Thursday, April 27, 2006

Militaries make bad apples

People enlist in the military for all kinds of reasons, because they think it will make them 'proper men' or 'proper women,' (whatever those may be) because they're 'patriotic' (aka nationalist), because they don't know what else to do with their lives, because they want to go to college and can't afford it any other way, because they want to travel, because they want to feel part of something bigger than they are. Lots of different reasons, not least of which is a failure to think about the consequences of their actions.

Militaries (and I don't care whether you're talking about the N.Z. military, the U.S. military or the Indian military because they have all committed war crimes) take those recruits and persuade them that because they have put on a uniform, deeds that were murder last week are virtuous and noble this week, so long as someone else says so.

I'm with Shelley:

"Man has no right to kill his brother. It is no excuse that he does so in uniform: he only adds the infamy of servitude to the crime of murder."

War is a fiction -- by that I don't mean that it is unreal, but that it depends on a kind of shared pretence, a shared delusion. We have to pretend that soldiers primarily fight other soldiers, when in fact , most casualties of twentieth and twenty-first century wars are civilian.

We believe that there's such a thing as a 'battlefield' where actually, there are cities, towns and farmland.

We believe that 'our' soldiers, unlike 'theirs' are good and noble and don't rape and murder civilians, yet we know that domestic abuse (which often involves sexual abuse and sometimes culminates in murder) occurs at a considerably higher rate in military families than in non-military families. (The most frequent figure I see quoted is that the rate is 5x higher)

War is a fiction. Most recruits have to be persuaded to believe in it. And as it happens, militaries (including the U.S. military) have been getting progressively better and better at persuading recruits that when they put on a uniform, killing becomes legitimate. Recruiting younger kids may help with this: I remember reading that the average age of soldiers in WWII was considerably higher and firing rates considerably lower. But training practices also have a lot to do with it. As CPT Pete Kilner, Instructor, U.S. Military Academy wrote in 2000

"American military leaders have been very successful in their task to create combat-effective units. In response to the War Department's World War II research that revealed that less than 25% of riflemen fired their weapons in combat, the military instituted training techniques--such as fire commands, battle drills, and realistic marksmanship ranges--that resulted in much improved combat firing rates. In the Korean War, 55% of the riflemen fired their weapons at the enemy, and by the Vietnam War that rate had increased to 90%."

He goes on to argue that observe that training tactics that drill recruits into acting reflexively instead of reflectively enables them to 'overcome' their reluctance to kill.

(Caveat: the article's main thrust concerns the fact that the success of this training regimen (and the higher firing rates in combat that result) causes increased levels of PTSD and that this can be countered by giving soldiers arguments that allow them to better justify to themselves what they have done. Sometimes words fail.)

But even as they undergo this brainwashing, there are many points at which they could refuse: others have done so, both in this war and in others. So I'm not willing to let soldiers off the hook, especially soldiers in an all-volunteer army.

I may feel sympathy for people who do young and stupid things, but I will not shed tears for soldiers. I will not 'remember their sacrifice', or buy poppies for ANZAC day, or mourn their deaths or attend their victory parades, or get a lump in my throat when I hear people say that 'They will not grow old as we that are left grow old.' I will not buy into the idea that they are defending me or protecting civilians, or defending freedom or any of that. I sure as hell don't thank them.

And the reason I won't do these things is that I'm no longer interested in sustaining the fictions and pretences of war. If a person killed someone on the street where I live, they would be called a murderer, whether or not they were dressed up in a pretty uniform or said 'but I was told to do it.' I don't see that the name should change, just because the killing didn't happen on the street where I live.


Another old diary from dKos slightly edited. Being both rigid of mind and replete with arrogant moral certitude, my opinions on this haven't shfited much in the interim.

And going completely off on a tangent, I think 500 hits is coming up, which is kind of nice.


Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

I can only imagine what showers of invective must have been launched at you if you posted this excellent dollop of word writing on the right wing blogs. Have I mentioned how proud I am to count you among my honorary great-grand-descendants? And may your 500 blossom into 500 thousand before you have time to blink. This latest piece just might do it ;)

The popular sentiment, at least in the US, is to justify war crimes by the following:

They don't know it is wrong

They only do it because they hope to obtain a financial benefit

They are helpless moral cripples without free will incapable of doing anything but obeying orders

They believe they are defending America's way of life

A politician told them it was the right thing to do

That's how girls like Lynndie was raised.

Now granted, even the most ardent champion of any or all of the above will acknowledge that none of those arguments would apply in the case of gunmen ordered to commit crimes against humanity against their own countrymen, or their own families.

America, remember, is an Exception.

So while personal moral responsibility may have been fine for the Nuremberg trials, and should certainly be applied in the case of Palestinian suicide bombers, to suggest that such a concept might be applied to Americans is well, anti-American.

