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Repost: Notebook, 17 May 2012: Covered in Glory

“He who is not with us, absolutely and without reserve of any kind, is against us, and should be treated as an enemy alien.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

“Russia can neither be grasped by the mind, nor measured by any common yardstick. Russia’s status is special: no attitude to her other than one of blind faith is admissible.”

– Feodor Tyuchev

Because of the confluence of events in the recent sentencing of Chelsea Manning and that of Sergeant Robert Bales underway today, this post has once again become topical and I thought I’d share it more widely from my personal blog. I think, in the end, that the soldier who actually murdered innocent people will get a better deal, through a pardon or other mechanism for reduction of his sentence, than Manning will ever see. Organizational vengeance and jingoism will play their parts. Indeed, we already see efforts emerging to excuse the actual murderer centered about the side effects of anti-malarial drug mefloquine, while the obvious situational difficulties of gender and/or sexual orientation diverging from narrowly defined norms in the armed forces are given no weight whatsoever.

And here is where the rubber meets the road: America forgives its killers, but will tolerate no deviation from our tribal allegiances.


17 May 2012:

Sorry, Diane Dimond, but regarding Sgt. Robert Bales and the armed forces of the United States, your opinion means nothing. For that matter, neither does mine nor any other American’s. In her HuffPo piece, Dimond stands In Defense of the United States Military and in the process, manages to trash Sgt. Robert Bales. She must feel very comfortable. She must have that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you take a position you feel is unassailable. A position you know many “right thinking people” will rise to defend on your behalf.

Which probably explains a lot.

However, she asks us to ignore things we know to be true. She states,

that the military “taught him to kill.” Nonsense.

Which isn’t nonsense at all. It is the armed forces prime methodology, and in 1947, when General S.L.A. Marshall’s book, Men Against Fire was published, the military changed its training regime to both desensitize individuals and enhance aggression. Marshall’s findings seemed to show that less than 25% of all ground US troops carrying weapons actually used them in combat situations during World War II. Increasing the weight of fire in combat is a no-brainer, and though Marhsall’s findings have been since called into question, the Pentagon nevertheless augmented its training to instill greater aggression in the troops. Though the quaterstaff hasn’t been used as a weapon since the Middle Ages, it was resurrected, modified, and included as a part of US armed forces basic training. The result is the pugil stick fight recruits must go through. Of course soldiers are trained to kill. Of course they are trained to kill as effectively as possible. I’ve never heard such nonsense spouted as what Diane Dimond offers up there.

Dimond is correct stating that war is indeed hell, however, but that’s no excuse for a trained member of a supposedly professional army, which accounts for almost half the world’s military spending, whose various band members outnumber our entire diplomatic corps, to go out and murder 16 people, and to her credit she doesn’t defend this. But this isn’t the first time US combatants have gone out to murder innocent civilians, even at Bales’ own post. In 2010, several US soldiers got together and simply decided they were going to go out and find someone—anyone—and kill that person. The only concern they seemed to have was whether they would get away with it or not. Stories circulate right now that prior to Bales’ murder-spree, plans may have been hatched for a repeat performance just days before Bales went on his killing spree.

There are other episodes, and digging just a little bit shows that they are hardly unique. William Calley and the My Lai Massacre and the Haditha killings immediately come to mind without straining myself.

Does this indicate that the US military is an inhumane institution lacking professionalism? The indications are about as bad as it gets. What this says about America is damning.

Lt. William Calley, being convicted of commanding the massacre of over 300 Vietnamese, including women and children, was placed under house arrest and his sentence was commuted by President Nixon in 1974. Calley got two years, at home, for the crime of mass murder, then went on to manage a jewelry store. Similarly, Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who ordered the murder of 24 innocent men, women and children in Haditha Iraq, escaped a prison sentence. To be professional is to define and then to maintain professional standards, and here, the Pentagon fails miserably. This is the reason the Robert Bales case is one of those stories I follow closely.

That these, other examples of war crimes committed by US troops are war crimes should go without saying. However, acts exactly like these are exactly what we constantly characterize as “terrorism.” Are they? I don’t get to define this. Diane Dimond doesn’t get to charge, or clear, Robert Bales or the US military of performing terrorist acts. No American has that capacity.

Only the people of Afghanistan get to make the call on Bales and on the US military. Just as we get to define Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as a terrorist, and either we have the integrity to accept the judgement of the people of Afghanistan or we don’t. Either this, or we rethink our language, its implications and our responses on acts of violence like these. Personally, I think it is safe to say integrity will be conveniently ignored. The pertinent question here is can we reasonably expect that the victims and their families, friends and co-citizens will? For the murder of over 300 innocent people, William Calley escaped justice. For the massacre of 24 innocent people, Frank Wuterich was essentially punished with a pay cut. What the outcome of a trial of Robert Bales will be remains to be seen, however, mitigating circumstances are getting lots of play, and others openly supporting his family, as if he were the victim. So I’m sure that Diane Dimond can rest easy that most Americans will share her blind forgiveness of the US military no matter what, and that is a terrible indictment of the American people right there. The war will continue. Innocent people will die because that war is a hell—of our own creation, and the institutions of America are not up to the job of policing ourselves. “Terrorism” will continue to spring up because we, as a people, lack that brutal honesty we apply to others and moral fortitude to admit our own hands are as bloodstained as any others. The tragedy in all this will continue because Americans refuse to consider that the explosions of bombs hidden in vehicles are indistinguishable from those dropped from US military aircraft, manned or remotely controlled. It will continue as long as our “professional military” continues to reveal itself more than willing to commit war crimes, and then forgive them when caught.

All else is to be willfully blind. All else is an outrageous jingoism which phrases like “war is hell” cannot disguise to any, save those eager to embrace this brutality. No, it is not the Pentagon’s fault, not entirely. The bulk of the blame lies with the American people and nowhere else.

So look at the victims. This was done in your name. You don’t have the right to ignore them.

My Lai

UPDATE: It is not that I am eager to scapegoat Robert Bales. If Americans want to assume the guilt because he was placed in a situation in our name and supposedly for our benefit, that’s the best outcome I can imagine. However, this is a pipe dream, I know. It ought not to be this way. Can we atone for these killings in place of Sgt. Bales? Somehow, if we were really interested, we’d find a way, but we’re not interested in anything but moving onto “more serious matters” and forgetting this ever happened.

And the ultimate guilt lies with each and every one of us.

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