Friday, May 04, 2007

Supporting the Troops While You Help Pres. Bush Fuck Them

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If truth is the first casualty in war, battlefield ethics is a close second [emphasis mine]:

In a survey of U.S. troops in combat in Iraq, less than half of Marines and a little more than half of Army soldiers said they would report a member of their unit for killing or wounding an innocent civilian.

More than 40 percent support the idea of torture in some cases, and 10 percent reported personally abusing Iraqi civilians, the Pentagon said Friday in what it called its first ethics study of troops at the war front. Units exposed to the most combat were chosen for the study, officials said.

"It is disappointing," said analyst John Pike of the think tank. "But anybody who is surprised by it doesn't understand war. ... This is about combat stress."

The military has seen a number of high-profile incidents of alleged abuse in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the killings of 24 civilians by Marines, the rape and killing of a 14-year-old girl and the slaying of her family and the sexual humiliation of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.

"I don't want to, for a minute, second-guess the behavior of any person in the military — look at the kind of moral dilemma you are putting people in," Christopher Preble of the libertarian Cato Institute think tank, said of the mission in Iraq. "There's a real tension between using too much force, which generally means using force to protect yourself, and using too little and therefore exposing yourself to greater risk."

The overall study was the fourth in a series done by a special mental health advisory team since 2003 aimed at assessing the well-being of forces serving in Iraq.

Officials said the teams visited Iraq last August to October, talking to troops, health care providers and chaplains.

The study team also found that long and repeated deployments were increasing troop mental health problems.

But Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, the Army's acting surgeon general, said the team's "most critical" findings were on ethics.

"They looked under every rock, and what they found was not always easy to look at," said Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health.

Although it's easy to demonize the soldiers who commit atrocities or who sanction them or look the other way and don't report them, I think that response is a mistake (although note that "don't demonize" does not mean "hold legally blameless).

In my view, the true villains are the war supporters, inside the Bush administration and outside of it, who make excuses for such low ethical standards while simultaneously telling us that our fighting men and women are the best-trained, the most professional, the most noble and caring and generous the world has ever known. The true villains are people like the right-wing bloggers at We Win, They Lose who say "I stand with our troops," and who blather on about "supporting our troops" while they alternately ignore and attempt to justify both high suicide rates and widespread attitudes of contempt toward civilians -- which all too often lead to physical abuse and even rape and murder. If this is what right-wing warmongers mean by "supporting the troops," they are very much misled. This is not supporting the troops.

It's not supporting the troops to pretend that our soldiers' behavior does not affect the way both our enemies and our potential allies view our military, and by extension, our country. It's not supporting our troops to deny or trivialize the seriousness or the extent of ethical breaches among combat soldiers. It's not supporting our troops to claim that supporting our troops means defending and making excuses for troops who kill innocent civilians, or who insult or curse or attack them; or who commit rape and murder; or who say torture is okay if it saves the life of an American. And the reason is because when our troops do things like this, or even advocate or excuse things like this, it's because they are under unimaginable stress. It's because they are hurting terribly. It's because they are feeling like they might go crazy. It's because they are experiencing horrendous combat fatigue from being on their second or third deployment, with no end in sight. Given these realities, you're not doing the troops a favor by saying, "Support the troops" while simultaneously supporting the policies that are keeping those troops in Iraq, exhausted, terrified, traumatized, and emotionally wrecked. When you support endless war with no plan and no exit strategy, then you are supporting all the horrors to which our soldiers are subject. You're supporting George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, not the 19-year-old kid from Alabama or Nebraska who is going out of his mind trying to stay alive in a war that has no purpose. Supporting the policy of war is not the same thing as supporting the men and women who fight the war. It's not their war, after all. They don't have the choice to fight the war, or come home. It really doesn't matter how the soldier fighting the war feels about the war, or about fighting it. So you can say "I support the troops" all you like, but it doesn't amount to a hill of beans if you're not supporting the troops' welfare or what's in their best interest as opposed to what's in the best interests of the multimillionaires who started this war but will never have to fight in it.

Long story short: Tell me you support the troops all you want. But if you also support absolving the president of the United States of any responsibility for the consequences of the war for the men or women who are fighting it, then you might just as well be telling me, Fuck the troops. Because that is what you are doing.

Cross-posted at Shakesville.

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