Military Urination and a Nation's Ruination
January 21, 2012
Charles V. Pena / Anti-War.com & Kelley Vlahos / The American Conservative
Commentary: "By now, everyone has either seen or knows about the video of US Marines urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters. But not everyone seems to feel that way about the incident. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a former US Army lieutenant colonel, says that 'the Marines were wrong' but that critics need to 'chill' and that 'unless you have been shot at by the Taliban, shut your mouth.'" (Of course, West was discharged from the Army for threatening a hostage.)
Another Reason Not to Go to War So Often
Charles V. Peña / Anti-War.com
(January 20, 2012) -- By now, everyone has either seen or knows about the video of US Marines urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that "the conduct depicted in the footage is utterly deplorable." According to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the actions of the Marines in the video are "absolutely inconsistent with American values and the standards we expect from our military personnel." Not surprisingly, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is none too pleased: "This act by American soldiers is completely inhumane and condemnable in the strongest possible terms."
But not everyone seems to feel that way about the incident. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a former US Army lieutenant colonel, says that "the Marines were wrong" but that critics need to "chill" and that "unless you have been shot at by the Taliban, shut your mouth." But this should come as no surprise, since West is apparently from the school of "the ends justify the means." His Army career was cut short after he fired a gun near the head of an Iraqi detainee to scare him into divulging details of a suspected ambush. For that, he was relieved of his command, fined $5,000, and given a full military pension.
GOP hopeful Rick Perry also does not condone the Marines' behavior, but like Allen, he believes condemnation is uncalled for. Indeed, according to Perry, "what is really disturbing to me is the over-the-top rhetoric from this administration and their disdain for the military."
Leading the chickenhawk brigade is Bill Kristol at The Weekly Standard. Kristol believes that urinating on corpses (arguably a violation of the Geneva Conventions, which forbid "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment" and require that "the dead are honorably interred") is the equivalent of Gen. George S. Patton urinating in the Rhine and Winston Churchill doing the same on Hitler's Siegfried Line (the same arguments Rick Perry made) in World War II.
Instead of The Weekly Standard, it should probably be The Double Standard, because Kristol would almost certainly be more than outraged by a video of Taliban soldiers urinating on American dead. (Read my good friend and fellow Antiwar.com contributor Kelley Vlahos's excellent commentary on Kristol et al.) [See article below.]
Beyond the arguments about the incident itself, however, are two important issues raised by what transpired.
First is that we have seemingly elevated the military -- both the institution and the individuals who serve in it -- to heroic status, much like Rome's legions. To be sure, many in the military have performed heroic actions. One such person is Marine Cpl. Jarred Adams, who was awarded the Silver Star.
It was Jan. 5, 2005, and the Marine from Palmer, Alaska, was in a Humvee, providing cover for a reconnaissance team sweeping through Husaybah, the infamous gateway for guns, money and insurgent fighters making their way into Iraq.
Adams's unit was heading for the "intersection of death," so named by Camp Pendleton Marines and others for the frequency of sniper fire, roadside bombs, and all measures of attack.
Shots rang out, followed quickly by rocket-propelled grenades. The Humvee exploded in a mass of fire and twisted wreckage before crashing.
Adams fought his way out, alive but seriously injured. He shucked aside the shrapnel wounds to his hands and left forearm, ignored the pain from his broken right arm and a sprained ankle, and set about helping his buddies.
Armed with an M40 sniper rifle and a 9mm handgun, Adams charged back to a Humvee where some of his friends had not been so lucky. With bullets whizzing by, he retrieved the body of Lance Cpl. Julio Carneros Alvaraz, a young son of Texas who died in the explosion.
But not everyone in the military is a Jarred Adams. And just because the military has the likes of Jarred Adams in its ranks doesn't mean that the military as a whole should have special status.
For example, Disneyland offers to military personnel (active duty and retired) a 4-day discounted ticket for $138 (a similar deal is being offered to the public for over $200). There might be a case for making such deals to junior enlisted personnel (base pay for a private, E-1, is $1,491 per month, or $17,892 per year), especially those returning from a tour of duty in a combat zone.
