This is what war looks like

After my last post regarding the video of Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters I got to thinking about the reality of what that means. This is a war plain and simple. In a war really awful things are done by both sides. Rage and shock at these images, while justified, has more to do with Americans being so far removed from this decade long conflict in South Asia. We see so few real images of the war as it is, the few we do see make our skin crawl. But this misses the larger issue of how atrocious war is. This nation is so quick to send young men to go and fight their battles; yet lack the complexity to comprehend the magnitude of what we ask of them. I am not attempting to defend what these Marines have done, merely trying to explain why they might have what thy did. Soldiers, and Marines in particular, are killing machines. Their job description is to liquidate the enemy with extreme prejudice. In order to better kill your enemy you must view them as subhuman. Looking at the Taliban as less than human can be the difference between living or dying in Afghanistan.
This has of course been largely forgotten in the age of humanitarian intervention. All of those who are up in arms about the Marines urinating seem to miss the more sinister action here. These young men have killed a bunch of other young men. War is the legalization of murder. Of course the Marines are going to laugh at their “kills”, perhaps even urinate or desecrate their bodies. It may be the only thing that keeps them from turning their guns on themselves. For many of these young men the past ten years have been an endless cycle of violence. What do we really expect from them?
Even more abhorrent is that this intense psychological destruction seems to be lost by those in high office. Defense Secretary Panetta called the acts “deplorable”, while General Martin Dempsey said the actions were illegal. As if there are instances when acts of war are not deplorable or illegal. Young men who know nothing else aside from fighting and watching their friends die are mentally pushed to the limit. For Secretary Panetta to think that these are just a few bad apples is disgustingly naive at best. War looks like this. The sooner we stop thinking that somehow we are better than who we are fighting the better. Then and only then will we see that war is so horrific that it should truly never be used as a way of solving our problems.

To use an example from popular culture lets turn to one of my favorite shows The West Wing. In one episode Leo McGarry is persuaded by an Air Force General to drop a piece of war crimes legislation he is working on. Leo, being in favor of human rights, can not understand why. The General then reveals that while Leo was on a mission in Vietnam he accidentally bombed an village full of women and children, under the impression it was a Vietcong base. Horrified he asks why the General told him this. With a simple response the General tells him “All wars are crimes.”
There are no good parts war. There are no rules to how war is conducted. We can try and define what is ok and not ok, but this misses out on the fundamental enormity of the havoc that war brings to all people.

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