UPDATE: Notebook, 17 May 2012: Covered in Glory

Sorry, Diane Dimond, but regarding Sgt. Robert Bales and the armed forces of the United States, your opinion means nothing. For that matter, neither does mine.

In her HuffPo piece, and certainly on her talk radio show (that should send a red flag up right there. This was in error on my part. When called on it by Diane Dimond (here, I rechecked my source for that and found that I should have read her HuffPo bio more carefully. She is correct. She is not a talk show radio host, but a moveable feast, who writes for The Daily Beast and appears frequently on television news outlets) she stands In Defense of the United States Military and in the process, manages to trash Sgt. Robert Bales. She must feel very comfortable. She must have that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you take a position you feel is unassailable. A position you know many “right thinking people” will rise to defend on your behalf.

Which probably explains a lot.

However, she asks us to ignore things we know to be true. She states,

that the military “taught him to kill.” Nonsense.

but it isn’t nonsense at all. It is the armed forces prime methodology, and in 1947, when General S.L.A. Marshall’s book, Men Against Fire was published, the military changedPugil Stick Training its training regime to both desensitize soldiers and enhance aggression. Marshall’s findings seemed to show that less than 25% of all ground US troops carrying weapons actually used them in combat situations during World War II. Increasing the weight of fire in combat is a no-brainer, and though Marhsall’s findings have been since called into question, the Pentagon nevertheless augmented its training to try to instill some aggression in the troops. Though the quaterstaff hasn’t been used as a weapon since the Middle Ages, it was resurrected, modified, and included as a part of US armed forces basic training. The result is the pugil stick fight recruits must go through pictured here. It’s hard to tell, but it seems to me these are two women undergoing aggression enhancing pugil stick training here. Of course soldiers are trained to kill. Of course they are trained to kill as effectively as possible. I’ve never heard such nonsense spouted as what Diane Dimond offers up there.

Dimond is correct stating that war is indeed hell, however, but that’s no excuse for a trained member of a supposedly professional army, which accounts for almost half the world’s military spending, whose various band members outnumber our entire diplomatic corps, to go out and murder 17 people, and to her credit she doesn’t defend this. But this isn’t the first time US combatants have gone out to murder innocent civilians, even at Bales’ own post. In 2010, several US soldiers got together and simply decided they were going to go out and find someone—anyone—and kill that person. The only concern they seemed to have was whether they would get away with it or not. Stories circulate right now that prior to Bales’ murder-spree, plans may have been hatched for a repeat performance just days before Bales went on his killing spree.

There are other episodes, and digging just a little bit shows that they are hardly unique. William Calley and the My Lai Massacre and the Haditha killings immediately come to mind without straining myself.

Does this indicate that the US military lacks professionalism? I cannot say much, but the indications are very bad. What it does mean is that questioning the Pentagon’s professionalism is valid. America forgives its murderers in uniform. Lt. William Calley, being convicted of commanding the massacre of over 300 Vietnamese, including women and children, was placed under house arrest and his sentence was commuted by President Nixon in 1974. Calley got two years, at home, for the crime of mass murder, then went on to manage a jewelry store. Similarly, Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who ordered the murder of 24 innocent men, women and children in Haditha Iraq, escaped a prison sentence. To be professional is to define and then to maintain professional standards, and here, the Pentagon fails miserably. This is the reason the Robert Bales case is one of those stories I follow closely.

That these, other examples of war crimes committed by US troops are war crimes should go without saying. However, acts exactly like these are exactly what we constantly characterize as “terrorism.” Are they? I don’t get to define this. Diane Dimond doesn’t get to charge, or clear, Robert Bales or the US military of performing terrorist acts. No American has that capacity.

Only the people of Afghanistan get to make the call on Bales and on the US military. Just as we get to define Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as a terrorist, and either we have the integrity to accept the judgement of the people of Afghanistan or we don’t. Either this, or we rethink our language, its implications and our responses on acts of violence like these. Personally, I think it is safe to say integrity will be conveniently ignored. The pertinent question here is can we reasonably expect that the victims and their families, friends and co-citizens will? For the murder of over 300 innocent people, William Calley escaped justice. For the massacre of 24 innocent people, Frank Wuterich was essentially punished with a pay cut. What the outcome of a trial of Robert Bales will be remains to be seen, however, mitigating circumstances are getting lots of play, and others openly supporting his family, as if he were the victim. So I’m sure that Diane Dimond can rest easy that most Americans will share her blind forgiveness of the US military no matter what, and that is a terrible indictment of the American people right there. The war will continue. Innocent people will die because that war is a hell—of our own creation, and the institutions of America are not up to the job of policing ourselves. “Terrorism” will continue to spring up because we, as a people, lack that brutal honesty we apply to others and moral fortitude to admit our own hands are as bloodstained as any others. The tragedy in all this will continue because Americans refuse to consider that the explosions of bombs hidden in vehicles are indistinguishable from those dropped from US military aircraft, manned or remotely controlled. It will continue as long as our “professional military” continues to reveal itself more than willing to commit war crimes, and then forgive them when caught.

All else is to be willfully blind. All else is an outrageous jingoism which phrases like “war is hell” cannot disguise to any, save those eager to embrace this brutality. No, it is not the Pentagon’s fault, not entirely. The bulk of the blame lies with the American people and nowhere else.

So look at the victims. This was done in your name. You don’t have the right to ignore them.

My Lai

UPDATE: It is not that I am eager to scapegoat Robert Bales. If Americans want to assume the guilt because he was placed in a situation in our name and supposedly for our benefit, that’s the best outcome I can imagine. However, history shows us this is a pipe dream. It ought not to be this way. Can we atone for these killings in place of Sgt. Bales? Somehow, if we were really interested, we’d find a way, but we’re not interested in anything but moving onto “more serious matters” and forgetting this ever happened.

And the ultimate guilt lies with each and every one of us.


2 thoughts on “UPDATE: Notebook, 17 May 2012: Covered in Glory

  1. Your obvious target here is Bales. But your ultimate goal is stating basically that the US doesn’t punish war criminals. That is what I am understanding from your writings. Now first you have to look at the most important aspect of what your describing. Three different erras in time, three different administrations. Yes they are all tragedies but we have done a very good job of punishing our criminals in this day and age. Look at Guantanamo, look at the rape and killing of innocent civilians. You seem to leave that out of you blog.

    Something you have also left out is a little document we are bound by called the Geneva Convention http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Original_Geneva_Conventions.jpg . The US and our Allies are supposed to abide by this…do they. That’s the million dollar question. And while we are on the subject of abiding by the bc. What about the genocide that still goes on today. And of course our biggest war criminal OBL. Terrorism need learn from their own destruction. The world can’t be fixed til we fix it.

    1. Actually, my real target is us, as I state in my update. If we can find it in ourselves to forgive the serviceman, we then take his/her guilt upon ourselves. I have no problem with that, and only half-heartedly I put out the idea of proclaiming a national day of atonement to deal with this, but first, we need to acknowledge the culpability and our lack of remedial mechanism. This should also run counter to a dangerous military boosterism which makes us prone to commit the same acts in the future, and that is my ultimate goal.

      The facts speak for themselves, and I have no doubt that any balanced, objective parsing of the argument would reach the same conclusions I have here.

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