This is about an incident of war; an incident in which four U.S. Marines decided to outrage the vulnerable corpses of some of their tenacious Taliban foes, dead in the dust at their feet. Such incidents — and many worse — have always been a part of war… But such incidents nowadays are not merely rumored or surmised… now they can be seen in your office or home in all their disgusting detail. War, with all its coarseness, vulgarity and shock, is now a thing we cannot escape… for we have now reached the point where every war will take place not just on far-flung battlefields, but — as fast as a video clip can be posted — before your very eyes and in your very mind.
On January 11, 2012 an undated video was posted by a YouTube user identified
as “semperfi LoneVoice”. It shows four men in U.S. Marine combat gear standing
in a semi-circle over 3 bodies. These men were urinating on the bodies.
The entire film clip took just about a minute.
It was not the worst outrage in the long saga of human warfare, where the
desecration of corpses was a garden-variety barbarism. But this act of
desecration went viral at once, a matter of instant and immediate concern to
officials at the very highest reaches of government. In short, it instantly
became a Problem that had to be dealt with, responded to, and contained before
the next news cycle commenced.
Who would make such a video… and why would they do it?
I can surmise — but do not know — that this video was made for the same
reason that 19th Century big game hunters were photographed before the bodies of
elephants, tigers and lions… a form of bragging, to show their friends where
they had been, what they had done, and, Tarzan-like, beat their breasts and
release a primal scream of superiority and glee.
Thus did a fifth marine, perhaps the originator of “what seemed a good idea
at the time”, egg on his buddies, “Ah, come on. Don’t be a wuss; the bastards
had it coming.” Thus did the idea emerge, spontaneous, ill-considered of course,
but an act that would bond the buddies while handing each something to show the
admiring folks back home. And so the buddies were positioned just so; zippers
opened, a crude video made with cruder remarks about giving the bodies a
“shower”, ending with “Have a nice day, buddy” … the final result a video that
showed in outrageous detail that these Marines, charged with service to the
Great Republic, knew nothing about who we are, how we behave, what being an
American is all about…
… Yes, in a minute, just 60 seconds, they had outraged their God, their
family values, everything they had ever heard or thought about the shining city
on a hill… they had lowered themselves; shown their “Semper Fi” motto to be mere
words, not high ideal. And they did this willingly, happily, believing this was
suitable for them, unexceptional, a thing right and appropriate to do… good for
laughs, another beer, a clap on the back from an appreciative audience back
All this was bad enough. But then someone got the bright idea of posting this
video. This person had one of two possible objectives in mind; either as a proud
trophy…, or shrewder, to show us up as a nation of high words but debased
realities and so besmirch the Great Republic, its solders, and the lofty ideals
by which we live and for which we fight.
And so the video was posted… its unmistakable image of hubris instantly the
property of a world which thereby gained another stick with which to beat us, a
stick which our own soldiers had fashioned, completely clueless on what they had
done and how destructive to our cause, themselves, and their own buddies, whom
the Taliban, biding their time, would serve out worse than the outrage
perpetrated upon the bodies of their comrades… for retaliation there must be…
swift, sure, painful, revolting. It is as certain as anything can be in the
uncertain business of war: some young American Marines, now vibrant and alive,
will be captured, tortured, subjected to the most severe pain, killed, then
outraged… an unspeakable, horrific end made inevitable by the unconsidered lark
of 5 Marines who not just failed us but didn’t even know they were doing so.
High-level condemnation, inadequate response.
To their credit, the Marine Corps immediately named an investigative officer
to decide whether charges would be brought. They have already identified two of
the four who committed the outrage; they are believed to be members of the 3rd
Batallion, 2nd Marines, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. It served in
Afghanistan from March to September 2011, presumably the time when the video was
Officials at the very highest level of government, Leon Panetta, Secretary of
Defense; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as other members of the
Obama Administration stepped forward to condemn the desecration… and to limit
the damage and repercussions.
But they were checkmated by a belief as old as war itself: that all the
king’s horses and all the king’s men can never do wrong, whatever they do, so
long as it is in defense of the realm; Texas Governor and (then) presidential
candidate Rick Perry the case in point.
Perry’s worrisome reaction went like this: “These kids made a mistake.
There’s not any doubt about it. They shouldn’t have done it. It’s bad. But to
call it a criminal act, I think, is over the top.”
In other words, boys will be boys; they’re our boys so sacrosanct. Yes, the
act’s bad… but slapping their wrists constitutes an appropriate punishment;
enough said, let’s get back to America’s unending business, the business of war.
Such remarks constituted the thin edge of the wedge; mild condemnation of the
“kids” (Perry’s grossly inadequate word and description)… their action bad, yes,
but not really so very bad… not least because other nations at other times have
done far worse, including worse to us. And that, is that.
But it most assuredly is not…. for if we wish to derive a good result from
this entirely avoidable incident a very different response is called for. For if
we leave this now in this way we shall surely pay for our negligence with more
such incidents, frequent and worse.
The curriculum of war as taught at our great military institutions must be
enhanced to include tuition, instruction, and practical training on how to
handle the urge to maim, murder, desecrate and outrage our opponents. For if you
do not make the act reprehensible and make it clear what must be done and how it
must be done, you are surely inviting its frequent occurrence. In other words,
silence on this aspect of war, every war, is tantamount to condoning what you
say is reprehensible. And so swift, positive action is necessary… so that
America and the world need never wake up again to graphic, tangible evidence
that we say one thing but do and accept another.
Too much brought to our attention, too little time for thoughtful
consideration and response. Sadly, the very process that brought us the
intelligence on this incidence will bury it and fast. For the shear amount of
data on so many subjects of significance and importance acts to sweep this
outrage away… replacing it — for just a minute — with others. We once thought
that bringing outrages to wide attention would be sufficient to effect reform…
but the very ease of disseminating and posting information, its shear volume,
has submerged the desired goal. And so, as information explodes and its demands
on us grow onerous, the urge neither to see nor to hear evil grows apace… evil
proliferating, evil tolerated, evil condoned, thinly condemned, broadly ignored,
a fact of life that dismays us but which we will not seriously confront, and
less so every single day .
God help us.
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