One could make a good argument that the near-universalness of this view, not only among the US mainstream, but even among those who consider themselves not to be extreme right wingers, but more "centrist" is, in combination with the unquestioning acceptance of the premise that US is the boss of earth, is why there is no real "anti-war" movement in the US.

Those who claim to be opposed to the crusades are much more likely to base that opinion on the fact that "Saddam didn't have WMD, Bush lied" or "Iran doesn't have nukes" as opposed to a basic moral objection to colonialist wars of aggression and crimes against humanity on general principle.

It is the latter of which anti-war movements are made.

The notion of invading the wrong country at the wrong time for the wrong reason is simply an argument for invading a different country at a different time for another reason.

And any entity with aspirations of statehood should think very hard about whether it is really in its best interest to put its defense, in case such is ever really needed, in the hands of individuals who have no concept of right and wrong.

4/28/2006 3:15 am  
Blogger dove said...

Well 500 has come and gone.

It attracted rather little invective actually -- mostly a collective shrug of the shoulders I think.

I think what you're pointing out here about moral responsibility is hugely important.

That tension between freedom and constraint is something I keep circling around endlessly I think.

There's a few things I think about this and in some ways they're contradictory, hence the circling and tension.

Hmmm. I think I'm going to have to try and write about this at more length.

But I think there's an important difference between thinking that people are free to act, and thinking that that their actions will be without consequences. Just because one's choices may be attended by unpleasant consequences, does not mean that one is suddenly not a moral agent -- it does not mean that one is not free in the Sartrean sense at least.

And in places where everything has a market value, that which is free is easily confused with that which is worthless, I think.

Anyway -- confused ramblings.

4/28/2006 7:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi dove,

Congratulations on the 500 mark!! Whoohoo!! Way to go!!!

Will write a comment on "Militaries make bad apples" which I think is just brilliant, but am too distracted and overworked to come up with anything remotely coherenpoco

4/29/2006 3:03 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some rambling musings--thanks DTF and dove for prodding (it was a nice stroke for my ego)

A couple of days ago, one of those "point" programs on NPR (y'know "to the point" or is it "on point" or "point-less?" I can never keep them straight) did a thing on women in military. They had a couple of army women talking about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The women sounded smart and serious as they combatted some callers' insistence that the women were not qualified to be in certain combat duties. For instance, exploring the terrain in Afghanistan while carrying 100 pounds of weight was seen as a no-no for women. These army women responded that that would be a no-no for many men as well, and that if criteria for these sorts of duties were to be set, they should be gender neutral. All of the above is merely to give you a flavor of the program.

Then one mother called, her daughter had served one term of duty in Iraq and refused to serve another term and had gone AWOL due to the sexual harassment she had faced from her male unit members. The anchor made appropriate outraged sounds, the army women joined in and said that while such events happened, the command should have intervened on behalf of the young women. The mom said, that despite complaints, nothing was done, and the perpetrators were in fact promoted.

The bulk of the programme, however, was taken by the anchor and various callers expressing their deep unease at the dangers that the women were facing--the bombs, deaths, and maimings that these women were being exposed to. One of the army women on the program had been wounded quite horribly. While the anchor acknowledged that women had always served in the military, he was terribly anxious about what he saw as a new aspect--that now they were serving in the dangerous combat part of military.

Too despairing to rant here but how is it possible to talk about women in military facing death and maiming and feel deeply uneasy about it and not once, not even one single time, mention all those women not in the military who have been bombed and killed and maimed and orphaned and widowed and left brotherless and sisterless and childless for the crime of living in Iraq and Afghanistan? How does one manage to compartmentalize the mind in this way?


5/01/2006 8:48 pm  
Blogger dove said...

"Too despairing to rant here but how is it possible to talk about women in military facing death and maiming and feel deeply uneasy about it and not once, not even one single time, mention all those women not in the military who have been bombed and killed and maimed and orphaned and widowed and left brotherless and sisterless and childless for the crime of living in Iraq and Afghanistan? How does one manage to compartmentalize the mind in this way?"

Because they don't really regard those women as human. I think that's what it comes down to at its sordid core.

Although to be fair, the fanciful notion that wars are fought by 'combatants' against other 'combatants' is also implicated here. Given the extent to which civilian casualties outnumber 'military' casualties in modern warfare, it is hard to escape the conclusion that wars are fought primarily by 'combatants' against civilians.

So, a combination of superiority and self-deception, I suppose.

Have you come across Cynthia Enloe's work -- she's done a lot of writing on women and militarism, which gets into some of the issues that you raise. She's a fabulous writer and I suspect you'd find her work really interesting.

5/01/2006 10:18 pm  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

I think it was Karpinsky, the lady general of the Ghraib who after being hung out to dry while Sanchez et al got promotions, revealed that lady crusaders in Iraq were dying of dehydration because if they drank, they would have to go to the restroom, which was far from their sleeping quarters, located to be rape-friendly for their male comrades in atrocity, and they preferred to die of thirst than submit to the rapes.

5/02/2006 1:10 pm  

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