# More Truths to HandleMarch 22, 2011 4:01 PM   Subscribe

German news magazine Der Spiegel has published trophy photos taken by a U.S. Army "kill team" in Afghanistan.

The pictures depict American soldiers gleefully posing with bodies of murdered civilians. Along with snapshots and videos, soldiers also took body parts such as teeth and fingers. One solider admitted to participating in the atrocities on FaceBook.

Commanders and contractors in the field are fearful of riots and reprisals. Col. Thomas Collins has issued a public apology for the photos and the crimes they depict. The Army has been preparing courts martial for the 12 suspects since last October.

The New Yorker draws the obvious parallel between this story and Mai Lai.
posted by clarknova (193 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

Perfect. Awesome. Now can we stop killing civilians there and get the fuck out?
posted by nevercalm at 4:04 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

It was very sad, he thought. The things men carried inside. The things men did or felt they had to do.

Tim O'Brien ( The Things They Carried )
posted by localhuman at 4:09 PM on March 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

They participated in atrocities on FaceBook?! Will this company ever stop?
posted by gene_machine at 4:10 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

"Should I do the right thing and put myself in danger for it. Or just shut up and deal with it," he wrote his parents. "There are no more good men left here. It eats away at my conscience everyday."

In statements to investigators, at least three platoon members said Gibbs directly threatened Winfield. Morlock added that Gibbs devised "scenarios" for Winfield's death, one of which involved Gibbs dropping heavy weights on him as he was working out.

Gibbs accosted Winfield as he was on his way to speak with a chaplain and warned him to keep quiet, Montalvo said.

Soldiers serving in a combat theater typically would report crimes up the chain of command, to military investigators or chaplains, to members of the Defense Department inspector general's office, or even to another unit if their own commanders are involved.

One soldier, Pfc. Justin A. Stoner, who reported hashish smoking in the unit, said he was beaten by several platoon members. Gibbs and Morlock then paid him a visit, with Gibbs rolling out on the floor a set of severed fingers, he told investigators.

Morlock told him that "if I don't want to end up like that guy ... shut the hell up."

Winfield asked his parents to call an Army hot line because he didn't want anyone to overhear him using the phone."
posted by Avenger at 4:12 PM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

sigh
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:12 PM on March 22, 2011

So, Der Spiegel is going to be accused of rape charges now?
posted by inedible at 4:12 PM on March 22, 2011 [35 favorites]

I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here.

Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!

--William Tecumseh Sherman
posted by chavenet at 4:13 PM on March 22, 2011 [9 favorites]

But, but, the Muslims hate us for our freedoms, right?
posted by Sportbilly at 4:15 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Perfect. Awesome. Now can we stop killing civilians there and get the fuck out?

We're killing civilians over there so we don't have to kill civilians at home. Or something.
posted by Hoopo at 4:15 PM on March 22, 2011

Who would have expected this kind of behavior from a kill team, of all teams?!
posted by mr_roboto at 4:16 PM on March 22, 2011 [12 favorites]

If you are a vet that served in Afganistan, Iraq, or even VietNam, please let us know in your comment, 'cuz that will carry a lot of weight (at least for me). The rest of you, watch Restrepo before you comment.

I doubt those that haven't served have much understanding about how/why these photos happen.
posted by tomswift at 4:19 PM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

"We are so sorry that you found out about these atrocities. Please forgive us for not covering up these war crimes better."
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:19 PM on March 22, 2011 [22 favorites]

Thanks for the recommendation, tomswift.
posted by localhuman at 4:21 PM on March 22, 2011

I doubt those that haven't served have much understanding about how/why these photos happen.

Okay, you've got me? How do these photos happen? And how do U.S. soldiers plot to murder their fellow soldiers to keep them from blowing the whistle?
posted by Avenger at 4:22 PM on March 22, 2011 [34 favorites]

These people are going to jail for a long, long time. As well they should.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:23 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I heard a public radio segment interviewing Winfield's dad. The sheer catch-22ness of the situation of this guy trying to call different commanders and army bases to report this bullshit and trying to save his son's life (because Winfield himself couldn't trust anyone in the chain of command) from straight up murderers was awful.
posted by stratastar at 4:24 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why I am not surprised that not much has changed. Remember this?
posted by Fizz at 4:24 PM on March 22, 2011

posted by selton at 4:24 PM on March 22, 2011

Who would have expected this kind of behavior from a kill team, of all teams?!

I think you've got it backwards. They were dubbed the "kill team" because they went around randomly killing civilians, a behavior that is unusual for soldiers.
posted by sour cream at 4:24 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Perfect. Awesome. Now can we stop killing civilians there and get the fuck out?

Absolutely; we have civilians to kill in plenty of other places.

Do people watch Apocalypse Now any more? 'Cause it seems like a few too many people thought it was an instruction manual.
posted by Justinian at 4:25 PM on March 22, 2011

Craig Murray: This is but the tip of an evil iceberg.
posted by grounded at 4:25 PM on March 22, 2011

I doubt those that haven't served have much understanding about how/why these photos happen.

Okay, you've got me? How do these photos happen? And how do U.S. soldiers plot to murder their fellow soldiers to keep them from blowing the whistle?

There's a good quote by a Vietnam veteran in another MSNBC story:
Michael T. Corgan, a Vietnam veteran who teaches international relations at Boston University, said it should be no surprise that, even after Abu Ghraib, some soldiers take gruesome pictures as war souvenirs.

"They're proof people are as tough as they say they are," Corgan said. "War is the one lyric experience in their lives — by comparison every else is punching a time clock. They revel in it, and they collect memories of it."
posted by clarknova at 4:26 PM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

And another from the Guardian (this was the first I read).
posted by selton at 4:27 PM on March 22, 2011

This was a short segment (not the story I mentioned above) from a few months ago
posted by stratastar at 4:27 PM on March 22, 2011

I doubt those that haven't served have much understanding about how/why these photos happen.

The photos are not the problem. This post is not a contemplation on how carrying trophies makes one a terrible person. It is a gawking at the trophies that terrible men carried around.
posted by Bobicus at 4:29 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

"We apologize for the distress these photos cause."

Jesus, why bother apologising at all?
posted by pompomtom at 4:31 PM on March 22, 2011 [12 favorites]

I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting — its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers ... it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated ... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:31 PM on March 22, 2011 [7 favorites]

God damn it, we need to get the hell out of there.
posted by brundlefly at 4:32 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Army has been preparing courts martial for the 12 suspects since last October.

Are they being held in intensive solitary confinement like Pvt Manning?
posted by rocket88 at 4:32 PM on March 22, 2011 [69 favorites]

Tomswift, my husband is an OIF vet. When he and I get into arguments about this stuff, it's variants of "It's easy to sit here and judge a guy who had limited information and time to make a decision about firing on someone who seemed to be a threat."

Not ever about "Hey, chopping off fingers, it happens."
posted by thehmsbeagle at 4:35 PM on March 22, 2011 [14 favorites]

The photos are not the problem. This post is not a contemplation on how carrying trophies makes one a terrible person.

Umm. I think the photos are a problem. Why is there a need to take photos like this in the first place? What compels a soldier into thinking, this is a good thing to keep with me? I cannot understand that. I have never served in the military, so maybe it's something I never will. I'm fine with that too.
posted by Fizz at 4:36 PM on March 22, 2011

If you are a vet that served in Afganistan, Iraq, or even VietNam, please let us know in your comment, 'cuz that will carry a lot of weight (at least for me)

In what respect will it carry weight? I don't think I need to be a vet to understand that killing civilians is bad, do I? 2 of them appear to be tied up FFS!
posted by Hoopo at 4:36 PM on March 22, 2011 [9 favorites]

The rest of you, watch Restrepo before you comment.

We don't have to watch a movie to comment on this.
Or be a vet, for that matter.
posted by rocket88 at 4:38 PM on March 22, 2011 [67 favorites]

Zinn predicted this sort of thing back in 2001.
posted by jeffamaphone at 4:41 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

"We don't have to watch a movie to comment on this.
Or be a vet, for that matter."

This x 100.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:41 PM on March 22, 2011 [13 favorites]

I joined the Army in 1992 and served until 1995. Although I was in a combat unit, I never personally saw combat but many of the men in my unit fought in Desert Storm. I was on an Abrams tank so these guys were the vanguard of the attack.

Anyway, one of the first things that almost every guy showed me was their photo album- a gruesome, macabre portfolio of the sights (this was before digital photos and way before affordable video) they saw- dead and charred bodies, destroyed vehicles. Some posed with the bodies, most didn't. Some killed the people in the pictures, most hadn't.

This by no means excuses the actions of these idiots who give soldiers a bad name- they are straight up murderers if what is reported is true. But war does things to people and I'm firmly in the camp of not passing judgement (on the photos alone, not the murders). The men I knew were good and bad, brave and cowardly, but the thing that cut across all that was the fact that they had to try to make sense in their minds and their hearts of something that in the end is completely senseless.
posted by dave78981 at 4:45 PM on March 22, 2011 [28 favorites]

These are all just the couple bad apples, OK everyone? Absolutely no other servicemen do anything of the sort or take any joy in using violence successfully!

There is absolutely no structural problem in our military or any of those in the world except those of our enemies which engenders abuses of the power to kill with impunity. Every death is deserved.

And moreover, if you think killing a man causes irreparable harm to a psyche, if you think the incentivization of violence does a disservice to the invader and the invaded. Well, I've got something to tell you, boy-o-boy! You never served, you can't know.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 4:45 PM on March 22, 2011 [10 favorites]

I doubt those that haven't served have much understanding about how/why these photos happen.

I'm guessing it works like this:

The soldier in the picture kills someone. Then he poses over the dead body while his friend snaps pictures, much like a hunting trip with the guys. Afterwards, they cut off appendages and keep them as souvenirs.

It seems pretty clear. What did I miss?
posted by eyeballkid at 4:47 PM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

If you are a vet that served in Afganistan, Iraq, or even VietNam, please let us know in your comment, 'cuz that will carry a lot of weight (at least for me). The rest of you, watch Restrepo before you comment.

I doubt those that haven't served have much understanding about how/why these photos happen.

tom: Do you need to be a politician in order to say the plain truth that the reason they sent in our troops in is horseshit?