But does a lieutenant colonel with more than 10 years of service who makes $6,766 per month ($81,192 per year, exclusive of any housing or other allowances) really need a special discount? Ditto for a retired lieutenant colonel collecting 50% of his or her base pay (currently $8,199 per month, or $98,388 per year, for more than 20 years of service) who may be working as a government contractor making substantially more as a civilian.
Certainly, the men and women who serve in the military deserve our respect, but that doesn't mean everyone who wears a uniform is automatically and unquestionably a hero. Yet many view those who serve in the military as heroes because we have been led to believe that they are defending the country and our freedom (I know this is what my daughter was taught when she was in elementary school). That may have been true during World War II. But at least since the end of the Cold War, the United States has used significant military force on at least 11 occasions:
* 1989 invasion of Panama to arrest Manuel Noriega
* Operation Desert Storm to force Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991
* Enforcement of no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq from 1991/1992 until US invasion of Iraq in 2003
* 1993 "Blackhawk Down" mission in Somalia
* Haiti in 1994 to restore ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power and head off a potential wave of Haitian refugees
* Airstrikes in Bosnia in 1995
* 1998 missile attacks against Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation for the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania
* More airstrikes in Kosovo in 1999 against Hitler du jour Slobodan Milosevic
* Operation Enduring Freedom after 9/11
* Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 against Hitler du jour Saddam Hussein
* Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011 against Libya to support rebel forces against Muammar Gadhafi
Yet only one of those -- the decision to take military action against the Taliban regime in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- was related to a direct threat to US national security. But now -- especially with Osama bin Laden killed by US forces last May -- the continued US military presence in Afghanistan has little, if anything, to do with national security and more to do with nation-building (that and being able to conduct drone wars in Pakistan, which also has little or nothing to do with US national security).
Which leads to the second issue: the policy that results in the use of military force. Like it or not, the unfortunate truth is that this sort of incident is bound to happen. There probably hasn't been a conflict where one side or the other didn't commit some sort of atrocity or similar transgression. That's not an excuse for it happening, but it's the reality of war. Why? Because the military is composed of human beings, and humans are imperfect and fallible.
Mistakes and misjudgments will happen. Stupid stuff will happen. Even with a chain of command, that doesn't mean the troops will always be under control or in control of their impulses. Probably more so when you're talking about testosterone-infused 18- and 19-year-olds who believe what they're doing is simply playing a Red Bull and steroids version of Call of Duty. This is why the use of military force (and putting 18- and 19-year-olds in foreign countries where they don't speak the language, know the history, or understand the people or culture -- they're just there to kill those they believe are the enemy) should be reserved only for when US national security is truly at stake.
Defending Corpse Urination Begs the Question: Who's the Racist?
Kelley Vlahos / The American Conservative
(January 15, 2012) -- For years the writers, editors and readers of The American Conservative have had to endure the undeserving charge that its paleo-conservative-libertarian roots are racist. I'll never forget the former Washington Times writer who told me to my face, quite smugly as we were sharing a cab during the 2008 Republican National Convention, that I write for a racist rag.
In part, these charges are old, lobbed and maintained by founding editor Pat Buchanan's more adamant longtime detractors. But the slander endures, most vociferously it would seem, by unreconstructed liberals who never read the magazine and neoconservatives like my arrogant cabmate, who especially abhor the magazine's founding manifesto: that the Bush Administration's war policy was a mistake, and that the political and tactical reaction to 9/11 was and is not only stunningly wrongheaded, but dangerous and motivated by venal special interests that hew not to the US constitution nor to the morals and values of an American republic.
Couldn't one as easily say their own advocacy of endless war against "brown people" in the Middle East and Central Asia -- not to mention North and East Africa -- is racism on a Global scale? Writers at The Weekly Standard, National Review, The Washington Times and Commentary have been ruthless non-apologists for the indiscriminate killing of non-whites as a means to their ends, from the "shock and awe" invasion of Iraq and the flattening of Fallujah to the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad, today's drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, and all of the wars' human repercussions (death, disease, displacement).
In their world, these are always treated as time-wasting, politically motivated afterthoughts that merely muddy their own paper-white narrative.
On a micro-level, how can calling what happened at Abu Ghraib (dragging Arab men by leashes, stacking them up naked in a pyramid, beating and turning dogs loose on them) "a small prison scandal" over which the American public got unduly "hysterical," not be considered racist in some way? Those were among the many remarks Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol made on the air and in writing that urged Americans to recalibrate their outrage downward in the wake of the 2004 revelations.
