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"These Things Happen" - Input Junkie
March 17th, 2012
09:08 am

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"These Things Happen"
In that recent massacre in Afghanistan, one thing I heard people say is "these things happen in war", but I've actually never heard of a soldier individually just attacking numerous civilians when there's no other violence at the moment.

The fact that the soldier turned himself in implies that he thought there was something very unusual about what he did.

Have I missed something?

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/533621.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:fidelioscabinet
Date:March 17th, 2012 01:49 pm (UTC)
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First of all, incidents like these were not normally well-reported in the past. My Lai was something the army was determined to cover up, and if it hadn't been for the modern phenomenon of war-reporting, they might well have managed it. We have no way of knowing much about examples of this problem before the 20th century.

Secondly, the US Army is claiming this man operated alone; the Afghanis do not seem to be convinced of this. Maybe he did and maybe he didn't; it's to the USArmy's advantage to have him be a lone operator--the classic "bad apple". I would watch the non-Establishment media for further information; it will be very interesting to see if Al-Jazeera, for example, comes up with a detailed account after an in-depth investigation on their part.

Yes, I do have vast reserves of cynicism available to tap on this topic; I grew up with General Westmoreland's bodycounts. If those had been accurate, there would have been no one left alive in North Vietnam to continue the war.
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From:cakmpls
Date:March 17th, 2012 02:49 pm (UTC)
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And those of us who were around at the time remember how, once the My Lai incident was public knowledge, the army settled on it being mainly one man's fault. Who knows what pressure was put on the one man in this case to take the blame on himself?

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From:fidelioscabinet
Date:March 17th, 2012 07:28 pm (UTC)
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Yes, Calley was convicted but Medina, who was his company commander got off. Of course, Medina had F. Lee Bailey on his defense team--and Calley did not.
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From:heron61
Date:March 17th, 2012 10:17 pm (UTC)
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*nods* This stuff happens regularly (another obvious example being the murders committed by US soldiers in Iraq in a helicopter that prompted Bradley Manning to contact wikileaks) and it's always declared to be the fault of one or two soldiers.

Given the combination of dehumanizing the enemy that's been part of warfare since (at least) the bronze age, modern US army techniques to break down solider's resistance to killing, and the current fundy insanity that's all too common in the US military, I'm surprised atrocities like this aren't more common.
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From:asakiyume
Date:March 17th, 2012 07:55 pm (UTC)
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I was wondering about the follow-up on that. We heard on the first day that the Afghanis reported more than one person... and then never heard any more about that (at least, I didn't).

I've been wondering all along....
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From:madfilkentist
Date:March 17th, 2012 01:53 pm (UTC)
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A soldier who kills noncombatants without orders and without any reason to believe they're a threat, which is apparently the case here, is a criminal by any standard. Perhaps these people aren't offering an excuse but a statement that war tends to make people into homicidal lunatics? If they mean that the best way to prevent further occurrences is to get US troops out of Afghanistan, I agree completely.

The name of the suspect -- still not the "accused," which is interesting -- was reported as Robert Bales. I'd wondered why it took so long to name him, but a news story said that the reason was concern about the safety of his family. Considering that the Taliban and its followers believe that killing the innocent is holy (e.g., the "Death to America" chants following the Quran burning), this is certainly a legitimate concern.
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From:fidelioscabinet
Date:March 17th, 2012 03:09 pm (UTC)
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He has to be formally brought before the court and accused there. It's a legal term of art.

Considering that the Taliban and its followers believe that killing the innocent is holy (e.g., the "Death to America" chants following the Quran burning), this is certainly a legitimate concern.

I'd say it's more likely they follow a feud-and-revenge system* (this is not part of sharia, which, among other things, tried to eliminate that sort of thing). In a system of that sort, lacking further information, all Americans can be assumed to be part of the same tribe, and an injury by one member is the responsibility of all members. If we fail to make that injury good, then the injured party is entitled to take pay-back from the nearest convenient member of the offending tribe. It's not a system I like, or want to see nourished, but it has its own logic to it, and it's hard to eliminate it--it took a very long time for the Scots, for example, to accept a modern judiciary system instead of following the feud and revenge system; even as the central government tried to enforce its judiciary system, feud and revenge continued to flourish. Glencoe, for example, took place in 1692, and even though some of those involved were punished under the law. there was fall-out continuing from it into the 18th century.


*Failing to pursue your obligations under this sort of system can be seen as a lack of family responsibility, which duty can be a religious demand in many belief systems.
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From:agrumer
Date:March 17th, 2012 09:03 pm (UTC)
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It's not as if we've eliminated that belief system here, either. Consider Tom Friedman's "suck on this" justification for the Iraq War. ("What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, 'Which part of this sentence don't you understand?' [...] That Charlie was what this war was about. We could've hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. We coulda hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.")
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From:bradhicks
Date:March 17th, 2012 02:36 pm (UTC)
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Um, it's premature to conclude that all of the surviving eye witnesses are lying when they say that he wasn't alone, that at the peak of the massacre there were at least four Americans going house to house, especially given that some of the bodies were moved in a way that suggests at least two people worked together.

