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Blog Archive – August, 2007

Soldiers Tell the Truth--Is It Enough?

August 05, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

American soldiers' testimonials: Part 2

Chris Hedges is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School who went on to a career as a foreign correspondent for a number of newspapers. So one should not be surprised that he is the thinker and writer who is asking questions about how soldiers view their killings and their related war work. In a recent article " The Death Mask Of War: American Marines and soldiers have become socialized to atrocity" (Information Clearing House, July 29, 07), Hedges concludes "The war in Iraq is now primarily about murder. There is very little killing."

 

He proceeds to ask essential questions one rarely hears: what is the culture supporting these murders? He recognizes the answer does not lie in a profitable defense industry, or the appeal of advanced weapons technology, or the immaturity of soldiers, boys barely out of highschool.

Hedges, like many of us, has heard those gruesome, soft-spoken, often cool-headed testimonials by US Iraq was veterans recalling their murderous careers. "The Iraq war", he notes, "has unleashed a new wave of embittered veterans not seen since the Vietnam War. It has made it possible for us to begin, again, to see war's death mask."

Those testimonials seem to have the affect of absolving the young Americans from person responsibility. --He was just doing his job. He was young and ill-prepared. It's the officers and politicians who are responsible.-- That's the spin of the anti-war movement. It's almost like a Truth-and-Reconciliation exercise. Except this one is just for local consumption; it reconciles nothing with Iraqis.

Hedges' report looks more deeply than others into what lays behind the barbarity of US troops. "War", he notes, "is also the pornography of violence. It has a dark beauty, filled with the monstrous and the grotesque. The Bible calls it "the lust of the eye" and warns believers against it." Let us admit to the appeal in examining, over and over, the naked bodies of abused Iraqi men held at the US's Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Surely there is some irresistible voyeurism to be indulged in as, in the comfort of our living rooms, we view body parts and mutilated corpses of the enemy.

It is not just the troops on the ground doing the killing. It is the culture which educated and trained these men; it is the community who, voluntarily or otherwise, support the invasion and occupation.

"War allows us to engage in lusts and passions we keep hidden in the deepest, most private interiors of our fantasy life," notes Hedges. "It allows us to destroy not only things, but human beings. In that moment of wholesale destruction, we wield the power to the divine, the power to revoke another person's charter to live on this earth. The frenzy of this destruction -- and when unit discipline breaks down, or

there was no unit discipline to begin with, frenzy is the right word -- sees armed bands crazed by the poisonous elixir our power to bring about the obliteration of others delivers. All things, including human beings, become objects -- objects to either gratify or destroy or both. Almost no one is immune. The contagion of the crowd sees to that.

"It takes little in wartime to turn ordinary men into killers. Most give themselves willingly to the seduction of unlimited power to destroy, and all feel the peer pressure to conform. Few, once in battle, find the strength to resist. Physical courage is common on a battlefield. Moral courage is not."

Are sergeants and other officers who receive recruits into the battlefield know they are taping into these conditions--the unlimited power to destroy; the ease of seeing someone darker skinned and unable to communicate with him, as subhuman?

So the Iraqi street, which is the battlefield, is like a graduate school that turns boys into men. There, they can indulge in unlimited exercises to prove their manliness, to justify their being in an alien land, to make America's  (and their own) presence there seem totally right, and justified.

Hedges, by the end of his review of soldiers' confessions, suggests that these testimonials have the redemptive power to save us from ourselves. They remove the mask.

Here, I disagree with Hedges. These are exercises of cleansing that will allow us to do them again, and that allow us to become the only arbiter and moral judge of war. We ourselves are not the appropriate persons to assess our wrongs.

For me, the danger of these truth sessions is to conclude that since we have told the truth, there need be no further searching-- neither jural, moral, spiritual or psychological. It is as if no one else need judge an American. A very dangerous outcome.

[ Soldiers Tell the Truth--Is It Enough? ]


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