His cohort at Commentary, Norman Podhoretz, agreed, downplaying what happened at Abu Ghraib while making it a political issue, accusing the Democrats of going off "the intellectual and moral rails as to compare the harassment and humiliation of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib -- none of whom, so far as anyone then knew, was even maimed, let alone killed -- to the horrendous torturing and murdering that had gone on in that same prison under Saddam Hussein or, even more outlandishly, to the Soviet gulag in which many millions of prisoners died."
Now, Kristol, in an effort, again, to downplay what many are already calling a war crime, has declared U.S Marines urinating on (desecrating) Afghan corpses part of an American military tradition.
But it's also worth noting that pissing has a distinguished place in American military history. Most famously, General George S. Patton relieved himself in the Rhine on March 24, 1945 -- and made sure he was photographed doing so….
It wasn't just American generals who seemed preoccupied with pissing back in 1945. Three weeks earlier, Winston Churchill had visited the front lines near Jülich. Churchill had long dreamed of urinating on Hitler's much-vaunted Siegfried Line to show his contempt for Hitler and Nazism....
So perhaps, as Rep. Allen West, once a battalion commander in Iraq, put it last week, all the sanctimonious Obama administration bigwigs "need to chill." Did Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta really need to speak up at all?
Does Kristol realize he is comparing dead men to a river or a territorial boundary, suggesting these corpses were never human at all?
Kristol and his ilk don't think much of the Geneva Conventions, so it is almost not worth the breath to remind them that desecrating corpses is in violation of international treaty, but it is also against military law, which means the Marines already recognize such desecration is not heroic, funny, eye-for-an-eye, nor proof of battlefield supremacy. It's wrong.
Funny how even suggesting such behavior was happening in World War II or even Vietnam is taboo, but today Kristol and his more deranged ideological offspring like Pamela Geller of the popular Atlas Shrugs website, now appear to be cheering it on, even questioning the loyalty and politics of those who don't.
"I love these Marines," wrote Geller after the story broke last week. "Perhaps this is the infidel interpretation of the Islamic ritual of washing and preparing the body for burial."
What a hoot! Even scarier are the comments, some of which suggest that if al Qaeda wants to field an army of bloodthirsty psychos, beheading and dismembering their enemies and desecrating the dead, then our Marines have every right to do it too.
This might sound like a second grade tutorial, but get with the program: that ain't how it works among evolved, civilized societies, and it's not what America is supposed to stand for, no matter how much these right-wing fanatics want to squeeze the Old Testament retroactively into the U.S Constitution and all of its founding principles.
From Jon Soltz, war vet and head of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, on Thursday:
This isn't the same military that let people like Rep. Allen West go with a slap on the wrist. West, while serving in Iraq, detained and abused a likely innocent Iraqi, shooting a pistol off right next to the Iraqi's head, after West's men captured and beat the Iraqi. The military now understands that actions like West's, or the Marines in the video, directly put our own troops in danger, and that not doling out justice and punishment sets the US Military back, and puts our troops at increased risk.
We, as a nation, have to be 100 percent behind the Pentagon on this, and seek justice in this case. Those who would cheer on the disgusting actions of these Marines, only serve to compound the damage already done by them.
There are no words to express my disgust at the video making the rounds today, of US Marines apparently urinating on the dead bodies of the Taliban. As an Iraq War veteran who works with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans every day, I can truthfully say that the Marines in the video have undermined everything that I and those who served with me tried to do.
Kristol finished his own column by calling the pissing on dead Afghans "foolishness," not so different than the these-were-only-a-few-bad-apples-get-over-it rhetoric he promulgated after Abu Ghraib.
Meanwhile, since 2002, The American Conservative has endeavored (at risk of its own marginalization in the conservative mainstream) to protest not only the Global War on Terror, but all of the collateral damage that war in the non-white Muslim World has produced: hundreds of thousands of deaths, the displacement of millions, environmental destruction that could be the cause of birth defects and chronic illness for generations, the detention and torture of countless individuals and the support of despots and tyrannical regimes that kill and oppress so many millions more.
You decide who is the racist.
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