That said, I do agree it's an expected result of self-preservation to become more violent and more disconnected from death and violence. The young men and women who followed orders should only get half as much time as their commanders who witnessed their behavior and didn't correct it. And finally, the civilians and top brass who dragged us into yet another war of aggression should be serving a long, hard time and have all of their titles and assets stripped away. The only thing they should have left after they walk out of prison is a $50 suit and a job bagging groceries. But there seem to be very few people left with any honor in the chain of command. These young people will get hung out to dry, and we'll call that justice, and everyone who escaped the investigation will get a fucking promotion and think about how to add another stripe or star in their next murderous fiasco. posted by notion at 4:49 PM on March 22, 2011 [7 favorites] But is it good for the US economy? Maybe slightly higher digital camera sales? posted by Meatbomb at 4:50 PM on March 22, 2011 Holding up an enemies weapon for a photo is one thing, this is another. posted by clavdivs at 4:50 PM on March 22, 2011 You know, I watched Restrepo. I thought it was a great documentary. And at no point did it ever suggest that American soldiers would take joy in killing civilians. Quite the opposite. So using that as some way to deflect anger over this is at best, misguided. posted by lumpenprole at 4:53 PM on March 22, 2011 [9 favorites] I doubt those that haven't served have much understanding about how/why these photos happen. If you are a vet that served in Afganistan, Iraq, or even VietNam, please let us know in your comment, 'cuz that will carry a lot of weight (at least for me) I have a question. Why should I respect veterans or their opinions? Veterans, in 2011, are people who volunteered to go to war. There are probably very few remaining who volunteered before these wars started; certainly none who were drafted (which would give them more moral authority). Think about that: with all of the available information on the cruelty and worthlessness of this war, the veterans whose opinions we are expected to respect signed up for it. I respect Hugh Thompson. I respect Ron Ridenhour. Everyone else? Well, you signed up. posted by sonic meat machine at 4:54 PM on March 22, 2011 [13 favorites] Care to enlighten us, notion, as to the "real" reason troops were sent to Afghanistan? posted by dave78981 at 4:54 PM on March 22, 2011 Is this surprising? This is war. Decades of movies and RAH RAH HOOAH US ARMY nonsense have convinced Americans that war is clinical and clean and heroic. This is war. It bends and breaks men. It's full of corpses and atrocities. This is just the part they don't want you to see which is, more or less, the whole thing. posted by GilloD at 4:56 PM on March 22, 2011 [18 favorites] The young men and women who followed orders should only get half as much time as their commanders who witnessed their behavior and didn't correct it. There's a quote from the film Kingdom of Heaven that I've never forgotten, whenever I see or hear stories like this, it immediately comes to mind. "A King may move a man, a father may claim a son. That man can also move himself. And only then does that man truly begin his own game. Remember that howsoever you are played, or by whom, your soul is in your keeping alone. Even though those who presume to play you be kings or men of power. When you stand before God, you cannot say "but I was told by others to do thus" or that "virtue was not convenient at the time." This will not suffice. Remember that." posted by Fizz at 4:56 PM on March 22, 2011 [14 favorites] I doubt those that haven't served have much understanding about how/why these photos happen. There are a lot of offensive corollary statements i could offer in response, but they wouldn't really accomplish anything. The problem, ultimately, is that what was done in this story is not some sort of personal peccadillo, or a momentary lapse of judgement. The individuals in question aren't being condemned for liking Furry Porn, or for yelling at their kids in moments of stress. The desecrated the bodies of people they killed, took trophy photos, then threatened and beat fellow soldiers who tried to inform other members of the military. posted by verb at 4:57 PM on March 22, 2011 [7 favorites] Somehow I was expecting worse. posted by PHINC at 4:57 PM on March 22, 2011 People do crazy things in war that they wouldn't otherwise do. Years later, Smith lay on his bed, dying. He pulled the scrapbook from the nightstand and leafed through the pages. There were pictures of him as a little boy. A photo taken on the day of his high school graduation and another of him in his uniform, on the day he joined the army. There were photos of the kids too, and the grand kids, playing in the park, laughing. There was that image from the wonderful day when he married, and the time he went fishing with the guys. And a picture of somebody else who didn't live long enough to enjoy most of these things. "I can't call this a trophy anymore", he thought, and he wept. posted by twoleftfeet at 4:58 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites] Care to enlighten us, notion, as to the "real" reason troops were sent to Afghanistan? Here's a better question: what was the official reason, and has anything close to that objective been achieved? Followup question: what the fuck are we still doing there? posted by notion at 4:59 PM on March 22, 2011 [6 favorites] The heads. You're looking at the heads. I, uh – sometimes he goes too far, you know – he's the first one to admit it! posted by loquacious at 5:00 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites] I don't think I can bring myself to look at the photos yet. I'll take your collective word for it. :( posted by loquacious at 5:02 PM on March 22, 2011 Now can we stop killing civilians there and get the fuck out? 1. Who's "we"? Surely you're not lumping the many thousands of troops from many different nations in with this small group of sadistic psychopaths? 2. Why does it have to be both? You seem to be implying that "we" are there to kill civilians, and that if "we" stop killing civilians, there's no other mission in Afghanistan. posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:02 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites] There's something both eerie and sad about seeing (5) More Truths to Handle on the title bar of my browser. And there's something deeply disturbing and frightening about a culture - because the military definitely is a culture - in which these kinds of thing can happen, and people can feel so trapped that they have to continually reach outside the bounds to try to get things fixed. posted by lriG rorriM at 5:03 PM on March 22, 2011 I seem to remember the official reason having something to do with two collapsed buildings in Manhattan and the Taliban harboring Bin Laden. Yeah, maybe the US was looking around for somebody to punch, but lets face it, the Taliban had it coming. And then we got derailed by Iraq. For years. And all the time we should've been concentrating on ferreting out the Taliban and their sympathizers and rebuilding the country's government into something that stood half a chance at surviving even 5 years we spent looking for IEDs in Iraq and plundering Saddam's mansions. The mission in Afghanistan is worth it- the country will collapse if left to itself and it will be worse off 10 years down the road. These men deserve punishment, but they are not indicative of all US service members. posted by dave78981 at 5:08 PM on March 22, 2011 If you look you can find photos of Am soldier's holding up ears of Japanese dead soldiers, cut off by them; and holding skulls--in fact I had one from a cousin serving in army in South pacific--and lots of bad stuff took place in Korean war. There seemed (unless I misread things) that it was ok to do this to the Japanese--they were not white--than to the Germans. But then I assume that for every horrible thing like this that makes the papers, with pictures, there are a heck of a lot more than go unknown. posted by Postroad at 5:09 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite] The case threatens to strain already fragile US-Afghan relations at a time when the two countries are negotiating over the establishment of permanent US military bases in Afghanistan. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that we are negotiating for permanent military bases. Nonetheless, this was the first I'd heard of it and I found it quite jarring. We really will be there forever. posted by jedicus at 5:09 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites] The mission in Afghanistan is worth it- the country will collapse if left to itself and it will be worse off 10 years down the road. and i hear they have some oil and minerals posted by sonic meat machine at 5:11 PM on March 22, 2011 [7 favorites] We really will be there forever. Other than Granada and the Falklands, is there anywhere we have been active militarily where we haven't eventually managed to find a way to have permanent bases? posted by hippybear at 5:12 PM on March 22, 2011 Other than Granada and the Falklands, is there anywhere we have been active militarily where we haven't eventually managed to find a way to have permanent bases? Vietnam. They won, see. posted by sonic meat machine at 5:15 PM on March 22, 2011 [10 favorites] Hearts and minds and fingers. posted by Capt. Renault at 5:16 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites] You know, when I think about this sort of stuff, and then think about Vietnam, and then the first Gulf War, and bits and pieces like that, it actually seems to me that the American military is like the largest, deadliest one-trick pony that the world has ever seen. posted by tumid dahlia at 5:20 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites] Yeah, maybe the US was looking around for somebody to punch, but lets face it, the Taliban had it coming. Revenge is not a valid reason for war, and killing tens of thousands of Afghani civilians has done nothing to curb terrorism, or punish bin Lade and al Qaeda. It's furthered bin Laden's goal of starting a war between Islam and the West, and further radicalized their nuclear neighbor Pakistan which has elements that are actively protecting the Taliban. Which is exactly what destroyed Russia's involvement there in the 80s: externally funded (by the USA and Saudi Arabia) fundamentalists being protected by Pakistani elements who funneled supplies and equipment through the porous Waziristan border area. Too bad no one in the Bush Administration liked to read, or talk to someone besides God when they pretended to plan the war. And I imagine "They had it coming" is the exact sort of rationalization that 19 al Qaeda operatives internalized before they started their own murder campaign. The mission in Afghanistan is worth it- the country will collapse if left to itself and it will be worse off 10 years down the road. Like Vietnam? Like Central America? I promise you that Afghanistan was much more civilized before it became a flash point for geopolitical power politics and proxy wars in 1978. It's tough to build a democratic society in a warzone that outspends your entire nation's GDP in military expenditures. Yeah, that's fucking right: Afghanistan's GDP is less than 30 billion per year. We have spent$380 billion in less than 10 years, and the only place we have managed to retain control of is the capital. If you consider that a success, I am just at a loss for words.
posted by notion at 5:23 PM on March 22, 2011 [35 favorites]

This is just the part they don't want you to see which is, more or less, the whole thing.

Exactly. Wars are all like this. Even the "good wars."
posted by enn at 5:25 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you look you can find photos of Am soldier's holding up ears of Japanese dead soldiers, cut off by them; and holding skulls...seemed (unless I misread things) that it was ok to do this to the Japanese--they were not white--than to the Germans.

The Japanese did the same to the Chinese in WWII. This is why people oppose war on principle alone: the atrocity is intrinsic.
posted by clarknova at 5:26 PM on March 22, 2011 [16 favorites]

I wish I could make some excuse about them being the worst of the worst, but they're not. They're just the idiots that got caught. This is sickening stuff all around.
posted by snsranch at 5:26 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Japanese did the same to the Chinese in WWII.

You don't have to look past Fallujah. [NSFW]
posted by phaedon at 5:28 PM on March 22, 2011

tomswift, I don't have to live in Detroit before I can judge Jeffrey Dahmer's crimes. I don't have to win a boxing title before I can judge Mike Tyson's crimes.

Why do I have to enlist before I am worthy of judging war crimes?
posted by IAmBroom at 5:31 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Detroit/Dahmer ?

And, friend,I didn't say you couldn't judge, anyone can judge... I simply suggested it might be difficult to understand the reason behind the behaviors..
posted by tomswift at 5:34 PM on March 22, 2011

I'm not sure what's so difficult to understand. Dozens and dozens of books, articles, documentaries, and the like, have been made and written about situations like this. People are put in horrific situations and respond horrifically.
posted by waitingtoderail at 5:39 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

And Dahmer was Milwaukee, not Detroit.
posted by waitingtoderail at 5:40 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised this is news when stuff like the War Porn LJ community has been around for the duration of the war. glider had a war photo site for a while and some of the stuff was of a similar nature.
posted by mkb at 5:40 PM on March 22, 2011

(That War Porn link is horrifying by the way, NSFW, NSFSqueamish, etc.)
posted by mkb at 5:41 PM on March 22, 2011

waitingtoderail, I think I agree with you on that, "understand" was probably the wrong word. empathize is probably more accurate.
posted by tomswift at 5:43 PM on March 22, 2011

tomswift,

Nah, luring a young boy over to your position, knowing that he would react in a certain way, then throwing a grenade at him? I'm gonna judge. I'm gonna judge hard.

And I have seen Restrepo.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:49 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ya got me, tomswift. Congratulations: you were right once in this thread.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:53 PM on March 22, 2011

I'm a peace-loving, wimpy civilian who probably doesn't have the capacity for actual violence. But (like many people) I participate and cheer all sorts of gruesome cinematic and virtual displays. I don't want to think about what it would be like if I was a solider and put in that sort of situation and stress.

war is pretty horrible
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:57 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

People join the armed forces because, at the very least, they don't mind the idea of killing a perfect stranger. Should be no surprise that some seem to revel in it. I hope these people are brought to swift and terrible justice, though I rather doubt they actually will be, and it won't change the problem.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 5:58 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

People do crazy things in war that they wouldn't otherwise do.

Professional soldiers are trained not to do crazy things.
posted by stbalbach at 6:02 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yea, and most sign up for college and med benefits anyway. Only a handful are ever expected to see "combat" and they're the ones, as stbalbach mentions, who should have "pretty damn specialized training".
posted by snsranch at 6:05 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I doubt those that haven't served have much understanding about how/why these photos happen.

I have never been a soldier, and will never be, so I suppose that I will never really understand that perspective.

Maybe that's why that's not the role that I indentified with when I looked at the pictures. Instead, the first thing I did was to imagine what it would be like to have people like this roaming my streets, mixed in with hundreds of other similarly-clad soldiers. Look at the soldier's face in the first picture. It looks like he's just shot his first deer. The terror of living every day with people like that- young, violent, bewildered, foreign men- I think this picture captures that. The victims have sisters, and fathers and friends, and they still live there and see those uniforms.

I live in a safe place in the West, so it can be hard to even imagine what that would be like. I don't think that I every really had until recently, when first M.I.A. (previously) and then Arcade Fire (previously) came out with videos that flipped a couple of things on their heads.
posted by the thing about it at 6:08 PM on March 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

FWIW, it's very normal, if anything in war is normal, to obtain/liberate souvenirs and trophies. However, smiling and laughing over a corpse just isn't honorable regardless of how it's framed.
posted by snsranch at 6:08 PM on March 22, 2011

Avenger: "One soldier, Pfc. Justin A. Stoner, who reported hashish smoking in the unit, said he was beaten by several platoon members. Gibbs and Morlock then paid him a visit, with Gibbs rolling out on the floor a set of severed fingers, he told investigators."

A hashish smoker named Stoner? A heartless murderer named Morlock?

Reality needs to come up with less obvious monikers.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:11 PM on March 22, 2011 [14 favorites]

Metafilter: I don't think that I every really had until recently, when first M.I.A. vimeo (previously) and then Arcade Fire yt (previously) came out with videos that flipped a couple of things on their heads.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:13 PM on March 22, 2011

People join the armed forces because, at the very least, they don't mind the idea of killing a perfect stranger.

Most people join the armed forces for many reasons that have nothing to do with killing perfect strangers. See: structuralized poverty, the military as steady income and a road to education, a sense of national duty. We tend to hear about the ones who are sociopaths because they are aberrations.

Veterans, in 2011, are people who volunteered to go to war. There are probably very few remaining who volunteered before these wars started; certainly none who were drafted (which would give them more moral authority). Think about that: with all of the available information on the cruelty and worthlessness of this war, the veterans whose opinions we are expected to respect signed up for it.

I personally know more than one person who joined before 2001 (and many, many more who joined before Iraq) and are still serving because they have been stop-lossed. So, they've essentially been drafted.

My fiance was a plebe at West Point on 9/11. He served, honorably, in a very different Army than he signed up for. As a platoon leader in Iraq, he experienced things that were unimaginably inhuman and awful. He pushed back against them (ending his career in the Army, for what it's worth). He has a hell of a lot more knowledge and, yes, moral authority on these issues than you or I.
posted by charmcityblues at 6:13 PM on March 22, 2011 [21 favorites]

I enlisted in early 2005 and was deployed to Afghanistan from Feb 2006 to Feb 2007 in support of OEF VII. I was not an infantryman and, although I've been shot at with both direct and indirect fire, I haven't especially been an active participant in a firefight. Take my opinions with a grain of salt.

My deployment was split up into three chunks in Paktika, Kunar, and Zabol provinces, respectively. I had the opportunity to chat with Special Forces, Civil Affairs, Field Artillery, Combat Engineers, and Army and Marine Infantry.

There are little shithole combat OPs in the mountains out there where guys are moving out on patrol every day and getting shot at literally every single night. As a commo soldier I didn't get any optics or anything, so part of the reason I wouldn't say I was "active" is that the only reason to shoot back at muzzle flashes on a mountainside a few hundred meters out at night, over iron sights, is to make yourself feel better. You're not going to hit anything.

I saw an ANA pickup with like 6 or 8 guys on it get vaporized by a roadside bomb.

So a lot of these guys, the front-line combat troops, are seeing friends die without the opportunity to so much as shoot back at the people that killed their friends.

Not one of them so much as hinted at a desire, ever, to stage fake attacks and kill civilians. My mind is totally blown that this happened, if the allegations are true. People had depression and panic and paranoia, all of that. I can't imagine any of them doing anything this evil.

I don't know what else to say. I would imagine that the guys in combat with people that are shooting back - and there are plenty of them up in the mountains - would be totally pissed at some guys murdering civvies in the lowlands. But again, wasn't an 11B, so what do I know.
posted by kavasa at 6:20 PM on March 22, 2011 [33 favorites]

Most people join the armed forces for many reasons that have nothing to do with killing perfect strangers.

There is no army that exists that tells its soldiers to kill and expects them to ask, "why?"
posted by klanawa at 6:25 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd say it's great progress that the large majority of people today that observe what was done here find it indefensible and disgusting.

It wasn't so long ago, or far away, when the whole world worked this way. The Comanche for one example took great pleasure in seeing the living de-limbed torsos of their captives writhing on the fire.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:33 PM on March 22, 2011

kavasa, don't worry about not being an 11B! You were there and most in this thread were not. I'm glad you made it out alive! Cheers man and thanks for the insight!
posted by snsranch at 6:34 PM on March 22, 2011

War Porn LJ community

I clicked and I made a frowning face.
posted by fuq at 6:35 PM on March 22, 2011

Most people join the armed forces for many reasons that have nothing to do with killing perfect strangers.

Yes, but if they had a strong conviction about killing, they wouldn't join. I did't say it was the primary reason, but that doesn't mean its not a factor.

There is no army that exists that tells its soldiers to kill and expects them to ask, "why?"

Yes, because the people who are drawn to that as a profession in a volunteer army aren't the type to ask questions like "why", and in a non-volunteer, they tend to punish you for things like that.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 6:36 PM on March 22, 2011

How awful and inhumane must a war be before we're allowed to assign blame to those who volunteer to go and perpetuate it?
posted by Shit Parade at 6:40 PM on March 22, 2011 [9 favorites]

Johnny Got His Gun
posted by localhuman at 6:52 PM on March 22, 2011

We're killing civilians over there so we don't have to kill civilians at home. Or something.

