Reflections on the Military and Its Being Either Glorified or Demonised

Americans have been told since the draft ended in 1973, that their military is the best and most professional ever fielded by a nation. With the absence of conscripts, only the most motivated soldiers are in uniform and so the degree of cohesion and professionalism has never been higher.

Yet that is belied by Camp Nama, Abu Ghraib, Haditha and countless other acts of civilian killings, torture and wanton destruction of property. War itself corrupts the soldier as well as the nation. I never believed for one moment that our men and women in uniform are more moral, honourable and dedicated than other military units in the world. I am not disparaging all of them but again rejecting the notion of American exceptionalism.

Recall that our military is governed by ruthless civilians who have not uttered one word of apology for the war, for Haditha murders, for the deaths of Iraqis in general and the resultant instability and anarchy that resulted from the March 19, 2003 invasion. It is counterintuitive to believe that our military will behave as if they are all civil affairs officers when they represent a nation that uses force in a manner that is rarely if ever justified. War is a brutalising experience and it has hardened and inured this nation's capacity to respect other cultures and religions that differ from ours.

Let's face facts. People who join the military frequently end up killing others and destroying cities and towns. They are trained to shoot, to bomb, to engage in sniper activity. These are not honourable acts to perform and would be ghastly if done in the U.S. Their uniforms may be fashionable, their appearance young and vigorous but their role and their duty is not without blemish and horror.

In the marines there is a great emphasis on group solidarity at the squad and platoon level. Clearly this is useful in developing a bonding and a fighting ethos in which one looks out for another. Yet it can have deadly consequences when this "familial" atmosphere is transformed into serial or revenge killing of totally innocent civilians as "compensation" for a casualty in the unit. Also while there may be deadly and horrific consequences to accentuated group cohesion, there is also I believe a decline in the marine or soldier's capacity to examine their actions objectively. What am I doing here 1000s of miles from home? What is the mission? Why are we resented  by the civilian population whether in Sunni Anbar Province or in the south around Basra (British occupied area). The results are soldiers who emphasise group cohesion in a manner that may be extremely violent and reduce their capacity to examine their actions as agents of an unruly empire.

I have been often accused of not differentiating between opposing war and opposing the warrior. It is difficult if one is opposed to war to also "support" the activities of those who engage in acts that one finds reprehensible. Yet what about those who support a conflict and, hence, are unable to differentiate between moral and immoral combat behaviour? Should not these individuals make the same distinction between advocating war and yet condemning criminal violations of the laws of war in that war?

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