Can anybody explain to me why he's been moved, and why his hearings will be held, on the opposite side of the planet from every possible witness?
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 17th, 2012 02:56 pm (UTC)
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I've pretty much just been catching the half-hour news headlines from NPR, so I hadn't heard about the eyewitnesses.
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From:xiphias
Date:March 17th, 2012 04:15 pm (UTC)
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Because American war crime trials are always held within the United States. Whether it makes sense or not.

Personally, I think that, if we claim that Afghanistan is a self-governing independent country now, it would have made sense to turn the accused murderer over to THEIR justice system.
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From:bradhicks
Date:March 17th, 2012 02:41 pm (UTC)
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As for why it happened, the press is flailing around trying to find some way to explain it other than the one thing nobody wants to say out loud:

This is what happens when you send 120,000 soldiers to do a job that 1,200,000 would be hard pressed to achieve.

Among other things, this is what happens when you send military units into villages that, they suspect, some of the people who killed their personal friends are hiding in. It was true in Vietnam, it was true in Iraq, it's true in Afghanistan. Under no circumstances do you want soldiers to make war into personal vendetta. But when you don't have anybody else you can send, well, that's what happens.
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From:cakmpls
Date:March 17th, 2012 02:46 pm (UTC)
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Yes, this. Well said.
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 17th, 2012 02:58 pm (UTC)
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There's certainly all of that, but I also wonder about the details of his head injury-- some brain injuries damage self-control. Of course, his brain injury was a result of the US occupying Iraq.
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From:st_rev
Date:March 17th, 2012 03:31 pm (UTC)
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I remember reading, long ago, an analysis of serial killers that concluded that the normal recipe was abuse PLUS sociopathic traits PLUS brain injury. Spree killing isn't the same thing, but...Modern humans seem to have multiple failsafes against killing, and it takes multiple failures to get past that.

Edited at 2012-03-17 03:32 pm (UTC)
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From:heron61
Date:March 17th, 2012 10:28 pm (UTC)
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Modern humans seem to have multiple failsafes against killing, and it takes multiple failures to get past that.

Sadly, the US military understands this fact well. They analyzed the fact that during the Korean War most soldiers were highly reluctant to fire their weapons (most weapons fire was into the air) at enemy soldiers unless the soldier was either directly and personally threatened by a specific enemy soldier, or they were attempting to save the life of a fellow soldier. The military then revised basic training routines to "help" soldiers "better" overcome their resistance to killing. IMHO, this sort of training should be a war crime, and its effects are quite profound.

It's perhaps interesting to note that this sort of training also didn't used to be as necessary, because before sometime in the early 20th/late 19th century the average person's resistance to violence was considerably less (one of many examples being the popularity of public executions 150 years ago, vs the fact that they are now completely unacceptable and have been so for almost the entire 20th century).
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From:st_rev
Date:March 17th, 2012 10:33 pm (UTC)
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Any reason for singling out the US military? I know the Soviet military during WWII just had an officer standing behind the soldiers ready to shoot them if they didn't fight.
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From:heron61
Date:March 17th, 2012 10:46 pm (UTC)
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Pretty much only because that's the only case I know of. Also, IIRC, most of Western Europe doesn't use these tactics.

Edit: As a side note, the Soviet example is also from more than 60 years ago, while the US training was instituted within the last 50 years and continues to this day.

Edited at 2012-03-17 10:57 pm (UTC)
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 17th, 2012 10:37 pm (UTC)
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Are you sure that it's because modern people are more reluctant to kill rather than someone noticing soldiers' reluctance to kill and deciding to do something about it?
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From:heron61
Date:March 17th, 2012 10:56 pm (UTC)
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I'm sure it's actually both. From both pre-19th century violence stats and reports I've read from various 19th century colonial wars, this reluctance to killing was largely not present then. I'd assume the reluctance come in some time in the early 20th century and was not noticed by the military until the 1960s.
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From:st_rev
Date:March 18th, 2012 01:21 am (UTC)
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The homicide rate for stone age peoples is absurdly high, approaching 30% IIRC, and they generally don't have what we would recognize as organized militaries.
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From:en_ki
Date:March 19th, 2012 09:49 pm (UTC)

Watch me derail this out of sheer curiosity

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You say "don't" in the present tense. This leads me to think that "for stone age peoples" = "peoples who were still in the stone age when modern people found and studied them". There is a selection bias there.

What fraction of stone-age deaths in the stone age were victims of homicide? (Can we tell? Presumably we'd find murder victims with a different spatial distribution than natural deaths.)
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 20th, 2012 12:04 am (UTC)

Re: Watch me derail this out of sheer curiosity

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Different types of injuries, too.

There've been some recent scandals about police departments refusing to investigate major violent crimes so as too make their records look better, so I'm wondering about Pinker's stats.
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From:st_rev
Date:March 20th, 2012 05:54 pm (UTC)

Re: Watch me derail this out of sheer curiosity

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It's a lot harder to compile statistics for the actual neolithic, but (IIRC, and I don't have the data handy to defend this) forensic examination of existing remains shows an appalling amount of damage attributable to tools.
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From:st_rev
Date:March 18th, 2012 02:13 am (UTC)
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That's lifetime risk, not yearly risk.
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From:fidelioscabinet
Date:March 17th, 2012 07:30 pm (UTC)
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Yes, and yet people want us to mix it up with Iran. People who will not fight themselves, and whose children will not have to fight either.
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