Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

War isn’t always a pretty thing

A flap has erupted recently over the behavior of a group of U.S. Marines who appear to have urinated on the corpses of insurgents in Afghanistan.

It has caused quite an uproar and has had political ramifications as the left and right trade accusations. The right says war is a nasty, dirty business and that the left should realize that in war bad things are done, while the left says that war scars its participants, and that’s why they do bad things.

One of the big problems is that we in America are suffering from what I like to call “The Tom Clancy Syndrome.” His books in the 1980s and 1990s presented a highly skilled and competent military. After the 9/11 attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the stock of the military soared in the minds of many people, and there’s an ongoing belief that people in uniform can do no wrong.

This is quite a contrast from the past – especially when I was in 30 years ago – when the military was seen as bad in terms of having a career and in terms of being a neighbor.

After Vietnam, the armed forces were in disarray and for years afterward they were in “rebuilding” mode. Even in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the military was not seen as a viable career for an ambitious man with just a high school diploma, and even the officer corps was not considered all that positively. Thanks to a long era of peace, the military was able to rebuild itself and its reputation until, by Sept. 11, 2001, it was nearly worshipped by all.

After that date, well, it has existed in the glow of good feelings and nearly unlimited budgets.

The reality with the urination incident is that in war, sometimes young people are stressed to the limit and they do stupid things. I was an aviation electrician in an attack squadron in the Marines, and we were a tight-knit group. Had we captured an enemy who had attacked, injured or killed a buddy, there’s no telling what we might have done to him, up to and including killing that person.

It would have been wrong to kill him because he might have intelligence information that could help our cause, but I doubt that would have stopped us. And yes, we might even have urinated on his dead body. That doesn’t make it right. That’s war.

I hope these Marines aren’t subjected to the full force of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for something that was decidedly bad judgment, but hardly an atrocity considering everything else that goes on in war. We get the sanitized version, for the most part, from the press and all, so when something real comes through, we’re shocked.

As George Tecumseh Sherman once said, “War is hell.”

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January 26, 2012 - Posted by | Living in the modern age, Politics | , , , , , , ,

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