I hate posting at night! I'm back to mornings.

In keeping with wmtc's war theme, Bob Herbert's column today relates to what I posted recently about trying to see war for what it is.
It's the sickening reality that is seldom seen in the censored, sanitized version of the conflict that Americans typically get from the government and the media.

Americans' attitude toward war in general and this war in particular would change drastically if the censor's veil were lifted and the public got a sustained, close look at the agonizing bloodshed and other horrors that continue unabated in Iraq. If that happened, support for any war that wasn't an absolute necessity would plummet.
Herbert also touches on an aspect of war I think about a lot: its effect on the warriors. The post-combat troubles of servicepeople are well documented, and post-traumatic stress is only the beginning. Veterans, compared with the general public, have soaring rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and suicide. The pain, and the energy it takes to suppress it, must be enormous.

If this is true for "normal" warfare, whatever that means, I wonder how it compares for servicepeople who were party to the atrocities that so frequently accompany it. I think of this as "check your values at the door".

Think of normal college students who take part in a fraternity gang rape. Each young man alone is probably not a rapist. If his date doesn't want to have sex, or is passed-out from drinking, he probably doesn't force her anyway. But subject to group-think and the climate of the moment, he is transformed.

How does he live with it afterwards? Where does it go? While I would never compare the rapist to the raped, the abuser to the abused, I believe that when humans stoop to the lowest of their potential, they pay a price, too.

The people who took part in Abu Ghraib will pay that price. Obviously not through the legal system, as we're seeing, but within themselves. Their country betrayed them by putting them in that position, requiring of them what no one should be asked to do: to brutalize other human beings.

Back to Bob Herbert. He interviewed Aidan Delgado, a 23-year-old reservist who, after finishing his tour in Iraq, sought and received conscientious objector status. Delgado talks about the photos. Everyone wants to see the photos.
Some of the most disturbing photos in his possession were taken after G.I.'s at Abu Ghraib opened fire on detainees who had been throwing rocks at guards during a large protest. Four detainees were killed. The photos show American soldiers posing and goofing around with the bodies of the detainees.

In one shot a body bag has been opened to show the gruesome head wound of the corpse. In another, a G.I. is leaning over the top of the body bag with a spoon in his right hand, as if he is about to scoop up a portion of the dead man's wounded flesh.

. . .

Mr. Delgado said that when his unit was first assigned to Abu Ghraib, he believed, like most of his fellow soldiers, that the prisoners were among the most dangerous individuals in Iraq.

He said: "Most of the guys thought, 'Well, they're out to kill us. These are the ones killing our buddies.' "

But while at work in a headquarters office, he said, he learned that most of the detainees at Abu Ghraib had committed only very minor nonviolent offenses, or no offenses at all. (Several investigations would subsequently reveal that vast numbers of completely innocent Iraqis were seized and detained by coalition forces.)
Whenever I write about the torture and atrocities, someone generally comments how this always takes place during war. That is true. But is that an excuse? Should the United States, as the self-appointed arbiter of What's Good In The World, throw up its hands and say, hey, it happens? What would the US do if photos like these surfaced of Americans in the hands of Iraqis?

Or perhaps we should treat all criminal acts that way? Rape? Well, it's always been with us, since humans' earliest days. Oh well, boys will be boys. Theft, murder, embezzlement - you name it. It happens all the time. Oh, well. Shrug and move on.

Aidan Delgado is doing what he can.
Several months ago Mr. Delgado gave a talk and presented a slide show at his school, New College of Florida in Sarasota. To his amazement, 400 people showed up. He has given a number of talks since then in various parts of the country.

His goal, he said, is to convince his listeners that the abuse of innocent Iraqis by the American military is not limited to "a few bad apples," as the military would like the public to believe. "At what point," he asked, "does a series of 'isolated incidents' become a pattern of intolerable behavior?"

The public at large and especially the many soldiers who have behaved honorably in Iraq deserve an honest answer to that question. It took many long years for the military to repair its reputation after Vietnam. Mr. Delgado's complaints and the entire conduct of this wretched war should be thoroughly investigated.
Herbert's column here. Veterans (and their families) against the war here, here and here, among other places.


Anonymous said...

Reading this brought Vietnam vet/author Tim O'Brien's short story/chapter "Speaking of Courage" (from The Things They Carried) just now.

Some of the most powerful Vietnam writing I've had the pleasure to read, alongside Michael Herr's Dispatches, which follows an embedded journalist's view from the front lines.

Both books are definite must-reads on the topic for anyone's reading list.

laura k said...

Thanks, G. Tim O'Brien is great, I will read more of him eventually.

Your emoticon is giving me a headache. :)

Rognar said...

I make a distinction between what happened at Abu Ghraib and what happens on the battlefield. Yesterday, the Marine who shot a badly-wounded enemy combatant in a mosque during the attack on Fallujah was cleared of any wrongdoing and I agree completely with that decision. Brutality in the heat of battle is a survival mechanism. If you stop to think, you die.

But in Abu Ghraib, the soldiers were not under imminent threat. They had the time to consider their actions. They chose brutality. They chose to ignore international rules on the treatment of prisoners. It is inexcusable.

laura k said...

I make that distinction, too. I would prefer there were fewer battlefields, but people in war have to do some terrible things to survive. I'm not referring specifically to that marine, just in general.

The word you so aptly use is choice. People can choose to be brutal, or to be humane.

I also feel strongly that culpability should move up the chain of command as well as down. The individual soldiers in Abu Ghraib bear personal responsibility, but so does Donald Rumsfeld, and many in between.

Crabbi said...

"...culpability should move up the chain of command as well as down."

Absolutely! As pointed out on last week's Now, the fact the acts of torture at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib were so similar indicates that the orders came from above. I mean, no one believes Lynndie England decided exactly which forms of torture would most humiliate those prisoners. Well, no one but the brain trust at Free Republic. Looks like Now hit a nerve. Time to ban it.

From the Freep site:
"The pending broadcast of this "documentary" goes beyond unacceptable. The fact that this treason-posing-as-journalism is being aired with the aid of my tax dollars sends my blood pressure through the roof.

"I'd love to see someone with deep pockets fight for a court order to prevent this from seeing the light of day. Of course, it would be all the better if it's producers rotted away in a federal penetentiary for a few decades on sedition charges."

Anonymous said...

I expect Mr. Delgado to run for President as soon as he is old enough. He has all the right stuff for someone who suffers from moral relativism.

laura k said...

NOTR, you seem to suffer from projectionism. In this case, it's you who is the moral relativist, if you somehow try to twist morality into a justification of torture.

Thanks for reading. I hope it was a one-time visit.

laura k said...

Crabbi: That's some heavy shit you quote there. Wow. Treason? Sedition? Does the First Amendment mean nothing to those people? (Don't answer that; rhetorical question.)

Anonymous said...

I won't answer :)

Don't ask me why I go to the dark side sometimes. Freeperville is a crazy place, one completely lacking in moral relativism. It's absolutely whack (sp?).