Friday, December 12, 2008
Winter Soldiers and War Machines
The myth of the "clean" war and the uniformly honorable behavior of US soldiers in times of war is a persistent one. War is never waged honorably. Perhaps it has never been so. Civilians are always killed and those viewed as the enemy are regularly brutalized, maimed, and killed even when weaponless and in custody. Their status as the "enemy" makes them subhuman or non-human.
For soldiers, war is often a maelstrom of situational ethics and mission orders, of tribal oaths against evil outsiders, of hate and fear.
Because of the intimate intertwining of individual soldiers with a fantastically strong and monolithic command structure, it becomes difficult to separate opposition to a war from so-called support for the troops.
That there is a strong sense of honor and patriotism among most individual US soldiers is a given. The bonds of loyalty squad or platoon members have for each other are strong. Tests of courage, of life and death under fire, reach deep. This is the special domain of the warrior's experience and it is difficult for most civilians to really grasp what it is like.
If this seems like I'm contradicting what I've written further up, the relevant factor is the command structure itself. While soldiers and field commanders have some latitude on how to accomplish "objectives" logistically on the ground, often they are constrained by other standing commands or lack of particular resources.
For example, lack of adequate translators leads to an inability of troops to communicate with civilians or prisoners. When compounded by opposition forces without readily visible uniforms to identify them using unconventional tactics like IEDs, this leads to a self-protective attitude of universal suspicion.
Questioning the War in Iraq is not remotely like questioning the integrity or courage of individual soldiers. Yet the proponents of the war consistently accuse those against the war of doing just that. This is a classic instance of misdirection, false blame, and the use of a straw man argument.
Yet here we are, many years into the war, still hearing these calumnies and "Why do you hate America?"