Marine-Taliban outrage begs for some prespective
The latest media feeding frenzy is on the YouTube video of U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of enemy Taliban dead last summer.
Knowing nothing of life on the battlefield is not even a small speed bump to our media mavens who wring their hands with each other, painfully torn since they want to support our troops but have a duty to be righteously indignant, apparently hoping to genuflect to our enemy if they could only find a suitable representative.
Our Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State were, at last glance, about to start their apology tour, likely beginning with the brazenly disloyal Hamid Karzai, corrupt leader of Afghanistan.
It all seems to me just one more example of children handling something that should be under more seasoned and insightful guidance. I’m speaking, of course, of the hysterical reactionaries in our knee-jerking media and naïve civilian leadership in Washington, not the Marines doing the peeing.
Don’t get me wrong. All of those Marines knew what they were doing was wrong and they are rightfully headed for some sort of disciplinary action. But it would be nice if we kept the infraction in perspective. It would also be nice if what happens to the Marines is a matter of sober judgment, but since the Pentagon leadership is political by nature, I fear they will be delivered as a sacrifice to a naïve media and public.
I hope you will contemplate these points.
War ain’t Sunday school. In WWII General George Patton said in a motivational speech to troops about how they would treat the German enemy, “... we’re going to cut out their living guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks ...”
Wow, that’s not very nice language, and in today’s wussified world Patton would probably lose a star, but war was nasty then and it is nasty now.
In WWII there were multiple occasions in Europe in which German troops surrendered and the fast-moving allies had no capacity to handle prisoners while chasing the German war machine. They couldn’t release the enemy soldiers to fight us again, so what do you think our own troops had to do? America never knew the worst side of WWII as censorship shielded the U.S. public, trying to prevent panic.
Our military is now an even more capable and mighty killing machine, even though we tend to use it nowadays like a United Nations peace-keeping force or nation-building operation that measures victory by the yardstick of world opinion.
When we send our troops to fight, we at home think we know what that war is like as we watch TV news from the comfort and safety of our living rooms, but we don’t have any idea. A war zone is a foul and chaotic place where weapons scatter guts and limbs with alarming effectiveness, and our troops’ job is to kill the enemy quickly to stay alive.
Meanwhile we tie their hands with rules of engagement that grant an advantage to an unscrupulous enemy that uses civilian human shields, and we foolishly expect our troops’ behavior to be microscopically conforming to a book of rules that we mentally use to measure them, as if they are playing soccer.
An important part of training in our military is the responsibility to intervene to stop battlefield excesses. We expect our troops to kill the enemy, then when the shooting stops our troops are supposed to prevent their mistreatment. And of course pissing on them when they are dead is not allowed. There is a lesson in that training every civilian should strive to understand.
Passions running amok in combat is human nature, to be expected, even inevitable now and then no matter how much training has occurred. Terrible things happen to our troops by the enemy’s treachery, and passion for retribution builds day after day, until one day the shooting doesn’t stop when it should.
Atrocities have happened in every war on every side, even by our own troops in the war of independence that started our country. Our officers are trained to watch for the inevitable passion for payback, and intervene to stop troops from indulging in the very same vengeance you and I would be eager to deliver. That eagerness is the reason every once in a while something bad happens anyway.
The difference between us and our enemy is that we train our troops to prevent atrocities, but our enemy is often unprincipled; sometimes they even train their soldiers to use atrocities as a routine weapon, like the Viet Cong did in Vietnam.
Our own troops did terrible things one day at a hamlet called My Lai in Vietnam, and the lieutenant who was supposed to stop it led the murder. Nothing will excuse that rare lapse but take a look at our enemy.
The Viet Cong had a political officer in every unit down to the platoon level with a duty to oversee their terror practices, like gathering villagers to watch the beheading of the village chief or the disemboweling of his wife; if she was pregnant that was considered a bonus. The Viet Cong did these things routinely, but our news media was little interested since these were not U.S. atrocities.
Not only was the American public oblivious to our enemy’s atrocity machine, it has always been OK with the pathologically sensitive that we killed each other, but calling our enemy derogatory names like gooks, dinks, slants and slopes would make them pee their pants. I have no regrets of that even though I have two Asian daughters I love more than my own life; a little perspective goes a long way.
Do you wonder what inhuman things our enemy in Afghanistan has done as your anger rises about U.S. Marines pissing on their combat dead? You should. No excuse arises from that, but maybe perspective does.
If you are willing to take a moment to look at past evidence of Taliban character, google “Taliban atrocities” and scan the images of hacked off limbs, disfigured faces, beheadings, bodies left hanging upside down after beating the victim to death, and the legendary Ghazi soccer stadium in Kabul where the Taliban for years held public mutilations, stonings, hangings and other types of executions for infractions like listening to western music or wearing shorts to play soccer.
Maybe you’ll develop the urge to do a little corpse-pissing yourself, but of course that would be wrong.
I don’t recall our enemies extending tearful apologies for mutilations of our war dead, burning corpses, dragging our soldiers’ bodies through streets as crowds cheer, hanging the bodies of our troops on a bridge or sawing off heads on video tape.
We are better than they are, but consider for a moment that the Taliban is surely celebrating this U.S. Marine pissing incident simply because the way we beat ourselves up and plead forgiveness before the world on bended knee is a victory for them.
What if we stopped inviting weakness and opt for long-term strength instead?
What if we stay out of half-wars like Iraq and Afghanistan? What if we watched for our enemies crossing the line, ready to unleash our military force to squash them like a bug without restrictive rules of engagement, applying overwhelming force until victory is absolute?
What if we let a few reporters go wherever they wish during the conflict, but prohibit any videos or photographs of the carnage, letting them write what they wish for the citizens back home with enough brains to read the news instead of feeding emotions with images?
What do I think the effect would be? Right now our enemies laugh at our weakness and use our own news media as their most effective weapon against us. If we ever did apply this “old school” way of using the military, I expect our enemies might once again whisper to each other, “Be careful not to make the Americans mad!” That change in attitude would prevent wars and motivate our allies to join our strength. All Washington needs to do to make that happen is, “Grow a pair!”
Meanwhile, our troops serve with honor and courage, but we have a few U.S. Marines – combat vets, mind you - who violated rules. What to do?
I like the solution of Rep. Allen West (R-Fla), an ex-Army lieutenant colonel who got himself in trouble in Iraq for harsh interrogation. West says, “The Marines were wrong. Give them a maximum punishment under field grade level Article 15 (non-judicial punishment), place a general officer level letter of reprimand in their personnel file, and have them in full dress uniform stand before their battalion, each personally apologize to God, Country, and Corps videotaped and concluded by singing the full U.S. Marine Corps Hymn without a teleprompter. As for everyone else, unless you have been shot at by the Taliban, shut your mouth, war is hell.”
[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]