January 12, 2012

Marines Desecrate Taliban Dead

"War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over."
                                                                            William Tecumseh Sherman

What we have here is a grand pissing contest.

As international outrage pours in over a YouTube video allegedly showing U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters, it's well to remember another thing Sherman said: "In our country...one class of men makes war and leaves another to fight it out."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, our "ally" against the Taliban, called on the U.S. Military to punish the very Marines who risked their lives to support him. This from the president of a country that condemned to death Shoaib Assadullah for giving away a bible.

Our NATO allies, most of whom are reluctantly in Afghanistan and insist on non-combat roles, lept to the moral high ground: 
“This behavior dishonors the sacrifices and core values of every service member representing the 50 nations of the coalition,” said a statement from the ISAF.
As you might expect from an Obama man, SecDef Leon Panetta quickly joined the chorus condemning the Marines, saying the act was "utterly despicable," and ordered a full investigation.

Would have been nice for the SecDef to say "We're investigating the matter and I'll withhold comment until we have all the facts."

For the Obama administration however, this latest "battlefield atrocity" is a godsend, diverting discussion from the trillion dollar cuts to defense the president seeks and bolsters his argument to drastically cut ground forces and retreat from Afghanistan. 

Perhaps Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Stewart Upton best scaled the slimy heights of cognitive dissonance:
Allegations of Marines not doing the right thing in regard to dead Taliban insurgents are very serious and, if proven, represent a failure to adhere to the high standards expected of American military personnel.
Kill 'em all, but for god's sake, don't piss on 'em.

Upton can be forgiven for parroting the party line; otherwise he'd be en-route to Ice Station Zebra, his career in ashes.

Senator John McCain, who knows better than most the passions and atrocities of war, as well the damage to the human psyche, said the video "saddens me."

No doubt an honest emotion. But Sen. McCain knows otherwise.

In today's climate of heightened political and cultural sensitivities, you expect a rush to judgment on what seems, from a distance, obvious and wanton brutality by Marines.

But it's infantile to expect troops in mortal combat with a ruthless enemy, sent to do a dirty job by the very leaders who now criticize them, to adhere to standards of conduct acceptable in the American living room. And those screaming loudest for punishing the Marines are those seeing the world as it is for the first time.

The history of war is the history of unending atrocity. And like Sherman, those who know war, know you can't refine it. While urinating on deceased combatants seems atrocious, it pales in comparison to other examples from American experience.

This 1944 Life magazine photo of a Japanese skull sent by a junior naval officer to his girlfriend elicited almost universal condemnation from readers. The publication caused such an uproar that the military issued orders to curb the taking of war trophies and directed troops adhere to the Geneva Convention and laws of land warfare. 

The officer guilty of sending the skull was reluctantly, and not severely reprimanded: A testament that his superiors understood the brutal nature of the conflict against the Japanese. 
  
Ore Marion, a U.S. Marine on Guadalcanal, related his experience in mutilation of Japanese dead:
We learned about savagery from the Japanese... But those sixteen-to-nineteen-year old kids we had on the Canal were fast learners... At daybreak, a couple of our kids, bearded, dirty, skinny from hunger, slightly wounded by bayonets, clothes worn and torn, wack off three Jap heads and jam them on poles facing the 'Jap side' of the river... The colonel sees Jap heads on the poles and says, 'Jesus men, what are you doing? You're acting like animals.' A dirty, stinking young kid says, 'That's right Colonel, we are animals. We live like animals, we eat and are treated like animals–what the fuck do you expect?'
In war brutality is universal. While the United States does not, nor should ever condone such acts, for others, like the Viet Cong, it was policy:
General Walt tells of his arrival at a district headquarters the day after it had been overrun by VC and North Vietnamese army troops. Those South Vietnamese soldiers not killed in the battle had been tied up and shot through their mouths or the backs of their heads. Then their wives and children, including a number of two- and three-year-olds, had been brought into the street, disrobed, tortured and finally executed: their throats were cut; they were shot, beheaded, disemboweled. The mutilated bodies were draped on fences and hung with signs telling the rest of the community that if they continued to support the Saigon government and allied forces, they could look forward to the same fate.

These atrocities are not isolated cases; they are typical. For this is the enemy’s way of warfare, clearly expressed in his combat policy in Vietnam. While the naive and anti-American throughout the world, cued by communist propaganda; have trumpeted against American “immorality” in the Vietnam war — aerial bombing, the use of napalm, casualties caused by American combat action — daily and nightly for years, the communists have systematically authored history’s grisliest catalogue of barbarism. By the end of 1967, they had committed at least 100,000 acts of terror against the South Vietnamese people. The record is an endless litany of tortures, mutilations and murders that would have been instructive even to such as Adolf Hitler.
So forgive me for thinking that Marines pissing on Taliban is much ado about nothing.

I'll agree the Marines should be reprimanded, but not for war crimes. They're guilty of public relations sloppiness in highlighting some brutal facts of life for a childish society content to outsource the dirty business of war fighting.

To me, that's the real atrocity.