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Saturday, May 22, 2004

The schizophrenic view of war and warriors

Body and Soul has a heart-wrenching post about the torture at Abu Ghraib. It's well worth reading. She addresses a number of issues that are of concern to most everyone, but there's only one that I want to address here. She brings up the issue how how to assign blame and exactly how much individual responsibility the soliders involved should bear when they were most likely working under orders. She wonders why it is that we habitually absolve soliders of responsibility for what they are doing, which stripped of all its prentension, is just murder and torture.

Why do we want to absolve people implementing immoral policies? One of the reasons, I think, is relatively honest. It goes back to what I was saying about the video of the killings in Iraq. Just speaking for myself, I can't imagine what those soldiers are going through. Even if the people they killed were innocent and unthreatening, I'd be loathe to second guess what they did because I don't honestly know what I'd do in the same situation.
Another honest reason is that even when we recognize that people have done horrible things, some innate need for justice rebels against the least culpable, the ones who are in the weakest position, receiving the greatest blame, the most punishment.

She suggests that one reason might be that we are trying to escape culpability ourselves for our own actions. I think that's it, but there is a more practical reason that society distracts and uses euphemism for what soliders do while puffing up the military and suggesting that soliders are the greatest and most honorable people in our society. It's because it's the only way to get people to accept the presence of soliders in our society. And it's the only way to get otherwise sane people to sign up for what must be the most loathsome work known to man--killing and destroying while putting yourself in danger of getting killed yourself.
Of course, it's true that it takes alot of guts to join the military, and that deserves respect. And it's a big sacrifice and for the sake of our country, and that deserves compensation, a point that BushCo seems hazy on. And god knows we need to keep a military for national defense, though the one we have is way too big and overblown for that. But let's not fool ourselves. The military is at best a necessary evil and our continued insistence on pretending that it's the greatest thing about our society and the people in it are the greatest people on the planet is only creating space for these abuses to occur.
You can see it going on right now. It seems to me that there is very little chance that anyone is going to get justice served to them besides the 7 soliders that have been charged already. And one of the reasons is that we are so dedicated to our belief that the military as an institution is an honorable one and that the people in it are morally superior to the rest of us that we cannot see what is right in front of our noses--that this kind of abuse is widespread and systematic. And it's going to keep on happening until we get our minds around that simple fact.


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Semper Fi!

Bill Adams


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