You won't be such a smart ass when when you find out I was hired by your local police force.
posted by notreally at 6:58 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

1. Who's "we"? Surely you're not lumping the many thousands of troops from many different nations in with this small group of sadistic psychopaths?

Either the problem is cultural, or the armed forces are doing a piss-poor job of weeding out psychopaths. So, well - cultural either way, really.

Professional soldiers are trained not to do crazy things.

Unless you count occupying a country for no reason, then killing the locals who get angry at them. But other than that, yeah, totally no crazy things.
posted by regicide is good for you at 7:20 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

People join the armed forces because, at the very least, they don't mind the idea of killing a perfect stranger

This is possibly the least true thing in the whole thread.
posted by GilloD at 7:23 PM on March 22, 2011 [10 favorites]

People join the armed forces because, at the very least, they don't mind the idea of killing a perfect stranger

This is possibly the least true thing in the whole thread.
posted by GilloD at 12:23 PM on March 23 [+] [!]

Not intended to sound snarky, but in what way isn't that literally the main point of the armed forces?
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:27 PM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

i'm gonna double up with doctorfedora, especially when as a country we are involved in two wars one of which has been a longer engagement than WWII?
posted by Shit Parade at 7:35 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

i'm gonna double up with doctorfedora, especially when as a country we are involved in two wars one of which has been a longer engagement than WWII?

Just as a note, Afghanistan is now the longest war in American history. The Iraq war was the third longest, after Vietnam.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:49 PM on March 22, 2011

People join the armed forces because, at the very least, they don't mind the idea of killing a perfect stranger.

Fuck that, and fuck you. I don't agree with either of the wars we are engaged in, but it is disgusting to imply that service members are there to Kill! Kill! Kill! People join the military for numerous reasons, including pride, family tradition, escape from poverty, and the chance for an education. Must be nice to not have to worry about those factors in your own life so you can callously accuse others of having poor moral fabric.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 7:51 PM on March 22, 2011 [15 favorites]

Iraq ended?
posted by absalom at 7:54 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fuck that, and fuck you. I don't agree with either of the wars we are engaged in, but it is disgusting to imply that service members are there to Kill! Kill! Kill! People join the military for numerous reasons, including pride, family tradition, escape from poverty, and the chance for an education. Must be nice to not have to worry about those factors in your own life so you can callously accuse others of having poor moral fabric.

In order to join the military you must be willing to shoot another person who has never done a damn thing to you because someone with stripes on their arm told you to do so. No ifs, ands, or buts – this is a requirement.
1. Pride. "I am a big enough man to do exactly what someone else tells me without questioning!"
2. Family Tradition. "Look, dad, I shot a [brown|yellow|poor white] person! Just like you!"
3. Poverty. "I fell for the recruiter's lies!"
4. Education. See #3.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:58 PM on March 22, 2011 [10 favorites]

There were \over 3,000 photos collected. Tip of the iceberg.
posted by littlemanclan at 8:00 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Most people join the armed forces for many reasons that have nothing to do with killing perfect strangers. See: structuralized poverty, the military as steady income and a road to education, a sense of national duty. We tend to hear about the ones who are sociopaths because they are aberrations.

I personally know more than one person who joined before 2001 (and many, many more who joined before Iraq) and are still serving because they have been stop-lossed. So, they've essentially been drafted.

So joining an organization famous for killing innocents is fine because when your friends joined, the organization had stopped mass murdering for a few years?

And you can sign up for a job even though there's a chance you might have to murder strangers because you are poor and the pay is good. Sounds similar to a defense someone in the mafia might make, except he probably wouldn't claim moral superiority.
posted by bluishred at 8:05 PM on March 22, 2011 [9 favorites]

Think about that: with all of the available information on the cruelty and worthlessness of this war, the veterans whose opinions we are expected to respect signed up for it.

I respect Hugh Thompson. I respect Ron Ridenhour.

Everyone else? Well, you signed up.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:54 PM on March 22 [5 favorites +]

I hope that you never need the help of a firefighter or a police officer who signed up for it.
posted by knoyers at 8:05 PM on March 22, 2011

People join the military for numerous reasons, including pride, family tradition, escape from poverty, and the chance for an education. Must be nice to not have to worry about those factors in your own life so you can callously accuse others of having poor moral fabric.

At what point do you bear any responsibility for your own actions? Accepting for the sake of argument, that there are all sorts of reasons for joining the military, aren't there also times when it is clearly morally wrong to do so? I mean there must be such a point, no? When your military has been engaged in a massive war crime - the "pre-emptive" war of aggression against a nation that has done you no harm, when the victims of that conflict can be toted up in the hundreds of thousands, when the lies that led to this war have been abundantly exposed, and the war has not been concluded after the exposure, and those responsible have not been called to account - well, then you know it is wrong to join such an organization for any reason. Did ordinary Germans have "good reasons" to join the Wehrmacht during WWII? Poverty? Health benefits? Patriotism? Pride?

You don't have to be a pacifist or a dippy hippy to refuse to join the military any time after 2003 or 2005. You just have to refuse to be party to manifest evil. And Evil is the legacy of the Iraq war for the American military.
posted by VikingSword at 8:08 PM on March 22, 2011 [15 favorites]

I hope that you never need the help of a firefighter or a police officer who signed up for it.

Who signed up for what? Being a firefighter or police officer? Firefighters and police officers, generally speaking, don't kill anyone. Do you mean a firefighter or police officer who was a combat veteran? In my area, most firefighters and police officers are not military veterans, and I'm glad – especially in the case of police officers.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:09 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

I see a weird disconnect with some people, often Americans, when it comes to pride / honor and "the troops". To bring about right-thinking, job one is to de-romanticize the meat that is fed into the military-industrial complex. Chumps and killers join the military. I feel sorry for the chumps.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:12 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

You don't have to be a pacifist or a dippy hippy to refuse to join the military any time after Mỹ Lai.

I fixed that for you.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:18 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

it is disgusting to imply that service members are there to Kill! Kill! Kill!

Defensive much? Or can you just not read?

I didn't say that they were "Kill kill kill," just said that people who joined the army don't mind the idea of killing, or they wouldn't join a profession whose whole job is killing people. Frankly, I find the indifference worse.

And fuck you too, for what its worth. Nice way to debate a point. Where'd they teach you that?
posted by Aversion Therapy at 8:18 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

In order to join the military you must be willing to shoot another person who has never done a damn thing to you because someone with stripes on their arm told you to do so. No ifs, ands, or buts – this is a requirement.

Orders aren't to be reflexively obeyed. You are always responsible for your own actions and must weigh any order against your own judgment. You can always argue an order or outright refuse if you believe the order to be unlawful or wrong. Sure there are consequences for refusing an order but it is fine if you have a good reason.
posted by phoque at 8:26 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Orders aren't to be reflexively obeyed. You are always responsible for your own actions and must weigh any order against your own judgment. You can always argue an order or outright refuse if you believe the order to be unlawful or wrong. Sure there are consequences for refusing an order but it is fine if you have a good reason.

Right. Which is why training focuses so heavily on well-reasoned decision making, debate, and philosophy, and never exposes recruits to the idea that they should listen unquestioningly to an authority figure.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:28 PM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

You don't have to be a pacifist or a dippy hippy to refuse to join the military any time after Mỹ Lai.

I fixed that for you.

I picked Iraq 2003 for a reason. Because we have still not repudiated that war. We are still actively involved in it. The people responsible for it are still in decision making and infrastructure positions. Wrt. My Lai and the Vietnam war we have - at least nominally - tried to bring some kind of accountability and it has been at least nominally acknowledged as wrong on multiple grounds; the people in positions of power back then are mostly gone; it's not perfect by any means, but some kind of argument can be made "this is not the same military and political apparatus that was responsible for the Vietnam War, so I can feel morally OK to join". No such argument can be made for this military or political apparatus since 2003 or 2005. I'm not trying to say that anybody should feel OK to join after My Lai; but I can see how some may sincerely see the military as not the same as that responsible for Vietnam. But no way, no how, can you say that, for anyone in the past 5-6 years at least - the stench of Iraq hangs thick in the air. The blood can not be washed away, as it is flowing still.
posted by VikingSword at 8:31 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Who joins the military? According to the DoD (12 years old, PDF) and the CDA (Heritage Foundation, PDF) it is a wide cross-section of the population in terms of race, socio-economic background ("as measured by the recruits’ household incomes[,] assigning each recruit the media household income of the census tract in which they lived"), and education ("Contrary to popular perceptions, America’s enlisted troops are not poorly educated. Previous Heritage Foundation studies found that enlisted troops were significantly more likely to have a high school education than their peers").

I spent an afternoon looking for data to support the accusation that todays war is fought by the poor but I didn't find it. The CDA links uses 2000 census data, I would love to see 2010 data used. Any contrary links to good data sources would be appreciated.

Again, how can the vast majority of those joining the military today not be aware that they are likely to end up in a theater of war and be required to kill?

And even if we postulate that todays war is fought by the poor then how can claim to live within a democracy with a volunteer force that is made up of those who joined under economic distress? Isn't that a sort of economic conscription? What brave new world requires the underprivileged to pick up a gun to have a shot at a decent life?
posted by Shit Parade at 8:33 PM on March 22, 2011

Really

How cute that you write everything off so easily.

I am anti-war, but it gets really fucking ridiculous around here when these topic come up.

1. Pride. "I am a big enough man to do exactly what someone else tells me without questioning!"
2. Family Tradition. "Look, dad, I shot a [brown|yellow|poor white] person! Just like you!"
3. Poverty. "I fell for the recruiter's lies!"
4. Education. See #3.

Do you really even think before you type this shit? Joining the service is a complex and emotional issue. For you to imply that service members are at best cool with killing, and at worst actually look forward to it is insulting and ridiculous. You should be ashamed to paint the military with such a broad brush.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 8:35 PM on March 22, 2011 [7 favorites]

Fair enough, VikingSword; I just know that learning about that travesty (which was, oddly, never covered in history class) was what removed any thought of joining the military from my mind.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:35 PM on March 22, 2011

Who signed up for what? Being a firefighter or police officer? Firefighters and police officers, generally speaking, don't kill anyone. Do you mean a firefighter or police officer who was a combat veteran? In my area, most firefighters and police officers are not military veterans, and I'm glad – especially in the case of police officers.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:09 PM on March 22

Obviously, those who volunteer to serve in the military risk themselves for the benefit and protection of their fellow citizens, as a firefighter or police officer does, and someone who does that deserves empathy and respect rather than a reflexive and shallow contempt.

Certainly some police officers have committed murder before. And they are all presumably aware of the possibility that they may have to hurt or even kill someone in the course of their jobs. Would you call a police officer a murderer to his or her face because of this? That is basically what you just did to any soldier.

And that is why I especially hope that nothing ever happens to necessitate your gratitude for the actions of such a person, if you are not capable of feeling it.

Chumps and killers join the military. I feel sorry for the chumps.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:12 PM on March 22

And I hope that your condescension is likewise grounded in actual superiority to all those "chumps" out there... but somehow, I don't think so.
posted by knoyers at 8:36 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Here's my deal: I seriously considered joining up. Not because I thought war is great, or because I had many misconceptions about the reality of what the military is used for, but because I felt it might be my duty as an American to be a voice of opposition within the military hierarchy.

What swayed me was reading account after account of soldiers being ostracized for not "playing ball". If you turned in a fellow soldier for misconduct of any sort, you're a target. If you go up the chain to report your commander, you're a target. If you feel like you can't handle the stress of combat, you're berated, sidelined, and still a target. There appears to be no way to serve honorably in the US military anymore.

Some people don't know that. The only thing they know is that their only shot of getting out of poverty for good is the job training available in the armed forces, which by all accounts is exceptional. I think it's pretty fucking sad that this is the only way out. We can find ways to squeeze money out for these needless wars, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars per soldier, but we can't find a way to put these same exact people into a good educational program that will allow them to better themselves without having to put their life on the line. And for a fraction of the price.

I would much rather see compulsory military service than the "volunteer" system in America, which when broken down, is simply a way to create a mercenary force that is composed of people who think war is a legitimate response to any grievance of the USG, and people who have little to no other choices for bettering themselves. I think the armed forces can only truly function when you have people entirely opposed to war inside of the same hierarchy as people who are entirely for it, otherwise, you just end up with a bunch of good old boys who think killing people is great fun, like the current commander of CENTCOM.

So, do I think people who sign up make a poor choice? Not really. When you get in that office, and you are surrounded by these well disciplined recruiters telling you about all of the places they have been, and how much money they got for school, and all of their old buddies and awards and experiences, it sure seems like a win-win. Defend your country, get a good education, and do something worthwhile.

But even while I was there, one of the recruiters was trying to collect letters in support of a recruit who had gone off the deep end before he had even made it into combat. He was training during live fire (in Germany?), and his CO told him to get in a foxhole, and the recruit refused. After a few moments the CO lunged at the recruit, and the recruit ended up stabbing his CO during the tussle. And by collect letters, I mean tell the guy's mother he had tried to collect letters, while he basically told everyone that this young man is fucked, and is going to the brig for a long time.

So, thanks but no thanks. If your organization can't handle solid internal criticism, or even be bothered to live up to it's own standards, or even be bothered to take care of it's own people when they snap, it's not an organization I think I could support in any case.
posted by notion at 8:39 PM on March 22, 2011 [15 favorites]

Do you really even think before you type this shit? Joining the service is a complex and emotional issue. For you to imply that service members are at best cool with killing, and at worst actually look forward to it is insulting and ridiculous. You should be ashamed to paint the military with such a broad brush.

When you join, they give you a weapon. Fuck complexity and emotion.

Is it complex and emotional for the poor bastards who never did a goddamn thing to anybody who get killed by the poor, put-upon American soldiers who made the brave decision to join the most powerful military in the world for the purposes of making money for Halliburton?
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:43 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Clearly, drugs made them do it.
posted by telstar at 8:43 PM on March 22, 2011

And fuck you too, for what its worth. Nice way to debate a point. Where'd they teach you that?

Yeah, you are right. I shouldn't have gotten personal with you.

Still I hope you realize, that at least to me, your comment sounds like those in the service look forward to killing. It is the way you phrased it.

