Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Who says all is fair in love and war?

I was dismayed to see the news article about American service personnel posing a la hunting trophy poses with dead (alleged) civilians in Afghanistan. I'm not making an excuse for what looks downright tasteless and disappointing. I say looks, and not only that, this is such a tiny fragment of what our armed forces are doing overseas. In our if-it-bleeds,-it-leads media culture, perception is reality and someone very desperately wants everyone to see how ugly Americans really are.

Since the camera was invented, it has been used to document the demise of ne'er do wells. It was common in the old west for former bad guys, pining for the fjords, to pose for formal photography, sometimes with solemn lawmen redolent of the gravity and dignity called for on that occasion. This practice was carried well into the 20th century. Google images bonnie, clyde and dead and see what you find.

Further, just yesterday, I read a news article in the British press about gallows humour, and that-- however tasteless-- humour is and was ever thus a method for dealing with having experienced (or heard about) unimaginable horrors.

In that vein, I will say this: I don't know what the men in the photos experienced that led to that moment, and I am heartsick at the atrocity of it all, but I'm also not going to judge them where I don't know the whole story.

I will, however, be awaiting the spittle-flecked vitriolic harangues from the Village Voice decrying the president because he knew, he knew he HAD TO HAVE known! He was IN on it! He encouraged them to behave thusly.

Yeah, I know: *crickets*

Will Cindy Sheehan be flying to exotic locales to protest outside whatever posh hotel is hosting the Great One? Somehow, I think not.

Meanwhile, I remember images of thronging masses of Somalis celebrating in the street as the mangled corpse of an American was dragged through the village nearly 20 years ago. The locals cheered and celebrated. Meanwhile, we're supposed to be the good-natured, slow-to-anger, grin-and-bear-it sort. Somehow, a corpse block-party and step show looks far more barbaric to me than a few instances of an individual posing with long-pig that has given up the ghost. In scale of atrocity, these are light-years apart, in my book.

War is an ugly thing wherein people are assigned the odious task of breaking things and killing people. If we send men and women to go about the business of carrying on a campaign, then I think we need to stay out of the way and let them do their job.


Anonymous said...

Call me old-fashioned, but I always try to ask myself, before doing something I may not be able to undo, "What's the goal here? What's the benefit?"
There are 12 service members already on trial for this, so it's not like they're breaking news, or bringing anybody down.
Is the USA better off now that the military service (yes, the halo effect works backwards too) has been dragged through the mud? For the life of me, I can't see how the country, the military service, or even the Afghans could be considered to be better off with the disclosure of this tasteless garbage.
Hurting someone for the sake of hurting someone is not what a real man does. And printing these images hurts people.

Andy said...

Apparently their defense attorney is pulling for it because the wounds couldn't have been afflicted by the weapons the "soldiers" had.
In my experience, guys who actually are involved in actual combat don't take to participating in such behavior, it's usually straphangers.
Whenever I've had joes that think they want to do something like that I just ask how they'd like it if their moms found pictures of a muj posing with their damaged body on the internet?

Old NFO said...

The military is all about 'black' humor... It's about the only coping method available in the field... Re the posing with corpses, it was 'accepted' practice in Vietnam to support the body counts being passed up the chain. The why in this case? I have no clue, but it could be as simple as I survived, and these folks who were trying to kill me didn't, and here's my proof.

Good killers are not about being PC, it's about being good killers and that is what we are training our folks to be. You want to make the 'other' guy, not you...

Momiss said...

I completely agree with you. Of course we want cold blooded killers to defend us. What other kind are effective? I kind of miss the time when "war was war". It was terrible for every soldier but it was a sacrifice they were willing to make in order to live free.
I must say, though, that the drone thing has occurred to me as a very useful weapon to keep our people out of these dire situations. I am also half terrified of how it will be used possible against us. I am conflicted. These are conflicting times. INDEED.

Momiss said...

Of course we want cold blooded killers defending us. What other kind are effective? I miss the time when "war was war" and men "did their duty" out of a sense of "obligation" and made the "sacrifice" in order to have "freedom" and whatever that entailed was kept between them and if it needed to be judged, was judged by them. Our legal system has become a joke but the military remains the one place in America where justice reigns. Or at least it did, before this administration. Scary times.
I will say that I think the drone has the possibility of taking some of the pressure off of people in these situations, though. Maybe. I hope.

Rabbit said...

One of my fraternity brothers was tasked with disposing of his father's effects after he passed away. His dad was a veteran of WWII, decorated during the Battle of the Bulge. One of the items he found tucked away in the attic was a pickle jar filled with a preservative, probably brandy. It was also full of human ears. All of them were left ears, and there were a lot.

I have no problem with photos, or ears. Or noses, or fingers for that matter. It's a freakin' war. You don't fight them with Crayolas and S'mores.

V said...

My grandfather was a WWII vet.
He helped liberate the POW camps in the Eastern Theater. When we were called in to help sort through his personal effects, we found a drawer full of crudely carved chopsticks made from brown ebony, and... a velvet bag full of teeth.

The strange thing is, the chopsticks chilled me more than the teeth.

First off, I just want to say that he was not the sort of person one naturally pictures when one visualizes people posing with corpses or collecting kill trophies. He could be a hard man, at times, but not cruel or dangerously whimsical. It was a shock to me, largely because it seemed out of character. I've always known that what happens in war is crazy, unpleasant and not something that people can explain to us (speaking for myself here) civvies.
As to why those chopsticks chilled me, well... keep in mind that those were carved by POWs in those camps. They were hidden from the Japanese at great personal expense by American soldiers... by the thousands, or tens of thousands.
There may have been millions of those things. See, the captives were supposed to give those chopsticks back to the Japanese so the camp could fund itself by selling ebony chopsticks.

There were also cultural implications, because the captors were trying to teach the POWS how to be Japanese.

If you have ever wondered why WWII Eastern Theater vets won't eat with chopsticks, this is why...

It turns out the defiant soldiers actually cost the Japanese lots of money by hiding those pieces of wood. I have heard that had real impact on the war.

Whole islands were deforested to give the soldiers blanks for carving, and not a one was returned to their captors. Many of our men died defending the location of those hidden carved blanks.

When the POW camps were liberated, men limped, crawled and surged out of the woodwork (almost literally) holding out chopsticks. There was a table brought in, and at first they just piled them on top. There were enough chopsticks piled up that it collapsed the folding table. (Remember, this is the early 1940's. They made a mean folding table in those days!)

They actually shipped back from the camps *every* stick of ebony wood in used amo cases. They were treated with reverence and the story was passed on in hushed tones.

Just to think that many men died over small pieces of wood is somehow both inspiring and shocking. So great honor as that of a military man, that essential dignity, can be bundled up into a crude little object... is a bit intense.

I was given one of those chopsticks in honor of my grandfather, though I don't feel worthy to possess it.
Even more shocking... grandpa didn't feel worthy to possess them, but the men insisted.

As for the teeth... because they were kept together, I suspect that they belonged to the animals who ran those camps. What I know for sure, is that grandpa told me that the Americans liberating the camps were a lot more merciful to the captors than those captors were to their captives.

My story may seem like a non-sequitur. The point is that the things we see and interpret as observers is often different what they actually mean for those who were there. We also know that the media isn't interested in telling real stories, but telling the stories they want to tell with the facts they are willing to share. This amplifies the effect original point rather a lot.

My buck-fifty. :)