraph from the perspective of one who has been to war (Vietnam).
The reason why this makes for such shocking news is that an incident like this strips away the veneer of justification that America’s wars are somehow fought for noble and patriotic causes.
That’s a total crock of shit but no one is supposed to say so and worse yet, no one is ever supposed to see any evidence of the charade. (It’s always going to be about corporations profitting
from the control of natural resources but that’s a whole other subject).
These guys f’d up bigtime and for a couple of minutes the world has seen behind the curtain.
So now Hillary has to come to the podium and try to sew the curtain shut again with the usual “a few bad apples”, “conduct a full investigation” and “make them held responsible” rhetoric but it’s
all just so much damage control until such time as it can be made to fade from prominence in the news cycle. Damn, it’s Abu Ghraib all over again; what a nuissance.
Don’t buy the “few bad apples” line of bullshit. I can assure your readers there have been many gallons of urine and far, far worse acts of desecration perpetrated on a daily basis than this one incident.
While I don’t condone such acts I do feel I am in a unique position to understand them.
It’s the old thing about reserving judment until you have walked a mile in another man’s boots.
Common phrases like “war is hell” and “terrible things happen in wars” mean an entirely different thing to those who have had to carry them out vs those who are “back in the world” living their normal lives.
Civilians can use those phrases to tie a neat little dismissive ribbon around the subject and then just go on to the next thing- taking the kids to soccer, shopping for groceries, watching American Idol… whatever.
But these guys wake up (when they can even get a decent night’s sleep) in the same nightmare every day for months and months on end. There is no locker room or cocktail lounge to retreat to, just the constant
threat of surprise attack, the mindset of kill or be killed, the gut wrenching and gruesome memory of what happened to someone else right before your eyes yesterday and the haunting feeling that comes with killing
another human being in the name of some stupid cause you know deep down in your gut is bullshit but you have to pretend is righteous. You don’t have the option of saying I don’t want to play anymore or I quit.
And so you “soldier on”… but mark my words, there is a pressure of horrific and unimaginable magnitude that you bear and my point is it can make a person do things in an attempt to relieve some of their stess or bolster their resolve that what they are doing is right.
But of course “right” is a very relative term and within the context of a war zone, things can become mighty twisted around and push a person into mental corners they never imagined were even possible let alone someday find themselves in. I would lay money on the notion that if we had a time machine and could travel back before these men ever thought of joining the military and posited the idea that one day not all that
far away they would be filming themselves pissing on the face of someone they had just killed they would probably say, “I would NEVER do that” and of course really believe themselves.
Ken, you close your post with one of these ‘neatening the bow type’ statements, “If we take the low road and think we can justify insult after victory instead of giving thanks that a violence is ultimately concluded, that is our problem,
not the dead’s. And we have to live with it.”
And this is also exactly my point but who is the “we” you speak of? The armchair generals that watch the evening news, say “tsk tsk” and then go back to Jay Leno while they wait for their Ambien to kick in?
In this instant matter, “the living” are the guys who are being made to endure the daily horrors of killing people. For them there is no such thing as “giving thanks that a violence is ultimately concluded” because until they leave with their
bodies intact that has no possibility of being their truth.
And then, when they do leave the war zone, there’s the ongoing emotional trauma of what they saw/experienced and the gripping taint leftover in their souls of the evil they participated in perpetrating that is never going to conclude. Having been in this level
of combat is like the proverbial bell that can never be unrung.
War is hell, alright… and its after effects are each warrior’s burden to learn to live with. The notion of an “ultimate” conclusion to one who has “been there and done that” is a monumental misnomer.
I thank you sincerely for your comments here. Even though I work with vets, I always recognize it is far easier to talk about such things objectively than to have experienced them subjectively, and the latter is often the more potent truth.
Perry Urges No Criminal Charges Over Marines’ Video
AFP – 12 hrs ago…
Texan presidential hopeful Rick Perry said on Sunday it would be “over the top” to file criminal charges against four US Marines who urinated on dead militants in Afghanistan.
The incident, captured in a video posted online that depicts American troops desecrating the bloodstained corpses of fighters, has appalled Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and embarrassed the Pentagon.
“These kids made a mistake, there’s not any doubt about it,” Perry, the governor of Texas who is trailing most of his rivals in the battle for the Republican nomination for the November election, told CNN.
“But the idea that this administration would go after these young people for a criminal act is, again, over the top.”
The US military has launched a high-level investigation and the four Marines have been questioned, while US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both expressed dismay at the acts and vowed that the culprits would be punished.
There are concerns that the video could be used as a recruiting tool for the Taliban and anti-American insurgents.
Perry, a former US Air Force pilot, criticized what he described as President Barack Obama’s administration’s “disdain for the military… whether it’s the secretary of state or whether it’s the secretary of defense.
“Did (the four US Marines) make a mistake? Absolutely. Should they be reprimanded and appropriately punished? Yes. But going after them as a criminal act I think sends a really bad message.”
Perry recalled how World War II era US general George Patton famously urinated in the Rhine river during his troops’ march into Nazi Germany, and, “although there’s not a picture, (British prime minister Winston) Churchill did the same thing on the Siegfried Line” to show contempt for the Nazis.
The US military said the four Marines are from a sniper unit in the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and they were grilled by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service which is leading a criminal inquiry into the affair.
The unit was deployed in southwestern Afghanistan’s Helmand province from March to September last year, and the video “potentially” was shot during that period, a military official told AFP.
Military matter for military courts, case closed.
The idea of charging these soldiers for a criminal act smacks of bullsh!t appeasement strategy by a spineless “leader” who has an obvious contempt for his own military.Oh! We don’t want anybody to be angry at us!! Why can’t we all be friends?? Please stop murdering innocent civilians, and we promise to take issue with the valiant soldiers who peed on the lifeless remains of somebody who likely was trying to kill them 5 minutes before! OUR BAD!
Military court? Absolutely, since they broke military and international law. Appeasement? Maybe, if it was refraining from doing something approriate. The problem is making a statement that “we’re better than this” without appearing to appease an enemy, or more accurately, those who might sympathize with them. The soldiers actions, however understandable and forgivable their actions we may choose to view them as, were nonetheless indirectly comforting the enemey, justifying their ideological prejudices. Not that we react the same to such acts on our end … .
This is the strength of a pluralistic government. We can have leaders who are sensitive and others that take a firm stance. My hope is that it challenges those against “us” to reconsider their blanket prejudices, realizing none of these disparate actions and reactions to them represents all of us.