January 12, 2012
The video of U.S. Marines urinating on dead Afghan fighters is horrific. The images reflect a breakdown in discipline and an appalling absence of supervision from the noncommissioned and commissed officers charged with making sure these kinds of things do not happen. These Marines have embarassed themselves and have disgraced their country and the U.S. Marine Corps.
We should not be shocked by this kind of thing, though. Just look at the official propaganda from the Second World War, a conflict most Americans have seen only through a sanitized Spielbergian lens. Look at the lengths to which the United States and Japan went to dehumanize the other. Now imagine how that translated down at the platoon and squad level in heavy combat. One big difference today is the diffusion of camera phones and other media allow the ugly dehumanizing effect of war to go viral. In a way, I am glad. Since so few Americans actually fight in our wars, it's good that Americans see the effect war can have on other people's sons and daughters.
War is an awful human experience. It is sometimes necessary, but it is never sanitary.
(Oh, and this is not a new phenomenon in Afghanistan. This cannot be explained away as the result of ten years of war taking their toll. I witnessed an allied soldier get punished and sent home in 2002 for posing for pictures with a dead, partially beheaded Talib around whose neck he had hung a sign reading "Fuck Terrorism.")