Besides that, I don't think it is fair to say that service members are ok with killing. It is a reality they know they may have to face, but that doesn't mean that they don't care. We know from the evidence that thousands of service members are suffering from trauma based having to kill. I don't think it is fair to say that they are ok with killing.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 8:45 PM on March 22, 2011

Also, if you believe that the military is so big and bad and full of baby killers (is anyone else hearing shades of the condemnation that met Vietnam vets as they returned from war?) then how do you expect it to ever change if "good" people like you never join?

There are many, many intelligent, thoughtful, and well-educated people in the military. There's a reason that events like this are rare and that the perpetrators are punished. No one in the military is glorifying these guys. They are sitting in the brig awaiting judicial procedures and punishment. They do not represent the armed forces as as whole.

It's easy to sit comfortably in your little privileged world and condemn. If you hate the military and the USG-- which, if you are an American, you support, tacitly and directly, through taxation and continued residence in the United States-- you are more than welcome to sever your ties. Otherwise, maybe you can find some respect and compassion for those who have volunteered for something more dangerous, difficult, and soul-crushing than you can imagine. We have an all-volunteer military force because people volunteer. If they didn't, you might get drafted. How would you feel about that?
posted by charmcityblues at 8:47 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Obviously, those who volunteer to serve in the military risk themselves for the benefit and protection of their fellow citizens, as a firefighter or police officer does, and someone who does that deserves empathy and respect rather than a reflexive and shallow contempt.

Benefit and protection of their fellow citizens. Huh. How do aggressive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, killing goat-farmers, protect me? I would think they make me more likely to be a target of terrorism because they create a generation which justifiably views America as a source of violence, terror, and menace.

Certainly some police officers have committed murder before. And they are all presumably aware of the possibility that they may have to hurt or even kill someone in the course of their jobs. Would you call a police officer a murderer to his or her face because of this? That is basically what you just did to any soldier.

No, because police officers kill people surprisingly infrequently. They tend to be brutal, and there are a lot of abuses of power that emerge from law enforcement, but they generally don't round up a village full of people and kill them.

And that is why I especially hope that nothing ever happens to necessitate your gratitude for the actions of such a person, if you are not capable of feeling it.

I feel gratitude just fine when I have actually been helped. Nobody in the 21st century American armed forces is "defending" or "benefiting" me.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:48 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Is it complex and emotional for the poor bastards who never did a goddamn thing to anybody who get killed by the poor, put-upon American soldiers who made the brave decision to join the most powerful military in the world for the purposes of making money for Halliburton?

Please, you don't really think this is what the average 18 year old is thinking when they sign up. Try to separate your disdain for the military industrial complex from individual soldiers.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 8:49 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry about conflating Seymour Hersh with the institutional voice of the New Yorker in my FPP. He is so much more
posted by clarknova at 8:51 PM on March 22, 2011

Also, if you believe that the military is so big and bad and full of baby killers (is anyone else hearing shades of the condemnation that met Vietnam vets as they returned from war?) then how do you expect it to ever change if "good" people like you never join?

This is just... I don't even know how to address this. Change the military? By joining? Why bother? I would rather just not participate in a war. If I sign up and go to Afghanistan, I could step on a land mine my first day and never do a damn thing worthwhile; meanwhile, the war goes on.

As for the condemnation that met Vietnam vets, well. My Lai. What do you think they should get? A medal?
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:52 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Please, you don't really think this is what the average 18 year old is thinking when they sign up. Try to separate your disdain for the military industrial complex from individual soldiers.

Do you think that I think that's what the normal soldier is thinking? The normal soldier is thinking he's a patriot who is better and stronger and smarter than all the damn, chickenshit "civvies" who won't join up and serve their country. That is because he has been lied to.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:56 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

How many soldiers fought in Vietnam? (2,594,000 within the borders of South Vietnam, of whom between 1 - 1.6 million (40-60%) either fought in combat, provided close support or were at least fairly regularly exposed to enemy attack.)

How many were charged with involvement in My Lai? (26) How many were actually convicted? (1)
posted by charmcityblues at 8:58 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

How many were involved in activities similar to My Lai who didn't have Hugh Thompson there to blow the whistle on them? (God Only Knows)
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:01 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Who was Hugh Thompson? Oh wait. He was in the military!
posted by charmcityblues at 9:02 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

The brainwashing of new American soldiers is probably not far from how the Taliban works on impressionable youth.

Like the war in Vietnam, how do you spot the difference between friend or foe? You can't, really. In both wars, you don't engage with the enemy in the traditional way. Witness all the bombing of civilians.

Jeremy Morlock, from Wasilla, a hockey buddy of Track Palin. Yeah, That Palin, Sarah's son. How much is he to blame. Just following orders, the military way? Fitting in, trying not to get killed by friendly fire included. To whom is he going to whistleblow. Look what happened to Manning. Seems since joining the army, he has less rights than a citizen.

The heads which should roll are the supervisors of Jeremy Morlock's. They are out of control and ineffective.

Morlock's Mom blames his superior officers

I agree with that Mom.

War is big, big business, what will all those soldiers do if they all came home and there were no wars. Whom would hire them, who would even rent to them?

Is it a breeding ground for psychotics with increasing bullying tendencies? Is this how to win over a population already oppressed?

How is it that that person who built schools in Afghanistan is the bigger threat to the Taliban - by providing secure education. I think his book of his experiences is called Four Cups of Tea.

Education should be included in the war machine. Killing innocent civilians isn't what anyone signed up for to join the army.
posted by alicesshoe at 9:03 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you think that I think that's what the normal soldier is thinking? The normal soldier is thinking he's a patriot who is better and stronger and smarter than all the damn, chickenshit "civvies" who won't join up and serve their country. That is because he has been lied to.

Sigh. Fine, looks like we are at an impasse here. I don't think the above rationale is correct either. I wish you would stop simplifying everything so much.

However, we do agree that there are clearly large systematic military problems. I think recruitment methods are flawed too, and i think the military makes misleading statements to potential recruits. I also agree that the US has done terrible things in multiple countries under false pretenses.

I just wish that we could acknowledge that the individuals who make up the military typically aren't bad people. It is easy to judge others from far away. Whatever you know to be true about the military may not be so apparent to others, and that doesn't make them stupid or bad. Too many people in this post are attacking service members when the real problem is the system, lets keep the focus where it belongs.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 9:06 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Who was Hugh Thompson? Oh wait. He was in the military!

He was also unable to prevent the massacre. He only publicized it. I admire him – he was a hero in what he was able to do – but compared to the weight of guilt that lies with the military (which tried to shut him up and cover up the whole thing), he is a drop in the bucket.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:08 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

hey pickinganame...etc

systems are made up of people. What sort of Kafka world view are we living in when we want to say that people in a system aren't bad but they system they run are?
posted by Shit Parade at 9:10 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I just wish that we could acknowledge that the individuals who make up the military typically aren't bad people.

I'm sure some of the Germans who ran the concentration camps were nice guys, too, but the list probably isn't very long after "Oskar Schindler."
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:12 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Veterans, in 2011, are people who volunteered to go to war. There are probably very few remaining who volunteered before these wars started; certainly none who were drafted (which would give them more moral authority). Think about that: with all of the available information on the cruelty and worthlessness of this war, the veterans whose opinions we are expected to respect signed up for it.

You know why a lot of these young men and women signed up for the military? They are poor and the military is a guaranteed income. It is a job that it takes a hell of a lot to be fired from.

It is a job where your child will have insurance, you will have housing, you will be able to support your young child/ren and your partner. The people joining are military are overwhelmingly from poor areas, with just a high school education.

I don't blame a damn one of them for joining the military so they have food in their belly and a roof over their heads.
posted by SuzySmith at 9:16 PM on March 22, 2011

give me some links suzysmith to data, I am with you on this, but I haven't been able to find the studies which give this claim credence.
posted by Shit Parade at 9:18 PM on March 22, 2011

Did you see this post, SuzySmith?
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:18 PM on March 22, 2011

systems are made up of people. What sort of Kafka world view are we living in when we want to say that people in a system aren't bad but they system they run are?

You didn't vote for Bush right?

I'm sure some of the Germans who ran the concentration camps were nice guys, too, but the list probably isn't very long after "Oskar Schindler."

Really, Godwin? Even after my above olive branch? I would like to live my life with as much surety as you live yours.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 9:19 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Really, Godwin? Even after my above olive branch? I would like to live my life with as much surety as you live yours.

No, not Godwin. Forget that worthless aphorism. The German "war machine" is perfectly valid for comparison when discussing the American military. Both are sick systems producing sick results. Having a few "good guys" within a sick system does not make the system good.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:23 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

My Lai
posted by bardic at 9:25 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

systems are made up of people. What sort of Kafka world view are we living in when we want to say that people in a system aren't bad but they system they run are?

You didn't vote for Bush right?

?
posted by Shit Parade at 9:25 PM on March 22, 2011

Benefit and protection of their fellow citizens. Huh. How do aggressive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, killing goat-farmers, protect me? I would think they make me more likely to be a target of terrorism because they create a generation which justifiably views America as a source of violence, terror, and menace.

The military itself doesn't choose or create wars and isn't to blame for their existence, which is instead the responsibility of our country's elected civilian leadership. Moreover, whether you happen to like it or not, everyone in the U.S. (and many others abroad) benefit from the active and/or implied security of the U.S. military. Americans are fortunate to live in a country whose territory has not been subjected to the terror of warfare since the 19th century. That continuous good fortune is not unrelated to our military.

They tend to be brutal, and there are a lot of abuses of power that emerge from law enforcement, but they generally don't round up a village full of people and kill them.

You might be surprised that, generally, members of the U.S. military have not rounded up and massacred a village either.

Nobody in the 21st century American armed forces is "defending" or "benefiting" me.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:48 PM on March 22

They all are.

As for the condemnation that met Vietnam vets, well. My Lai. What do you think they should get? A medal?
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:52 PM

There was a draft then. So many soldiers of that era died or had their lives horribly damaged, without any choice, in order to be defamed by someone like you. Freedom of speech.

On the other hand, soldiers of the present are self selected rather than just a random slice of the population, and thus it's easy for you to make them an "other." It is a short leap for you to decide that there is something inherently bad about this group (teenagers, mainly, who sign themselves up for the Army) as a whole without any compassion or respect for them or consideration of them as individuals.

You seem determined to regard them all in the worst possible light that you can imagine.

Please, you don't really think this is what the average 18 year old is thinking when they sign up. Try to separate your disdain for the military industrial complex from individual soldiers.

Do you think that I think that's what the normal soldier is thinking? The normal soldier is thinking he's a patriot who is better and stronger and smarter than all the damn, chickenshit "civvies" who won't join up and serve their country. That is because he has been lied to.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:56 PM on March 22

It's a little funny how you rebuff an accusation of falsely claiming insight into the mindset of soldiers and immediately proceed to offer us your scornful stereotype of their mindset.

The German "war machine" is perfectly valid for comparison when discussing the American military. Both are sick systems producing sick results. Having a few "good guys" within a sick system does not make the system good.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:23 PM on March 22

You know it's a worthless argument when you come to an inane comparison to the Nazis.
posted by knoyers at 9:37 PM on March 22, 2011 [11 favorites]

Did you see this post, SuzySmith?
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:18 AM on March 23 [+] [!]

I read the one from the Heritage Center, and you just can't go by neighborhood. If you were to take a cross section of the neighborhood I live in right now, you would think that my husband and I were fairly high income. We are so not, in fact we are the probably the lowest income in this neighborhood.

The neighborhood I grew up in, and where my parents still live, is the same. They bought the cheapest house in a neighborhood that is much higher in income than my parents are.

I have watched many, many of the people I grew up with, and now some of my friend's children, join the military. They are the ones who look at it as steady work, a roof, food in their belly, and insurance.

They are the ones who looked to it as a way to support their partners, and children.

I worked on a Navy base for several years, the vast majority of the enlisted men I worked with, and talked to, all came from poor, or just above poverty levels.

You can bend statistics to look how you want them. I know what I have seen over 28 years of living by a Navy base. I know what I have seen from my high school classmates. I know what I have seen working on a military base.

I would love to see statistics that show the income vs. number of people in the family, and what the income of the actual military members were prior to enlistment.

Also if you look at the DoD charts, it is right at 50% of lower middle class or lower incomes, incomes that are based solely on dollars and not actual poverty level.
posted by SuzySmith at 9:39 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jesus, if I felt the way about our military the way sonic meat machine feels about his I would consider it my moral duty to find another place to pay taxes. I'm not a big fan of the "love it or leave it" mentality, but how could someone justify paying the salaries of people like that?
posted by ODiV at 9:43 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

What sort of Kafka world view are we living in when we want to say that people in a system aren't bad but they system they run are?

Kafka's works are exaggerated, but they get at some deep truths about the way the modern world works. That's what made the guy famous.

The way a system is constructed governs what information people have access to, and what power they have. If the people with the power to make important decisions are denied crucial information--or, worse, not even denied it, because nobody wanted to bring it up in the first place--you get horrible things like Vladimir Komarov dying in a spacecraft he knew was badly made because his coworkers didn't have the guts to pass his memos up the chain of command.

So, yeah, I'm entirely comfortable assuming that the bulk of the population of the US military is composed of generally decent people. I might say they made a bad decision if they joined after the problems with the system became apparent, but that gives me no reason to suppose that they approve of the systemic problems. I might suppose that they have some kind of cognitive bias that led them to join. We have entire cable news channels devoted to enabling and promoting paranoid delusions; I pity those who fall for that trap, but I don't hate them.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:50 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

I doubt those that haven't served have much understanding about how/why these photos happen.

Well, I did serve* and I guarantee you every soldier in the US Army gets regular training on both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Convention--and near-constant reminders that the only commandment as high as these in the military is "don't bang another soldier's wife".

Soldiers do dumb shit constantly. It's the role of leaders to make the penalties for acts like these (which are beyond dumb, really, they're barbaric) so horrific that you recoil from them like a hot stove.

This has nothing to do with how well we're doing in Afghanistan or whether we've become the Nazis or whether poor kids have no better options. This is about universal imperatives like "don't use dead people as props".

