On “Rogues” in Afghanistan and the “Insanity” of War

Four Marines urinate on Taliban corpsesUS troops burn Korans on an American army base. Now an American solider has murdered 16 Afghan civilians (including nine children and three women) before burning their corpses.

I’m not paying one whit of heed to what our leaders are telling us about this horrid tragedy. We’re told this act was the work of one lone deranged gunman – and it may well be, despite the fact that some eyewitnesses reported seeing more than one shooter – and other locals are publicly dubious that a single soldier could have shot and killed 16 civilians in houses over a mile apart then burned the bodies afterward.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s explanation: “War is hell.” Yes, I suppose it is, but we are all sadly, tragically deluded if we feel we can sugar-coat the insanity of war by dismissing this incident as the handiwork of one “rogue” gunman.  I’m always fascinated that when these kinds of atrocities occur, defenders of war practically fall over themselves explaining that it was the work of “deranged individuals.” The sad truth is that in war, atrocities are the rule – not the exception.

Camillo “Mac” Bica, writing in a recent op-ed hit this point right on the head:

(Soldiers in war) are dehumanized and desensitized to death and destruction. Judgments of right and wrong – morality – quickly become irrelevant, and cruelty and brutality become a primal response to an overwhelming threat of annihilation. Consequently, atrocities in such an environment are not isolated, aberrant occurrences prosecuted by a few deviant individuals. Rather, they are commonplace, intrinsic to the nature and the reality of war, the inevitable consequence of enduring prolonged, life-threatening and morally untenable conditions, what psychologist Robert Jay Lifton describes as “atrocity-producing situations.”

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that there was only one shooter in this recent tragedy. Authorities report that he was in his fourth combat deployment in ten years and that he had suffered from a war-related head injury. Does this describe a “rogue” gunman to you?  I’d say given the insane circumstances in which his nation had placed him, his actions sound eminently understandable.

Afghanistan is now officially our longest war – i.e., the longest example of mass psychosis in our nation’s history. Contrary to what our leaders have been telling us, we are not experiencing anything resembling “success” in that country. The longer we stay, the more we will continue to desensitize and dehumanize the young Americans we have seen fit to place there – and the more we will continue to rain death and destruction upon the people of that country. Indeed, our interminable presence in Afghanistan virtually guarantees we will see more “rogue” incidents like the one we witnessed this past weekend.

The classic midrashic commentary “Mechilta of Rabbi Ishmaelteaches: When an arrow leaves the hand of a warrior he cannot take it back.  God help us if we truly believe we can control the insane forces we’ve unleashed in Afghanistan. It’s time to come to our senses and bring our troops home.

6 thoughts on “On “Rogues” in Afghanistan and the “Insanity” of War

  1. Elaine Waxman

    Compelling term — “atrocity-producing situations.” I agree that we often sadly create these events by asking people to desensitize themselves to the suffering of others and then acting surprised when they can’t turn it back on.

  2. Aaron Freeman

    ” The longer we stay, the more we will continue to desensitize and dehumanize the young Americans we have seen fit to place there”

    I’d say it also dehumanizes and degrades the folks back home too.

  3. Cotton Fite

    The unspeakable grief of Abdul Samad who came to his mud hut to find his family slaughtered. I cannot imagine. We are an empire desperately trying to preserve the myth of our world dominance… and of our superior goodness. It was not one soldier gone mad; it is a country gone mad. Among the nations and people of the world we are not alone in our depravity … but the immediacy with which we swing into damage control signals our insistence that we are different. And when an awareness of the devastation we are causing as we cling to our delusion breaks through, I think the only resource I have left is the profound call to repentance we Christians hear at the outset of this Lenten season. On Ash Wednesday, we begin with the 51st psalm, followed by a Litany of Penitence … it is comprehensive and, if we listen well, it may leave us at least mindful. But I think we need to compose a national Litany of Penitence, some way for our faith communities to call us and all our brothers and sisters to accept the truth about ourselves. We can be, and often are, kind and good, but we are also blind to the evil for which we individually are responsible and, maybe even more importantly, for the evil we allow to be perpetrated in our name.

  4. Wendy Carson

    i am yrt to hear a reason for us to stay in Afghanistan.we are not wantes and the latest events prove this.we are not going to hange peoples views on a more progressive society.we just are causing more problems by our actions toward their citizens.If you can tell me one reason to stay I would be most surprised.

  5. Nancy Bruski

    Wow! Excellent post…I was deeply saddened to hear the news of this event, and surprised myself at how upset I felt about the soldier (s?) who committed these heinous acts. Our soldiers are withstanding unbelievable stress and dehumanization in Afghanistan (and in Iraq previously). It should be no surprise that such acts occur. I heartily agree that it is well past time to bring our troops home. Everyone knows or should have known that Afghanistan is an impossible morass and it was only insane hubris that led us to think we could “fix it.”


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