Dan Gallagher - March 27, 2012
This is Dan Gallagher with Veteran’s Viewpoint.
Today’s commentary topic is difficult, and a bit intense, but it is a topic about which I feel strongly.
About two weeks ago, a U.S. army staff sergeant by the name of Robert Bales allegedly killed seventeen Afghan civilians, nine of whom were children. A half dozen other Afghan civilians were wounded in the incident, which occurred near a U.S. military post in southern Afghanistan. According to media reports, Bales even tried burning some of the bodies.
Bales, a 38-year-old career soldier, is now being detained at the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
SSG Bales has been deployed to combat in the Middle East four times since 2003, and was sent to Afghanistan in December 2011 in his fourth and latest deployment. He was twice injured in Iraq, suffering traumatic brain injury from an IED explosion, which also resulted in the removal of part of his foot.
` There has been speculation in the media about Bale’s mental condition; does he suffer from PTSD, was he under stress from personal financial problems, was he a habitual lawbreaker with violent tendencies, and a lot of other conjecture?
There has also been plenty of mention of his exemplary decade-plus record as a soldier, of his many military decorations, of his status as a family man, and of how unbelievable it is to those who knew him well that he could have done this thing.
The killings have caused a great deal of political reaction. Afghan leader Karzai is using it, in tandem with other recent affronts by American GIs, as reason to expedite the removal of American (that is, NATO) troops from his country. American
politicians, while guarded in their comments, express alarm that such a thing has happened. Some military personnel and veterans activists have addressed the topic, some minimizing the action, and others righteously denouncing it with a ‘we never did anything like that’ reaction.
But I think the matter goes much deeper than almost anyone is willing to look. Atrocities happen in war, and the reason--the core reason that they are going to happen--is because, simply stated, war--the ‘parent’ activity--is, itself, an organized atrocity of the highest caliber.
Just think of how a professional soldier is trained, and how that soldier is told to use that training to kill other people who he has been forced to de-humanize in order to accomplish his/her soldierly mission. One can easily see, in war, the seeds of acts of violent excesses, even by those who, in a world free of war, would never have though of such bloody acts of violence.
There have always been atrocities committed in war, from the days of the ancients through to the present. You cannot name a war that remained free of some amount of atrocity.
Now, what I’m about to say might offend some people, but I believe that our reliance today on a professional army increases the possibility of excesses--not that today’s soldiers are less moral or more violent than their predecessors, but because we have separated our soldiers by one linkage from the control of the citizenry that they serve. There is a detachment, I fear, from the restrictions that society imposes when the soldier considers himself more a temporarily displaced American citizen than a professional warrior. Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s worth thinking about.
But I am most dismayed by the reaction of various officials and much of the American public to the supposed atrocities.
Our own Secretary of Defense recently expressed outrage when a few U.S. Marines were seen urinating on the corpses of Taliban soldiers. Really? Killing these Afghan humans was somehow acceptable but urinating on their dead bodies--disgusting though that was--left him horror-struck. Come on!
We were rightly bothered when some soldiers negligently burned the Koran, but with our airwaves filled with anti-Islam vitriol, why would we not expect that such an incident would eventually slip out.
And what does this country do to make things right for our returning soldiers?
Well, we supposedly treat them for PTSD immediately upon their return. But I maintain that PTSD is a malady--a wound of the psyche--that cannot be treated in the short term; not with drugs or counseling, until the mind is able to mend, and that will take the better part of a lifetime.
And, making a mockery of it all, we hear of VA officials counseling their underlings against too liberally diagnosing PTSD among the veteran population because it could prove too costly for the agency to bear.
And year after year, our soldiers are being deployed,
re-deployed, and re- re-deployed into combat, unable to ever get their lives on track. Worse yet, every day, another twenty soldiers commit suicide.
Yet, we are shocked that a few of our troops commit atrocities. Give me a break!
Now, in no way am I excusing or condoning what Staff Sergeant Robert Bales allegedly did, nor am I saying it was inevitable. Even in war, there are parameters for human morality that even the most stressed soldier can stay within.
But I suggest that until we understand that atrocities will occur in war, and act accordingly WHEN CONTEMPLATING WAR, we will keep being shocked by what war will do to some of its soldiers--and the blame will be ours’ and our leaders’ , just as much as the offending soldier.
As Shakespeare said: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
This is Dan Gallagher with Veteran’s Viewpoint.