* I hope my service during the Clinton years qualifies me in your eyes to discuss the topic. We didn't have much in the way of war back then--despite potential flashpoints like the assassination of an Israeli prime minister--because the people in charge had a better idea of how to wield military power.
posted by Nahum Tate at 9:52 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

The military itself doesn't choose or create wars and isn't to blame for their existence, which is instead the responsibility of our country's elected civilian leadership.

No, but every soldier is responsible for volunteering to participate.

Moreover, whether you happen to like it or not, everyone in the U.S. (and many others abroad) benefit from the active and/or implied security of the U.S. military.

Do you honestly believe that fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq makes us more secure? Honestly. Think about it.

Americans are fortunate to live in a country whose territory has not been subjected to the terror of warfare since the 19th century. That continuous good fortune is not unrelated to our military.

It's also not unrelated to the two oceans that border the U.S. on the east and west.

You might be surprised that, generally, members of the U.S. military have not rounded up and massacred a village either.

Nope, but they're volunteers in a system that they know has done so.

They all are.

No they aren't. (This is called "contradiction." It is not an argument.)

There was a draft then. So many soldiers of that era died or had their lives horribly damaged, without any choice, in order to be defamed by someone like you. Freedom of speech.

Yes, that was a crime of the nation against its people. I feel sympathy for the people who were subject to that tyrannical policy. I feel more sympathy for the innocent people who were murdered in their homes for no reason.

On the other hand, soldiers of the present are self selected rather than just a random slice of the population, and thus it's easy for you to make them an "other." It is a short leap for you to decide that there is something inherently bad about this group (teenagers, mainly, who sign themselves up for the Army) as a whole without any compassion or respect for them or consideration of them as individuals.

They are easily led, or they are attracted to violence. Those are the choices: they are fooled by propaganda that tells them they will get job training or an education without much risk to themselves, or they are willing participants in violence.

"Willing participants" does not mean that they are gibbering sociopaths, but you are either a starry-eyed idealist or someone who at least accepts that violence against people who have never attacked you can be the right thing to do.

You seem determined to regard them all in the worst possible light that you can imagine.

Not the worst. I reserve that for the cold and bloodless civilians who make billions from their sacrifice (and the violence against innocents).

It's a little funny how you rebuff an accusation of falsely claiming insight into the mindset of soldiers and immediately proceed to offer us your scornful stereotype of their mindset.

If you read my post that was being responded to, you will see that the comment in reply was a non sequitur. My post did not concern what the soldier was thinking at all. I said:
Is it complex and emotional for the poor bastards who never did a goddamn thing to anybody who get killed by the poor, put-upon American soldiers who made the brave decision to join the most powerful military in the world for the purposes of making money for Halliburton?
Nothing in this has anything to do with the individual soldier's thoughts; it's just a fact. The people profiting from our current wars are our military-industrial corporations, like Halliburton.

You know it's a worthless argument when you come to an inane comparison to the Nazis.

If you are in earnest, you need to rethink this. The Nazis used a system built upon the willing cooperation of the German people to conduct plans which were inherently and irretrievably evil. Each individual soldier is responsible for those plans, no matter what his job might have been. Was he a train guard? A cook? No matter how small the role an individual in the Nazi system played, he helped it succeed. His slice of guilt may individually be very small, in comparison, but it's still guilt.

The same is true of the American military system. I assert that Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, and many of our other military adventures have been disastrous and evil. The draftee has little choice and represents yet another victim of the system – but to volunteer to participate is, at the very best, ignorant.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:01 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Jesus, if I felt the way about our military the way sonic meat machine feels about his I would consider it my moral duty to find another place to pay taxes. I'm not a big fan of the "love it or leave it" mentality, but how could someone justify paying the salaries of people like that?

I like my home. I like my family, my friends, my wife, my dog, and the landscape which surrounds me. I like English. I am not less of an American because I think our military policy is repugnant. Don't worry about taxes, either; I don't think our taxes are actually paying for the military adventurism, anyway. Remember that the budget for these wars dwarfs everything else, so we're basically just putting it on the credit card.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:06 PM on March 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

In a sense, now that I think about it, the wars themselves are generating the debt which provides the excuse for pro-war, anti-welfare conservatives to axe social programs which might provide the poor with an alternative to the military.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:10 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about taxes, either; I don't think our taxes are actually paying for the military adventurism, anyway. Remember that the budget for these wars dwarfs everything else, so we're basically just putting it on the credit card.

Money is fungible, you know. I think you've backed yourself into a bit of a corner here.
posted by charmcityblues at 10:46 PM on March 22, 2011

I like my home. I like my family, my friends, my wife, my dog, and the landscape which surrounds me. I like English. I am not less of an American because I think our military policy is repugnant.

Yeah, that was a bit judgmental, sorry.

I feel the same way. As conflicted as I am about my country's involvement in Afganistan, I've never once considered leaving because of it. I'd like to think that if I believed my country's military was comprised of amoral murderers I would at least think about emigrating. To be brutally honest though I'm probably much too comfortable, like you.

Since we're already talking WWII, if we hold the German people in part responsible for the atrocities of the Nazis, then surely the American people merit a few tough questions at the very least.
posted by ODiV at 10:50 PM on March 22, 2011

Sonic meat machine. Seeing your nickname beneath pacifist monologues is funny because it makes me think of some Evil as yet to be discovered death machine.
posted by astrobiophysican at 10:57 PM on March 22, 2011

If you are a vet that served in Afganistan, Iraq, or even VietNam, please let us know in your comment, 'cuz that will carry a lot of weight (at least for me). The rest of you, watch Restrepo before you comment.

fuck that - no one made me watch restrepo before they taxed me to pay for this war
posted by pyramid termite at 11:08 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm a civilian currently deployed to Afghanistan, working for the military on helping to develop literacy instruction and higher education here. (The following opinions are my own, and should in no way be considered representing the positions of the military organizations for which I work.) As a military-employed civilian, I wear a uniform, but I elected not to carry a weapon during my tour over here. I think the mission I'm involved in -- helping Afghans to rebuild the infrastructure for their system of education in service of a sustainable, democratic government that supports human rights, as deeply flawed as it might be right now -- is a worthwhile endeavor. There are a lot of soldiers involved in that effort over here right now, in a lot of different ways. I feel tensions over it, as when I heard about the release of these photos, as when the American soldiers in those helicopters killed those children.

Most of the soldiers I work with are motivated by a desire to serve their country and to see the world become a better place. Those of us who work with Afghans every day genuinely like the Afghans -- no surprise there -- and are eager and hopeful to see them do well; to live in a country where they're not afraid of getting bombed when they go to the grocery store, or beaten or stoned to death for actually believing that women should have human rights, or where they don't have to pay bribes to everybody to keep the threat of violence away. That threat of violence is real: I chose to come over here and work on this project in a place where there's considerable danger, with the Taliban and the Haqqani Network and other organizations willingly blowing up lots of their own civilian countrymen in order to maintain the sort of medieval thugocracy they benefited from in the 1990s. That violence is what, ostensibly, soldiers are supposed to be protecting Afghans from, and is what almost all of them do, despite the horrifying exceptions.

Certainly, the military has its share of thugs, idiots, bigots, and even some vicious and brutal people, much like the society from which it draws its members. And when they do absolutely sickening and vile things like this, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, just as we prosecute murderers and rapists in civilian culture.

But most of us don't make the mistake of hasty generalizations, though, and argue that because members of group X (police, bankers, Germans, Jews, men, women, Texans, Oregonians) commit some vile and reprehensible act, all members of that group must be similarly morally and ethically corrupt to the core.

Most of us don't of assume that all members of any given group in society are either stupid or evil. Of course, it's entirely possible that my complicity in acts of stupidity and evil -- foolishly wrapped in a myopic optimism that there might be a chance for the world to be a better place, and that things like literacy and higher education might be important to making that happen, and that trying to promote such things might require some degree of security and protection against the folks who are highly motivated and committed to seeing literacy and higher education not promoted here. Maybe folks in the comments here will tell me that I'm as guilty as SPC Morlock, or that even my act of volunteering to work for the military to promote literacy and higher education in Afghanistan falls into some Eichmann-equivalent category. I'm sometimes conflicted about it myself.

But I want to see this country and these people do well, to see them rebuild after all the horrors and conflict they've gone through. In some ways, I think that's a moral-ethical imperative for the wealthier nations of the world (and even the not-quite-so-wealthy: there are Mongolian, Czech, and Macedonian soldiers serving here, among others): after so much destruction, there has to be some assistance in developing the infrastructure for a stable state to form in order to set up the relative luxuries (education, human rights, the freedom and connectivity and electricity to argue on the Internets) we're accustomed to in more privileged places in the world. I'll risk my safety to be a part of that, stooge that I may be.
posted by vitia at 11:09 PM on March 22, 2011 [13 favorites]

OK, this may not be directly on-topic, but can someone explain to me why the murdered civilian that the soldiers are posing with is naked from the waist down? I'm really hoping that there's some non-sexual-degradation reason for that, but…
posted by LMGM at 11:23 PM on March 22, 2011

I think you just explained it.
posted by clarknova at 11:36 PM on March 22, 2011

In order to join the military you must be willing to shoot another person who has never done a damn thing to you because someone with stripes on their arm told you to do so. No ifs, ands, or buts – this is a requirement.

That would be news to the many of the chaplains, surgeons, cooks, etc. I guess you could hold the position that they're murderers because they support the people who do the actual shooting, but then, that kind of goes back to the "you pay the taxes that buy the bullets" thing, doesn't it?
posted by Amanojaku at 12:08 AM on March 23, 2011

It's ingrained, part of the American military psyche. John Wayne Must Die
posted by adamvasco at 12:10 AM on March 23, 2011

1. Pride. "I am a big enough man to do exactly what someone else tells me without questioning!"
2. Family Tradition. "Look, dad, I shot a [brown|yellow|poor white] person! Just like you!"
3. Poverty. "I fell for the recruiter's lies!"
4. Education. See #3.

You sound twelve.
posted by Ratio at 1:10 AM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am married to someone who is at the tail-end of a deployment in Afghanistan (he is not in the US Army). He didn't join the Army to kill people. Sure, he has a weapon, for personal protection, but not once has he shot at anyone. Anyone. He didn't join for that. He joined because of a sense of service. He has post-graduate qualifications, and would have a more stable life and earn more if he was out of uniform, so it wasn't for housing or to put food on the table. He joined because he wanted to. And he has stayed in because he wanted to, and I have supported his choice.

He has helped people rebuild mosques, churches, air strips and schools. He has also spent mind-numbing hours poring over excel spreadsheets. The Armed Forces is not all 'killing strangers'.

He is a socialist, a non-conformist, always plays the devil's advocate. Yet he belongs to an organisational that is hierarchical than most. Unlike what many of you here seem to think, the military does not strive to train everyone to be a non-thinking automaton who doesn't question, who just blindly 'obeys'. He is, like everyone else in uniform, a complex individual who is a lot more than his identity as 'someone in the Army'. His motivations for what he does are more complex than 'I am in the Army'. Just as any other solider.

My spouse is as disgusted by behaviour like this as anyone else. You have a problem with the military? I am willing to accept that some people have a problem with the existence of Armed Forces and what they do, and will concede that pacifists have many valid points. But I am not going to take seriously ANYONE who makes stupid blanket claims that everyone who joins up does it because they are happy killing, let alone happy killing strangers. Or that they do it because they are all stupid.
posted by Megami at 1:30 AM on March 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

1. Who's "we"? Surely you're not lumping the many thousands of troops from many different nations in with this small group of sadistic psychopaths?
Maybe your not aware of this, but a lot of civilians are getting killed over there, not just by psychos, but by regular soldiers by mistake.
2. Why does it have to be both? You seem to be implying that "we" are there to kill civilians, and that if "we" stop killing civilians, there's no other mission in Afghanistan.
How can you have a war without killing civilians? Maybe 200 years ago it might have been possible, but today it seems unlikely.
The mission in Afghanistan is worth it- the country will collapse if left to itself and it will be worse off 10 years down the road.
What does that have to do with 9/11? My guess is most current taliban fighters were just kids when the towers collapsed. And in fact there was a poll or something conducted there and most people in Afghanistan weren't even aware of 9/11. The idea that we're somehow getting revenge for 9/11 doesn't really make much sense. And anyway on a pure revenge scale we've extracted way more then enough pain from the people there to make up for it. Plus AQ just relocated to Pakistan anyway.
You know it's a worthless argument when you come to an inane comparison to the Nazis.
When Goodwin came up with that rule, he was talking about Vi vs. Emacs and stuff like that. Not actual wars and actual killing.

---
Anyway, the amount of personal invective flying around in this thread is way beyond ordinary metafilter standards. Can't really have a reasonable discussion. Obviously the majority of people in the military are just in support roles, not actively killing people.
posted by delmoi at 1:56 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sorry about that. I got a bit heated last night.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:56 AM on March 23, 2011

Don't be sorry, this thread is now fucked beyond any hope of reasonable discussion.

So: Mission accomplished! Don't run away now that the damage is done: take ownership of it.
posted by absalom at 4:47 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

> It's easy to sit comfortably in your little privileged world and condemn. If you hate the military and the USG-- which, if you are an American, you support, tacitly and directly, through taxation and continued residence in the United States-- you are more than welcome to sever your ties.

"America, love it or leave it." "If you don't like it, go somewhere else."

That's a bogus argument from the very start. Perhaps 1% of Americans have in practice the ability to leave the country. What is my next door neighbor (who's a semi-skilled labourer) going to do to get out of the US?

And many of us strongly resisted these wars. Because we failed, you want us to leave the country?

> Otherwise, maybe you can find some respect and compassion for those who have volunteered for something more dangerous, difficult, and soul-crushing than you can imagine.

You're evading the main issue, which is that many of us have very good arguments that these people are doing something very wrong. Just because it's "dangerous, difficult, and soul-crushing" doesn't make it right.

> For you to imply that service members are at best cool with killing, and at worst actually look forward to it is insulting and ridiculous.

We're talking about combat soldiers here. They know they are going to end up killing people - indeed, if they refuse to kill people during warfare, they can not only be charged and jailed for a long time, in a punch they can summarily be shot by their commanding officer without due process.

To try to tell us that combat soldiers are "not cool with killing" is ridiculous. They sign up to kill, they are told repeatedly that they are going to kill people, they do exercises like yelling "Kill! Kill! Kill!" while stabbing human-shaped dummies, they shoot at human-shaped targets, and in fact the military tries quite hard to eliminate people during training who will not kill (steering them to non-combat positions...)

