For shame

Lucky elitist member of the educated middle class that I am, I can’t imagine joining the military to pay for college. I know that I will earn enough, later on, to pay it off. I can’t imagine joining the military at all, peacenik beneficiary of prior solidiers’ deaths that I am. I’m lucky– I’m smart, I’m self-conscious, I have parents and had teachers who were capable of imparting to me the values and drive that opened up other career options than the military. Not that the military can’t be a good choice. It’s just not mine. And I don’t want to sound like I think every soldier is a dolt– they’re not, but there is a range of intelligence, imagination, and sensitivity in the military like everywhere else. The smart folks (or those smart enough to keep out of trouble, do what they’re told, and suck up to the right people, thanks Cricket for the reminder) tend to rise. The rank and file can and does contain folks who won’t be promoted far.

What I now comprehend, however, is something I couldn’t before imagine, yet somehow knew was happening, as discussed in a recent New Yorkerthe military’s wholesale failure to train and command its ground level forces at Abu Graihb, abandoning soldiers who were essentially kids, who didn’t know any better, to torture prisoners, and then to have the audacity to frame them for it. To condone it, in fact– to take advantage of these kids’ lack of training (they were not prison M.P.s) to have them wantonly violate the Geneva Conventions– because they didn’t know any better, and in some cases, probably weren’t smart enough to challenge the situation themselves. The phrase “failure of command” could hardly have more meaning.  The position brings the responsibility toward one’s subordinates with it, no matter the individual morality/intelligence/capacity of those sitting in the chairs labeled colonels, generals, Commanders in Chief.  To fail to comprehend or carry out the responsibility?  Shocks me, though perhaps it shouldn’t.

The us versus them thing has long existed, so the Geneva Conventions exist–because at an extreme, we think it’s tolerable to torture them, if our “principles” are to survive. But to suborn our own soldiers’ principles, or the principles they’re supposed to be protecting, against their will, however late their consciousness of betrayal emerges? It’s almost as shameful as the torture of the prisoners themselves.

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8 thoughts on “For shame

  1. Law School Hot Mama

    Hmm . . . I wish I could speak my views publicly about the military, but as a military wife I can’t really. (Oh the things I could say!) But for the record, while I realize you’re saying that not all soldiers are dolts . . . well . . I want to put it out there that my husband is a soldier but not one of the dolts! In fact, he’s a lawyer in his “real” life and a reservist.

    He went to a military college and was a reservist for years after that. He went back in to do Jag, but before he could transfer to the Jag division, he was sent to Iraq.

    I don’t think all people do the military thing because they lack alternatives. I realize that isn’t what you’re saying, but I just wanted to put it out there. Some people do it out of a feeling of genuine responsibility even if they don’t necessarily support the policy they are sent to implement. I think some people see themselves as serving their country and implementing the policy that was chosen by the person elected by the people to lead – whether the particular soldier in question supports it or not. Sort of deferring to the will of the majority, I guess, and serving to that end.

    Though, of course, some people do support the policy . . . and others, well, don’t give a flying rat’s ass about what the policy is because they wanna blow shizzle up! Or they just follow orders.

    Certainly, my husband and I would agree that Abu Graihb was an atrocity. I wish I could go into more detail than that in a public forum, but I have to control my word spew. Alas!

    Reply
  2. Marci B.

    I read this article a few days ago. I, too, was totally and completely shocked by what it shared about Abu Graihb. It is so complex that it is virtually impossible to tell who is innocent, who is guilty, who is the victim, and who the victimized. No matter what, I was disgusted by the callousness of the soldiers. We’ve created monsters.

    Reply
  3. rosie

    too complex an issue for a quick view…but hasnt it always been the case that the uneducated and underpriveleged have been exploited to serve the purposes of those in power. And it isnt very pretty to see it in action…

    Reply
  4. Cricket

    Okay, it’s predicated on the falsehood of one of your early statements: The smart folks tend to rise.

    Don’t assume too much about military leadership, because there’s always another stupid boss above them and a lot of fingers in the pie. Not so smart fingers.

    Reply
  5. Poet With a Day Job

    I really like this post, because you are right: blaming the soldiers for all that went wrong, when they are barely 18 years old, is ludicrous. Not only because they are grossly untrained (and in other areas, grossly under-protected and ill-equipped) but because they probably WERE guided to be rough…and like you said, though I’m not sure it has anything to do with smarts, but more, practice and growth and maturity (which at 18, if I remember how I was, there’s not too much of at that point) who on earth knows how to, could deconstruct why you should, and actually then COULD stand up when all this is happening and stop it? I don’t know if I would be able to. Sitting over here at 36 years old with my wits and NO training in violence, sure I could. But in the thick of it????

    This post is really poignant for me right now as my just 17 y/o junior in high school nephew is thinking about the military. And I know why: he’s failing school, his family sucks, they don’t support him, his brother and sister make fun of him, the kids at school pick on him….why wouldn’t you want to join, and become that rad, human hero they advertise in high definition before the movie on the big screen at the cinema? Why wouldn’t you want to show everyone? He has no clue what goes on.

    Reply

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