Combat soldiers kill other soldiers. It is their job. They kill willingly and they kill repeatedly. This is, quite literally, what they sign up for. There are other jobs in the military where you don't have to kill people - combat soldier is not that job.

We are all grown-ups here. Please do not feed us the "Combat soldiers aren't expecting to kill" line. They expect to, it's their job, and they do it willingly.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:49 AM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

When my younger brother and I were both still in high school- I was a Senior and he was a Sophomore, this would have been 1997, long before 9/11 and even the NATO bombings in Yugoslavia- for god knows whatever reason he became quite fascinated with joining the Navy Reserve. To this day I don't get it, though I'm assuming there was, as you would imagine was highly feasible in the mind of a 16-year-old, rebellious youngest-of-three-children boy, a very resounding "oooh that sounds cool" factor.

Anyway, since we were both still living at our mom's house and this was just before the epoch of cell phones I was always there for the letters from the recruiter and messages on the land line answering machine. I saw the t-shirts, the glossy magazines, the CD-ROMS sent in little canisters that looked like ammo boxes with interactive videos showing fighter jets and radar and video-game-like animations and so on and so on.

I'm saying all this because I think there may be a lot of people who don't really grasp how strongly and how effectively the military goes out of its way to pretend that soldiers don't kill people. Lots of people. I mean, Jesus- over a decade later I still remember the utter absurdity that my brother at one point watched a 20-minute video about serving on an aircraft carrier and not a single shot of a missile destroying anything, let alone an occupied building, came up.

I don't understand why this is an argument- it has nothing to do with whether or not you agree with it, it's simply the reality- the purpose of the military, of any military, is to express its ability and authority to kill many, many people to achieve its goals. This is, by definition, how a military achieves its goals. By force. Force means killing people. Yes they build schools and repave roads and distribute food. They do all of that under the banner of the position that if you try to stop them from doing this, you will die.

And look, fine, sure, throw out the "huuuhhhh well what about the cooks and chaplains, smart guy?" line if you want but it's a straw man and you know it. DoD isn't mailing 16-year-olds more than a hundred bucks' worth of free swag because they're aching for another priest.

So believe it or not, yes. I actually do believe that a large percentage of soldiers didn't just sign up becuase they "want to kill people." And even more so, I really do believe that a large number of them are convinced that "oh they won't be THOSE soldiers" who... you know... might have to kill people. I know that because for over a year the military tried to convince a 16-year old boy of this. Repeatedly.

The stories like the ones we're reading today are because the military is actively interested in convincing as many people as possible that they won't actually have to do horrible things in their employ. I have no idea if things would be better or worse if they were honest about this, but there is absolutely no argument no matter how you feel about the military in general that they simply aren't.

By and large the lies are NOT sent out to those who are "all grown ups here." The military lies to children-thousands of children daily- about what the greatest single responsibility of a career with them is.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:14 AM on March 23, 2011 [10 favorites]

I agree with Sonic Meat Machine.

Moreover, suggesting that an American who doesn't agree with the actions of his or her government should cease to be an American is ridiculous. It's supposed to be a democracy, voting is how people express their dissent. If all the dissenters give up the right to vote, how exactly will that help? (Rhetorical question.)

As a kid I would have liked to join the RAF (I'm British) because, let's face it, flying planes is very cool. I didn't because even as a teenager I could see the moral problems inherent in doing so. The kids I knew who joined the army? They definitely had no problem with killing 'the enemy', and most were morons.
posted by dickasso at 7:13 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

No, but every soldier is responsible for volunteering to participate.

I think that all citizens bear a partial weight of the responsibility for our country's conduct. But only soldiers must carry out and pay for the whims of our leadership, so that civilians are free to suffer nothing, and free to think that our wars--which really belong to all of us--have nothing to do with us personally.

Do you honestly believe that fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq makes us more secure? Honestly. Think about it.

Americans are fortunate to live in a country whose territory has not been subjected to the terror of warfare since the 19th century. That continuous good fortune is not unrelated to our military.

It's also not unrelated to the two oceans that border the U.S. on the east and west.

Whether the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq make us more secure (probably not overall; definitely not in the latter case) is not the same question as whether our huge military itself, and everyone who works for it, makes us more secure.

Americans (and their allies) enjoy unparalleled protection from the world's strife and warfare thanks to a vast military apparatus. Generally speaking, we do not know what it is to exist without the protection of the great military power that insulates us. We benefit, voluntarily, from the security the military provides just as we benefit voluntarily from the rule of law.

Our geography may be favorable but our security now is more the result of other factors, I think.

"Willing participants" does not mean that they are gibbering sociopaths, but you are either a starry-eyed idealist or someone who at least accepts that violence against people who have never attacked you can be the right thing to do.

People who have never attacked you? Soldiers get attacked.

In any case, one can serve a country with honor when that country's foreign policy and overall behavior is less than morally blameless (morally blameless countries have never existed). One can serve honorably in a war that is, at best, pointless.

If you read my post that was being responded to, you will see that the comment in reply was a non sequitur. My post did not concern what the soldier was thinking at all. I said:

Is it complex and emotional for the poor bastards who never did a goddamn thing to anybody who get killed by the poor, put-upon American soldiers who made the brave decision to join the most powerful military in the world for the purposes of making money for Halliburton?

Nothing in this has anything to do with the individual soldier's thoughts; it's just a fact. The people profiting from our current wars are our military-industrial corporations, like Halliburton.

Earlier in that exchange, you wrote:

1. Pride. "I am a big enough man to do exactly what someone else tells me without questioning!"
2. Family Tradition. "Look, dad, I shot a [brown|yellow|poor white] person! Just like you!"
3. Poverty. "I fell for the recruiter's lies!"
4. Education. See #3.

I was referring to this also. I was a little disgusted.

Also, while there are certain industries and corporations that exploit war, on the whole recent American wars have been the very opposite of mercenary. We invade oil producing countries and never see the oil. No reparations for our untold expenditures. When we have a war, it's not about money.

If you are in earnest, you need to rethink this. The Nazis used a system built upon the willing cooperation of the German people to conduct plans which were inherently and irretrievably evil. Each individual soldier is responsible for those plans, no matter what his job might have been. Was he a train guard? A cook? No matter how small the role an individual in the Nazi system played, he helped it succeed. His slice of guilt may individually be very small, in comparison, but it's still guilt.

The same is true of the American military system. I assert that Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, and many of our other military adventures have been disastrous and evil. The draftee has little choice and represents yet another victim of the system – but to volunteer to participate is, at the very best, ignorant.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:01 PM on March 22

I am almost embarrassed that you have elicited from a me a statement as as unnecessary as this: there can be no comparison between the U.S., for all its many mistakes and sins and the destruction it has caused, veering between self interest and sometimes misguided benevolence, and Nazi Germany, whose enterprise was devoted to the conquest, enslavement and extermination of whole peoples on a grand scale.

If you are American, live in America, enjoy the security of being American, you're a volunteer in a way as well (see Crito by Plato). Not a participant, but a passive participant.

How can you have a war without killing civilians? Maybe 200 years ago it might have been possible, but today it seems unlikely.

In the past, war was much more about killing civilians. Now civilians who are killed are "collateral damage." Indeed, wars in which civilians are not killed are an unlikely prospect.

My guess is most current taliban fighters were just kids when the towers collapsed.

So were ours
posted by knoyers at 7:46 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

there can be no comparison between the U.S., for all its many mistakes and sins and the destruction it has caused, veering between self interest and sometimes misguided benevolence, and Nazi Germany, whose enterprise was devoted to the conquest, enslavement and extermination of whole peoples on a grand scale.

This is logical nonsense. Of course there is a comparison. While America isn't as evil as Nazi Germany, we have our own set of empty rhetoric that we use when we decide to kill a few hundred thousand people to achieve our geopolitical objectives. Remember, the Jews were secret communists and terrorists who were plotting to destroy the Fatherland. Our scapegoats are radical Muslims. We rationalize massive death and carnage for Freedom and Democracy, when it's pretty obvious that we're killing people to maintain our access to their oil, as we have been doing since the first World War.

Nazi Germany is an outlier in pure evil, but in terms of nations who have waged aggressive wars since then, we are solidly number one. This is why dismissing comparisons to Nazi Germany is dangerous. Obviously that case proves that there is a certain point when soldiers need to stop obeying orders. Instead of waiting to retire to criticize civilian leadership, they need to show some actual courage and resign in protest. To be blunt, it takes less courage to order other people into war than it does to do the right thing and put your job and career on the line.

Enough people have come forward who served and said that they knew what they were doing was wrong. When you are confronted with a choice, and you pick the easier path of "I'm just doing my job" or "I'm just following orders" instead of "I'm going to do the right thing and face the consequences," you are still accountable for that choice.
posted by notion at 8:30 AM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

I read the one from the Heritage Center, and you just can't go by neighborhood.

Heritage Foundation is one of the flagship enterprises of the Koch and Scaife-funded right-wing libertarian think tank army. Practically their entire reason for being is to crank out propaganda useful for minimizing the social impacts of poverty, as the notion that poverty is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed through policy is antithetical to their political economic interests.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:05 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

...So take that study with a grain of salt, is my point. The fact the breakdown is by neigborhood and that leads to a misleading result is probably by design. That kind of analytical sleight-of-hand is their stock in trade.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:06 AM on March 23, 2011

And look, fine, sure, throw out the "huuuhhhh well what about the cooks and chaplains, smart guy?" line if you want but it's a straw man and you know it.

The argument at hand has been whether literally everyone in the military in any role or capacity is a willing killer. So I'm not sure how pointing out that, no, that's actually not true, and demonstrably so: there are chaplains and surgeons and lawyers and all kinds of positions where they know before entering the military that they'll be doing a specialized job and aren't expected to engage in combat -- qualifies as a "straw man."

If anything, the idea that the argument has been "Oh, the DoD focuses on luring in more kids because it needs more bodies for the grinder" is the straw man. I would agree that's true, but not the position that pretty much shat the bed in the thread.
posted by Amanojaku at 9:31 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

"America, love it or leave it." "If you don't like it, go somewhere else."

That's a bogus argument from the very start. Perhaps 1% of Americans have in practice the ability to leave the country. What is my next door neighbor (who's a semi-skilled labourer) going to do to get out of the US?

---

Moreover, suggesting that an American who doesn't agree with the actions of his or her government should cease to be an American is ridiculous. It's supposed to be a democracy, voting is how people express their dissent.

Yeah, after I posted I realized I don't think they should leave either, but I don't think it's that ridiculous to bring it up. If you believe your country is out there committing atrocities and that the military is solely comprised of ruthless killers of civilians, then how much of that falls on your shoulders? If you're comparing the actions of the current American government to that of Nazi Germany and finding them too close for comfort, then I guess you do whatever you think the Germans should have done back then.

Damned if I can figure out what that is though, putting myself in the shoes of an American. Bush is gone, you didn't vote in McCain...

I don't know.
posted by ODiV at 9:46 AM on March 23, 2011

I could have been in the military. The Navy tried to recruit me when I was in college. They would have paid my way through school and given me a job at the end. If I didn't have the means, saying no to them might have meant that I wouldn't have a degree. For many in the US, the military is one of the few reasonably successful routes to an education, a higher economic class, and even citizenship.

I think the notion of being 'OK' with killing when signing up for the military is probably not true for most. It's a measure of how not OK recruits are with killing that training is geared not just to team them how to kill, but also to overcome their deep inhibitions to killing.

I hope I never have the chance to find out for myself.
posted by zippy at 10:05 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

team -> teach
posted by zippy at 10:06 AM on March 23, 2011

This is logical nonsense. Of course there is a comparison. While America isn't as evil as Nazi Germany, we have our own set of empty rhetoric that we use when we decide to kill a few hundred thousand people to achieve our geopolitical objectives. Remember, the Jews were secret communists and terrorists who were plotting to destroy the Fatherland. Our scapegoats are radical Muslims. We rationalize massive death and carnage for Freedom and Democracy, when it's pretty obvious that we're killing people to maintain our access to their oil, as we have been doing since the first World War.

One can certainly disagree with our response to them, but "radical Muslims" or Islamic terrorists are not a "scapegoat" to the U.S., but rather a genuine enemy and threat.

We certainly could have imported more Iraqi oil without invading Iraq. The Iraq war did not improve our access to oil, but rather stimulated oil prices at the expense of our economy. When Iraq awarded oil contracts 2 years ago, they went to Asian and European companies. The idea that the war was motivated by oil is not particularly supported by any facts.

in terms of nations who have waged aggressive wars since then, we are solidly number one. This is why dismissing comparisons to Nazi Germany is dangerous. Obviously that case proves that there is a certain point when soldiers need to stop obeying orders. Instead of waiting to retire to criticize civilian leadership, they need to show some actual courage and resign in protest. To be blunt, it takes less courage to order other people into war than it does to do the right thing and put your job and career on the line.

Enough people have come forward who served and said that they knew what they were doing was wrong. When you are confronted with a choice, and you pick the easier path of "I'm just doing my job" or "I'm just following orders" instead of "I'm going to do the right thing and face the consequences," you are still accountable for that choice.
posted by notion at 8:30 AM on March 23

The U.S. fought the Cold War and has since had a few "pre-emptive" adventures; however Nazi Germany is still completely incomparable for the obvious reasons.

Soldiers are the ones facing the consequences. They must obey their orders, except in the direst circumstances, for good and obvious reasons; likewise the military as a whole must follow the authority of the executive and legislative branches of government. It is very easy, not to mention simplistic, for you to say that this obedience is a lack of courage.
posted by knoyers at 1:08 PM on March 23, 2011

One can certainly disagree with our response to them, but "radical Muslims" or Islamic terrorists are not a "scapegoat" to the U.S., but rather a genuine enemy and threat.

Let's just talk about numbers.

the DoD doesn't track "collateral damage" but estimates range from 100,000 to 1 million Iraq casualties. If we average this we got 550,000

"Estimates for Holocaust deaths range between 5.1 to 6.0 million Jews." An average is 5.55 million

So yeah when we just count dead people the Nazi Holocaust is worse, by about an order of magnitude, but saying it's incomparable is plainly wrong and insulting to half a million dead Iraqis.

Again, how many people does the US military need to kill before we condemn all those who continue to volunteer as soldiers, cooks, doctors, mechanics, logisticians, sailors, airmen, etc etc.

Obviously there is no exact number and I am being daft to suggest there is, but it's as equally absurd to not even consider the sheer scale of the current destruction and not take a moment to consider if this should continue. We need to stop our knee jerk and unthinking slogans of "Support the Troops not the War" because the troops are what allows this war to continue, no troops no war.

If the war is wrong then those who perpetuate it are wrong. Is that a controversial statement?
posted by Shit Parade at 1:47 PM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

The U.S. fought the Cold War and has since had a few "pre-emptive" adventures; however Nazi Germany is still completely incomparable for the obvious reasons.

The U.S. has engaged in multiple wars of choice. Vietnam is but one example. Vietnam did not at any time pose a threat to the U.S., nor did Laos, nor did Cambodia, and yet we unleashed multiple wars all over Indochina resulting in civilians dying by the millions. MILLIONS. The fallout, in leftover ordinance and chemical warfare contamination (just one data point: Laos was the most heavily bombed country in history) and people are dying directly from these effects to this day.

This is just Indochina. There were more such victims of our aggression. We can count them in many, many millions. Does it make sense to compare this to the results of actions taken by the German military, specifically Wehrmacht in WWII? Well, I'm sure the millions of victims in either case don't care who killed them dead, as dead is dead. But if we are looking for scale - sheer scale - Wehrmacht in WWII is the closest. And so it makes sense to compare them, because crucially, these were wars of aggression (incidentally, the Soviets were handy boogeymen/justification for both the U.S. and the Nazis).

Yes, it is entirely appropriate as a comparison. Not as in "U.S. military" to "the Nazis". But as in "U.S. miliitary" to "Wehrmacht in WWII" (i.e. excluding Waffen-SS etc.).

Soldiers are the ones facing the consequences. They must obey their orders, except in the direst circumstances, for good and obvious reasons; likewise the military as a whole must follow the authority of the executive and legislative branches of government. It is very easy, not to mention simplistic, for you to say that this obedience is a lack of courage.

When the military in a given country is used as an instrument of civilian death on a vast scale whether directly or indirectly in wars of aggression - as was Wehrmacht in WWII and the U.S. military (since 2003 most recently), it is the duty of every citizen to not become part of this machinery of death. Without volunteers, the machine cannot be used. When Wehrmacht changed after 1945, it could be argued that you could morally join again. You could also argue that the U.S. military was no longer the same after Vietnam, so you could join again. But you cannot do so after Iraq, because that is still ongoing - it is a machinery of death no moral citizen should join.

Joining the U.S. military today is morally equivalent to joining the Wehrmacht of 1943, not the Wehrmacht of 1953. Pleading poverty, wishing to have your school paid for, health benefits or other excuses are not justifications for joining such evil.
posted by VikingSword at 1:52 PM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

One can certainly disagree with our response to them, but "radical Muslims" or Islamic terrorists are not a "scapegoat" to the U.S., but rather a genuine enemy and threat.

More people have died from car accidents in the last 6 months than have died from Islamic terrorism in the last 50 years. I didn't even have to look that up.

So get specific: what weaponry do they possess that threatens our way of life, or the capabilities to defeat our army on American soil? Feel free to include official allies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, as they will no doubt be enemies soon enough. But when they return to attack us with the weapons we sold them or allowed them to develop in exchange for fighting terrorism, I don't want to hear any bitching.

When Iraq awarded oil contracts 2 years ago, they went to Asian and European companies. The idea that the war was motivated by oil is not particularly supported by any facts.
Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.

The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations.

The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India. The contracts, which would run for one to two years and are relatively small by industry standards, would nonetheless give the companies an advantage in bidding on future contracts in a country that many experts consider to be the best hope for a large-scale increase in oil production. (source)
Your opinion is unsupported by reality.

likewise the military as a whole must follow the authority of the executive and legislative branches of government. It is very easy, not to mention simplistic, for you to say that this obedience is a lack of courage.

So, if you were under the command of Qaddafi, you'd open fire? I'd call that lack of courage without any reservations.
posted by notion at 1:57 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

VikingSword: If our military is that bad, then you have a moral duty to do everything you can to oppose it and its crimes. Hope you get on that soon.

The behavior in those photos absolutely deserves serious criminal investigation and, barring the most mind-boggling of justifications (as in, "I can't possibly imagine what would justify this"), then these crimes deserve the most severe penalties available.

But I'm sorry, I'm unwilling to start calling out the entire US military as Nazis. The messes we are in are not the fault of the military. It's the fault of the US population for continually electing morons like Bush, for letting Obama get away with his continual backpedalling (yep, I voted for Obama, too), and for not clearly and loudly rejecting a media apparatus that failed in its duty every step of the way toward Iraq.

(Yes, Iraq. Not Afghanistan. Far as I can tell, we could've been out of Afghanistan a long time ago had we not diverted so much energy, resources and military strength for Iraq.)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:31 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

VikingSword: If our military is that bad, then you have a moral duty to do everything you can to oppose it and its crimes. Hope you get on that soon.

That's silly. There's something called a measured response. That's why things like civil disobedience exist. It would be pretty stupid to suggest to someone who is involved in non-cooperation that they pick up arms or alter their way of protest. The measured response in this case, is not to join the military - that deprives the machinery of key parts and prevents it from functioning. That's quite enough, and all I called for. After all the question was not "how shall we change America", but "is it moral to join the U.S. military after Iraq" - and my answer is "NO". You are suggesting answers to completely different questions, which were not being addressed.

But I'm sorry, I'm unwilling to start calling out the entire US military as Nazis.

Neither am I. Let me quote exactly what I said: "Yes, it is entirely appropriate as a comparison. Not as in "U.S. military" to "the Nazis". But as in "U.S. miliitary" to "Wehrmacht in WWII" (i.e. excluding Waffen-SS etc.)."

I very deliberately made a distinction between the Wehrmacht and Nazis. I didn't compare anyone to Nazis.

But the Wehrmacht does bear great resemblance to the U.S. military. Here's a brief summary:

"The Nuremberg Trials of the major war criminals at the end of World War II found that the Wehrmacht was not an inherently criminal organization, but that it had committed crimes in the course of the war. Several high ranked members of the Wehrmacht like Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl were convicted for their involvement in war crimes."

Neither the U.S. military of today, nor Wehrmacht of WWII are/were "inherently criminal organizations", but both committed crimes in the course of war. That is exactly my position. That is why I was very careful, to in each instance draw the comparison to Wehrmacht only, and actually specifically excluded formations such as Waffen-SS and other organizations involved in such things as death camps etc.

Incidentally, the Wehrmacht by Constitution was even more apolitical - at least initially - than the U.S. military:

"Due to the constitution of the Weimar Republic, no soldier of the Reichswehr was either allowed to become a member of a political party or to vote in an election because there was a strict separation between politics and the armed forces. The same applied later to the Wehrmacht."

The messes we are in are not the fault of the military.

Nor did I claim that it was the "fault" of the military. And the messes of WWII were not the "fault" of the Wehrmacht either (see above). That however is not the issue. What I claimed all along, is that unquestionably both the U.S. military and Wehrmacht were the instruments of wars which themselves were criminal in nature. And that is why, joining in such an organization - when you know it is currently being used for such criminal and immoral purposes - is morally objectionable.

Neither the Wehrmacht nor the U.S. military are inherently criminal organizations. But both are/were used for criminal and immoral wars of aggression. Perhaps one day they won't be involved in such wars, but until then, it is wrong to join them.

It's the fault of the US population for continually electing morons like Bush, for letting Obama get away with his continual backpedalling (yep, I voted for Obama, too), and for not clearly and loudly rejecting a media apparatus that failed in its duty every step of the way toward Iraq.

Agreed. And this should be opposed. But that is a distinct issue from the morality of joining the U.S. military today as it is put to use in criminal and immoral wars. We can simultaneously fight politically against Bush, Obama on this issue etc., and we can also refuse to give them the tools with which to commit further outrages. One does not exclude the other.

When would it be OK to join the U.S. military again? From my point of view (I am not a pacifist), realistically, when we are entirely militarily 100% out of Iraq so that no active member of the military is in Iraq in any official function (fruit of a poisonous tree), when we have called into account and held legally responsible those who have led us into the Iraq war, when we have utterly repudiated any war of aggression going forward and secured legal guarantees through acts of congress that we shall never again be engaged in such a war again. I personally, would like to see purely defensive forces and our military cut down by 90%.

Until then, I - and many others - hold anyone morally responsible for joining the military after 2005.
posted by VikingSword at 3:10 PM on March 23, 2011 [7 favorites]

Some figures (various sources, take with grain of salt) place between 3 and 5% of the general population in categories of sociopathy/ psychopathy. Some of these people make it into various branches of the armed forces.

Some soldiers kill as a job, and many do it well. Others are changed by being in a situation where their fight-or-flight response is constantly stimulated, or angry, frustrated, and scared at the prospect of being a target all the time. Some are psychically destroyed by doing it. Some soldiers aren't affected by killing. Some really like it. This last group is by no means all, most, or even many members of the military. It's reasonable to assume that special forces groups will have a slightly higher percentage of the former group-- the assumption being that they will seek out higher-levels of training and more access to higher-tempo operations.

It's a shame that things like this (trophy-taking, posing for photos, and the worse things that occur when chain of command and order are compromised) happen, at all, ever. It's a shame that we, as a species, seem to really excel at killing. I hope that when soldiers break free from the constraints they are placed under (to maintain order, operational efficiency, and some sense of . . . I don't know, decorum (can there be decorum in war?), they will be dealt with administratively, including courts-martial and imprisonment.
posted by exlotuseater at 4:48 PM on March 23, 2011

"Did ordinary Germans have "good reasons" to join the Wehrmacht during WWII?"

No, but the Good Germans made exactly the same excuses to themselves and the world for allowing their government to continue to prosecute the war effort when they stayed at home suddenly the military was somehow not part of their country. Despite the fact that it was non-combat and paramilitary forces involved in genocide (combat forces were on the fronts).
The allies fought this with denazification - the entire German people bore responsibility, not just the Nazis.

We don't accept that because then the political policies some of our leaders (democrats even!) voted and crafted would be wrong and that would mean that we .... gasp!

It must be that our complete lack of effort, creativity and sheer laziness is right and using the military as some sort of universal problem solver in every single foreign policy question is perfectly fine.

It's just that, what, we have to blame the people who we send on these asinine trips to get it to stop?

Again, a complete failure to not only understand the basic military and political elements involved, but a complete lack of desire to do anything but fail and cart a moral
chip around on one's shoulder.

Get soldiers to stop fighting. Really.
Because that's worked throughout history? Ever?

If only the people shooting at Gaddafi would stop fighting. Then we'd have peace. Also the one's shooting at the people shooting at Gaddafi. They could all maybe have a race instead.
The political nuance is just that simple.

I agree with some of the sentiment. But the way it always comes out in these threads. Yeah, I don't think someone should sign up right now. But then - a LOT more than just Iraq and Afghanistan is going on.

If nothing else - it will never work to stop people from joining the military.

Even if I could take such a skewed absolute "the only good indian is a dead indian" viewpoint that anyone who serves in any capacity is as culpable for crimes committed within the organization by the policy makers who order them executed, I still wouldn't take the position that people who join the military do so to become bloodthirsty killers because there's "so much information out there."

No, young men have always sought ways to distinguish themselves and show their courage and worth in their society. War has traditionally, and unfortunately been one
of those ways.

And instead of fighting the environment which fosters and exploits this, the idea is to, what? Derogate them and insult them in order to ... get them to join your side?

Yea, well thought out plan there with an eye to human behavior, adolescent psychology, modern propaganda and the war profiteering defense contractor influence.
I'm sure you're all versed in the American Protective League and aware of how social pressure affects people, well beyond understanding different perspectives other societies and other groups of thought in societies.

And what if you're right? There are just some people who are bloodthirsty, stupid, cruel and hateful bastards who just want to kill someone? They're somehow going to be shut down when everyone else turns their swords to plowshares? Like there are no Private Military Companies?

"Right. Which is why training focuses so heavily on well-reasoned decision making, debate, and philosophy, and never exposes recruits to the idea that they should listen unquestioningly to an authority figure."

Been there have ya? Because that's exactly what I studied. And training is heavy on well-reasoned decision making, despite the chain of command. In the past, in other militaries, officers were appointed because they were sons of aristocrats and so forth. That failed pretty miserably. Modern armies depend heavily on redundancy in communication. Not only should everyone know the same things and have overlaps of knowledge, but noncoms can and do hold officers accountable for poor decisions.

"No, because police officers kill people surprisingly infrequently. They tend to be brutal, and there are a lot of abuses of power that emerge from law enforcement, but they generally don't round up a village full of people and kill them."

Really? Democide was the leading cause of violent death last century. The Interahamwe were paramiltary (you of course know they were the guys with the machetes in Rwanda) lead by police forces. The Serbian police led the Federal army (because the cops knew the civilian population and their homes) to systematically rape, beat and kill civilians and burn them out of their houses to force them to go to Albania. (12th anniversary today in fact of the NATO bombing). The Gestapo and the Ordnungspolizei were pretty central in the Holocaust. They were police forces. The GPU, Stalin's police, routinely killed farmers, protesters and undesirables; and aided in causing a huge famine.
So police, more generally than soldiers, round up villages full of people and kill them.
Typically, combat troops are in combat.

"Nobody in the 21st century American armed forces is "defending" or "benefiting" me."

Some folks I know just sealed up some nuclear material that was missing thanks to the recent treaty. Didn't make the news but it seems to me not having rogue nuclear weapons going off near you certainly, but anywhere really, is a pretty big benefit. Risked their lives to do it.
You're welcome.

"The measured response in this case, is not to join the military - that deprives the machinery of key parts and prevents it from functioning."

Except it doesn't. PMCs. Civilian contractors. So even if nearly everyone refuses to join, taxes go up or the budget shifts and we've got an all merc army running with privately supplied equipment and material.
It's as silly to morally condemn people for signing up as it is to morally condemn people for joining a religion. All genuine moral considerations aside, you're either preaching to the choir or castigating a heretic. The problem is not going to be solved that way.

"Umm. I think the photos are a problem. Why is there a need to take photos like this in the first place? What compels a soldier into thinking, this is a good thing to keep with me? I cannot understand that."

I suspect it's the same thing that has people who hunt take trophies. I never understood it as something to be proud of. I do understand it as a trophy. In that, there is a behavior where people do something and they show it off. I've never done that myself. I have trophies from playing ball and fighting. I have no idea where they are. I threw out most of the stuff I couldn't sell. So even on a mundane "hey, I bowled a 300 game" or something level, I don't collect them.
Proof, perhaps? Of having done something extraordinary. (To be clear - I mean that word literally, not in the superlative sense that's become common, although that doubtless applies to their perspective of the event).

I've always thought it separates one from the experience. When I hunt, I eat. So too, when I've played or fought, I've done it to the best of my ability so it's become an indelible part of me.
So too when I've killed. And I think that's instructive. Harden one's heart so much, one loses all empathy and the environment, even other people, becomes alien. And so, become things to be collected. Joe Conrad goes a bit further with Kurtz and has him cannibalize some. Lincoln said that all men can bear some adversity, but if you want to test someone's character, give them power.

"The wilderness had patted him on the head, and, behold, it was like a ball--an ivory ball; it had caressed him, and--lo!--he had withered; it had taken him, loved him, embraced him, got into his veins, consumed his flesh, and sealed his soul to its own by the inconceivable ceremonies of some devilish initiation. He was its spoiled and pampered favourite. . . . How many powers of darkness claimed him for their own. . . . The wilderness . . . had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know . . . the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core. . . . The heavy, mute spell of the wilderness . . . seemed to draw him to its pitiless breast by the awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, by the memory of gratified and monstrous passions." - Heart of Darkness
posted by Smedleyman at 11:24 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I will add - because these kinds of discussions come up in threads like these and not in discussions of other military action - that it's intellectually dishonest to conflate individual atrocity with collective responsibility for the execution of a policy.

Further, atrocities can, have and do occur in wars considered just or legitimate.

One can argue that, unlike the goons here, a warfighter can conduct themselves by the rules of engagement and act perfectly legitimately and still be an element of an atrocity.
That would be systemic atrocity though caused by institutional structure, policy and social forces that all bear on individual moral action.
And demanding individual moral responsibility for systemic atrocity is lazy and ultimately fails in any practical measure because it disassociates troops from the policy environment. As though war can't proceed unless Joe Enlisted heads off to the recruiter.
Silly.

It is a valid desire to look to assign responsibility.
However I think most assignation of blame in the manner above seeks to avoid responsibility, not only for oneself, but as I alluded to with the Germans, for one's society.

This is not to say individual troops are not responsible for their actions and, without getting into intent, bear some responsibility for the execution of a given policy (not everyone in the U.S. is in agreement on what constitutes legitimate foreign policy - I oppose our involvement in Iraq on the grounds that a pre-emptive war is illegitimate, not on the grounds that innocent people might be killed. The latter happens in every war. The former is a matter of policy)

It's disingenuous to assert not only one's own information environment ('cos everyone goes to college, has the internet, avoids churches, doesn't have a t.v., right guyz?) but to conflate individual morality without the moral context of what are typically very dissimilar social structures.

Troops do not have the autonomy most folks enjoy. They're constrained by command structure and policy dictates.

Granted - don't put yourself in that position. But that's just one discreet structure and that applies to the situation before or during any war, just or unjust. And I myself don't advocate joining the armed forces, only that it's possible to serve in a useful, even noble capacity, typically DESPITE the demands of the civilian population (by proxy of the electorate).

Even at that, we already have mercs, we know even thousands of enlisted men can't start a war on their own so we know that war, legitimate or not, is an action taken by a larger social structure.
I don't blame Obama or most political leaders* in that sense either, their autonomy constrained as well by context (political, social, etc). Collective social action is based on an understanding of one's own social role and much of that action is put on rails by prior policy choices.
*Bushco I consider an aberration since they radically altered policy decision making and indeed had the whole 'shadow government' thing going on outside the political process (I'm not wearing a tinfoil hat that's the term they themselves used and the description of what they were doing).

And it is the reticence to address this that makes civilian deaths invisible. It's not like people are coming off the battlefield and somehow actively covering up bombings or civilian casualties. Indeed, I - and many veterans I know - were appalled at the Bush administrations hiding of military casualties by refusing to allow photographs of the dead.

So again - the initial and ongoing cause for those deaths (civilian and our own military casualties) lay with organized groups with identities and decision making structures that have (or create) roles in prosecuting wars. Those groups do have moral agency and this does trump the individual autonomy of individuals, even sometimes individuals within those groups.

Again - this doesn't eliminate the responsibility of individuals for their actions, most particularly in terms of individual atrocities. But group responsibility does exist, is more powerful certain and, I argue, more relevant. And engaging it (with the goal of changing it or even eliminating it in some cases) is more useful than castigating individuals for whatever discreet packets of moral responsibility they bear.
Particularly when the group has a stronger associative identity. Most particularly when there's a collective cause and/or a systemic structure to pull apart and attack.

Hell, you know this just from human psychology. Throw a rock at some guy in a crowd at a train station say. No one is going to consider that an attack on "commuters." They're going to think you had a beef with that particular guy, or it was random.
Throw a rock at a Hell's Angel. Let's say you knock him out and he's not involved in anything after that. You still get a short, likely painful lesson on collective identity and group mobilization.

In any event, individual troops do not start wars no matter how crazy they are. "Rambo" is a fiction. For some reason people know the super-soldier thing is a myth, and yet in these discussions, suddenly believe it works if it's negative.

The military is certainly a group, and does bear some responsibility, but armed forces (with the exception of military dictatorships) act at the direction of the state/ civilian authority. They don't have the autonomy as a group to start wars. They go to war on the assumption that any given war is legitimate if it is not grossly obvious that it is illegal. And indeed they must, if they are not to become a military dictatorship, cede moral authority to political leadership.

So elected officials from both the executive and legislative branches (in the U.S.) are responsible (perhaps the judiciary, although I don't see much) for conducting and funding the war, and culpable when they don't end it.
In the case of Iraq - they had years to shut it down. Plenty of democrats there. Nada.
Which brings us to citizens collective moral responsibility for materially supporting the policies and elected officials that lead to war and the commission of systemic atrocities.

If we argue that individual is given more power and more direct responsibility as a logical consequence of enlistment we must also recognize they are under greater restraint and acting on behalf of a social organization that has far greater license.

Failure to do that means we make the moral mistake of ignoring how an individuals action is constrained by our social institutions and the analytic error of how to redress those structural features, which leads to creating the context for unjust war, atrocities, etc. over and over again.
And this "just stop people from making war" rhetoric, which in practice only assuages feelings of inadequacy and guilt - which leads to disassociation of one's own role in society and assertion of impotence in effecting change.
Which not only increases antagonism and disassociation with the individuals who join the service, but aids in reinforcing the social structures which perpetuate the abuse of war powers and violence.

Perversely, in some cases the transfer of conscience (I'm going with Robert Lifton and the Psychology of Genocide here) is aided by having a group as one of the moral poles, whether in contrast to or as a response to this kind of moral criticism.

This is why (again to borrow from Lifton) we have the repudiation of the meaning of the reality in the U.S.
The opposition is not loyal, there is no recognition of the co-mingling of personal and community interests, just cliche' and criticism without regard to establishing a standard for an inclusive moral community.

"They" are wrong, as an inherent property, be they liberals, conservatives, muslims, pro-lifers, whatever. 'Otherness' is an eternal property of being, not an impediment to reconciliation and understanding with what is essentially a human being like ourselves (and if you're thinking "but Smedley, THEY dehumanize people, WE don't ... uh huh ... rethink about that for a second).

If the military is the Wehrmacht, U.S. society is most certainly the dissociated and psychically numb German society.

Unless war atrocities are brand new and endemic to the U.S., blaming individuals is silly. Indeed, excusing them is silly as well. But it's impossible to send someone off to war and expect in all cases accidental killing or, statistically, atrocities, won't occur.

Instead of looking for absolution by saying "Well, *I* didn't do anything and that makes me a good person unlike those people" maybe we should recognize that collective responsibility essentially shapes the framework for individual moral action and we should address those features in order to avoid - again - forgetting our collective responsibility for the systems that enable and perpetuate abuse and systemic atrocity.

Not that it really matters. Double edged sword here is that one can make a reasoned, cogent argument regarding this topic, indeed even acting on the principles involved by presenting a logical course of action with an eye toward consensual validation and community harmony, and the same irrational arguments and gainsaying will occur whenever something like this post comes up completely ignoring what came before.
"Lookit what they did! All soljers are teh evil!"
"No they're grate U suck!"
"NO U!"
etc.

*tap tap*
shit, I don't even think this thing is on.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:45 AM on March 24, 2011

Some folks I know just sealed up some nuclear material that was missing thanks to the recent treaty. Didn't make the news but it seems to me not having rogue nuclear weapons going off near you certainly, but anywhere really, is a pretty big benefit. Risked their lives to do it.

You're welcome.

I call bullshit. Sealing nuclear material would be such a political goldmine that no politician, or anyone who works for a politician, would allow it to go unnoticed. Perhaps it's because the nuclear materials were in the possession of an official ally, in which case, that adds another argument against the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" doctrine, and proves that the war we are fighting has nothing to do with keeping American citizens out of danger.

In any case, fuck empty claims. Show me the money.
posted by notion at 10:22 AM on March 24, 2011

Let's just talk about numbers.

the DoD doesn't track "collateral damage" but estimates range from 100,000 to 1 million Iraq casualties. If we average this we got 550,000

"Estimates for Holocaust deaths range between 5.1 to 6.0 million Jews." An average is 5.55 million

So yeah when we just count dead people the Nazi Holocaust is worse, by about an order of magnitude, but saying it's incomparable is plainly wrong and insulting to half a million dead Iraqis.

Again, how many people does the US military need to kill before we condemn all those who continue to volunteer as soldiers, cooks, doctors, mechanics, logisticians, sailors, airmen, etc etc.

Obviously there is no exact number and I am being daft to suggest there is, but it's as equally absurd to not even consider the sheer scale of the current destruction and not take a moment to consider if this should continue. We need to stop our knee jerk and unthinking slogans of "Support the Troops not the War" because the troops are what allows this war to continue, no troops no war.

If the war is wrong then those who perpetuate it are wrong. Is that a controversial statement?
posted by Shit Parade at 1:47 PM on March 23 [3 favorites +]

"Let's just talk numbers?" Those are misleading numbers on both accounts. Five to six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, and millions of other non-Jewish civilians in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, plus the Gypsies. The total is far higher.

On the other hand, figures for casualties of the Iraq War include victims of the extremely brutal Iraqi civil war (which the U.S. caused by creating a power vacuum) in addition to those killed by the U.S. military (many, if not all, in combat). I would think that the former exceeded the latter. You make it sound as if the U.S. executed hundreds of thousands of civilians... that is not what happened.

This whole comparison is illegitimate and stupid for reasons that should be readily apparent and I apologize (to myself) for playing a part in moving this argument in such a cringeworthy direction.

When the military in a given country is used as an instrument of civilian death on a vast scale whether directly or indirectly in wars of aggression - as was Wehrmacht in WWII and the U.S. military (since 2003 most recently), it is the duty of every citizen to not become part of this machinery of death. Without volunteers, the machine cannot be used. When Wehrmacht changed after 1945, it could be argued that you could morally join again. You could also argue that the U.S. military was no longer the same after Vietnam, so you could join again. But you cannot do so after Iraq, because that is still ongoing - it is a machinery of death no moral citizen should join.

Joining the U.S. military today is morally equivalent to joining the Wehrmacht of 1943, not the Wehrmacht of 1953. Pleading poverty, wishing to have your school paid for, health benefits or other excuses are not justifications for joining such evil.
posted by VikingSword at 1:52 PM on March 23 [3 favorites +]

Regardless of what one thinks of the recent wars that the U.S. has engaged in, the U.S. still requires a military and people who will serve in it honorably. Likewise, even if a police force is known to be corrupt, the whole local justice system acknowledged as grossly unfair, that city still needs to have police in order to function, and one can be a police officer, and try to make something better in some way. Serving in the U.S. military is likewise an honorable pursuit for those who are loyal to the U.S, who care about the U.S., because by serving in the military they are serving their country.

Saying that no one (speaking not just of oneself, but of everyone) can honorably serve in the military because the wars are pointless or wrong is rather like saying that no one can honorably remain a resident of the U.S. after a Republican president is elected. And I certainly cannot understand how someone who thinks this way (i.e. one who thinks that, at present, aiding the military is inherently wrong) can pay taxes. We all voluntarily serve the military just like the soldiers do.

Nazi Germany was dedicated to exterminating and deporting millions and millions of people. That is no comparison to the U.S. and its military, even with the stupidity and tragedy of the Iraq war.
More people have died from car accidents in the last 6 months than have died from Islamic terrorism in the last 50 years. I didn't even have to look that up.

So get specific: what weaponry do they possess that threatens our way of life, or the capabilities to defeat our army on American soil?

It is undoubtedly true that many things (such as heart disease and unsafe driving) are statistically much greater threats to American life than terrorism. That is irrelevant... it would be deeply wrong for the U.S. or any country to passively tolerate any amount of terrorist violence against its citizens whatsoever. As it happens, I watched the Twin Towers fall from a close proximity, and I know that Islamic terrorists are not just a scapegoat, but a real concern for Americans and for the U.S.

Your opinion is unsupported by reality.

Invading Iraq could not have been the easiest way for oil companies to get contracts there, if that was the point of it all.

Moreover, only one corporation involved (Exxon) is American.

So, if you were under the command of Qaddafi, you'd open fire? I'd call that lack of courage without any reservations.
posted by notion at 1:57 PM on March 23

I said that soldiers must obey orders except in the direst circumstances. Otherwise militaries simply couldn't function, obviously. When I wrote that, of course I did not mean that soldiers should obey orders to shoot protestors... that would qualify as very "dire" to me, at least.
posted by knoyers at 8:37 PM on March 26, 2011

Homunculus: you should also link to the photo album. I don't really know what else to say about it - any comment would sound like hyperbole.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:58 AM on April 13, 2011

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