'Bad Apples' or Predictable Fruits of War?

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by IJ Reilly, May 10, 2004.

  1. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #1
    This op-ed piece appeared in my morning paper today. Something about reaping what ye sow comes to mind. Sorry for the length, but I thought it was worth passing along in full.


    By Michael Massing

    May 10, 2004

    "A few bad apples" is Washington's insistent message to the rest of the world in trying to explain the appalling images out of Abu Ghraib prison. While sharing in the worldwide horror at the photos, Americans have rushed to assert that we are "a compassionate country that believes in freedom" and "cares about every individual," as President Bush put it in his interviews on Arab television.

    The rest of the world is not having it. From Paris to Riyadh to New Delhi, commentators are insisting that these acts are not exceptions but part of a pattern of American arrogance and brutishness.

    "The torture is not the work of a few American soldiers," a columnist in the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper wrote. "It is the result of an official American culture that deliberately insults and humiliates Muslims." Over and over, American acts in Iraq have been equated with those of Saddam Hussein — a comparison Americans find absurd and infuriating.

    How to explain this discrepancy? Is the rest of the world deluded, or are we? Have others been propagandized, or have we? The Bush administration and its backers have frequently pointed the finger at Arab satellite networks such as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, charging them with casting all U.S. actions in the worst possible light. Any fair-minded viewer of these networks would have to acknowledge the merit in these complaints. Though resourceful and enterprising, these networks appeal to an Arab nationalism and pride that views the U.S. occupation as inherently illegitimate, and their broadcasts reflect this. Hour upon hour, they beam images of American soldiers ransacking homes; of men and boys being marched off in handcuffs and hoods while their wives and mothers stand by wailing; of hospital beds full of children missing limbs, eyes and hope. So when photos of Americans abusing Iraqi prisoners are released, they're seen as part of a pattern.

    But Americans have been fed their own highly skewed version of reality. It's rooted in the idea of American "exceptionalism," of our unique mission to inspire and transform the world. This vision goes back to Abraham Lincoln, who spoke of the United States as the "last best hope of Earth." John F. Kennedy urged us to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship" to promote liberty. Ronald Reagan cast the U.S. as a "shining city on a hill," illuminating the world by its example. And George W. Bush has repeatedly proclaimed his belief that the U.S. — led by Providence — has "an obligation to unleash freedom in the world," as he put it in a recent speech.

    Such rhetoric can have benevolent results. It has spawned the Peace Corps, moved mountains of food aid and promoted the spread of human rights. It helped carry out the Marshall Plan, bring down the Berlin Wall and stop "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia and Kosovo.

    But such talk can also be dangerous. It has led us into the swamps of Vietnam, the jungles of Central America, the deserts of Iraq. Mesmerized by our idealism, we have averted our gaze from war's realities — the razed villages, the death squads, the barbarities of occupation.

    Bush sought to justify war in Iraq on the ground that it would not only make Americans safer but also make Iraqis freer. The Middle East, he declared, would be transformed and democratized through our intervention. While flattering our sense of national purpose, such claims foreclosed discussion of the potential costs of invading and occupying an Arab country.

    During the war itself, while Arab and European news organizations unflinchingly presented images of the dead and injured, the American networks — worried, as always, about viewer sensibilities — scrubbed their broadcasts of all signs of blood. The decision of some newspapers to publish photos of flag-draped coffins caused an uproar. So did Ted Koppel's decision to read the names of the fallen on "Nightline." When the Sinclair Broadcast Group announced that its stations would not air the program, it fell to a war-hardened veteran like Sen. John McCain to note the need for the public "to be reminded of war's terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail."

    At least U.S. casualties are finally getting some attention. Iraqi casualties are not. The U.S. military does not track them, and U.S. news organizations rarely report on them. The recent fighting in Fallouja is a good example. After four American security contractors were killed and their bodies mutilated, the U.S. military pounded the city with warplanes and gunships. By most accounts, hundreds of people died, many of them civilians.

    Al Jazeera showed nonstop footage of these victims, searing them into the Arab psyche. On American TV, they were barely a blip, and, two weeks later, we still have no idea how many civilians died. And we don't seem to care.

    Such indifference reflects a broader lack of curiosity about the world. Americans, in an act of great national narcissism, are forever polling other nations to see what they think of us. Our ratings keep going down, but do we ever stop to find out why?

    We are notorious for our lack of knowledge of other cultures, our inability to speak foreign languages. Overwhelmingly, the generals and administrators in Iraq cannot speak Arabic, cannot tell a Sunni from a Shiite. How do you liberate people when you can't even communicate with them?

    The photos out of Abu Ghraib have finally pierced the screen of our complacency and self-regard. They have forced us to confront the fact that war brutalizes — and not only the vanquished. The guards who shackled and stripped the Iraqi prisoners may be bad apples, but they are the predictable fruit of an expanding American imperium. We must recognize that those smirking grins and sadistic leers are not simply expressions of some alien breed — they are the face of America at war.

    *

    Michael Massing is a contributing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review and a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books.​
    http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-massing10may10,1,2401011.story
     
  2. poopyhead macrumors 6502a

    poopyhead

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    #2
    I feel that the treatment of prisoners is the result of a volunteer army, untrained service people, and strong almost religious rhetoric spouted by the bush administration.

    First I think it is important to analyze what types of people would volunteer for military service. They would most likely be people more prone to sociopathic tendencies and a need to dominate others. Who else would volunteer to loose their identity and to be trained to kill? I am not saying that all military people are sociopaths, but I do believe that their is a sociopahtic antisocial culture that goes hand in hand with a group that is trained to kill and volunteers to kill others.

    Secondly many of those in Iraq are weekend soldiers not trained for the types of operations they are now involved with. When one lacks training, possibly has antisocial personality traits, and has no leadership to guide him/her then they will take out their aggression on the helpless individuals around them or those depicted as enemies of the american people.

    Lastly this war on terror was branded from the beginning as a crusade and bush, while now more carefully choosing his words, has done little to dissuade this mindset among the american people. It has become politically expedient for the administration to present this entire conflict as a battle by "us" against "them", with "them" being an amorphous term for any person who disagrees with the official doctrine.
     
  3. Lyle macrumors 68000

    Lyle

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    #3
    Oh my.

    Do you know (or have you ever known) anyone who volunteered for military service? For example, did your father or grandfather serve in the military? Were they sociopaths?

    Didn't John Kerry volunteer for military service (despite a student deferment)? Does he have these sociopathic tendencies that are so widespread amongst military people, or is he one of those apparently rare exceptions?
     
  4. IJ Reilly thread starter macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #4
    Your objections are noted, but I'd personally prefer to discuss the points made in the article, which did not include characterizing military people as having sociopathic tendencies. What is being argued here is that we're being fed a steady diet of distorted realities about war in general and this one specifically.
     
  5. poopyhead macrumors 6502a

    poopyhead

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    #5
    in fact I have. I have known several who volunteered and who were drafted. I only state that there is most likely a higher incidence of sociopahtic tendencies within the military than in most other job sectors, I would argue that this is also most likely true of the police as well as other military and para military organizations. I did not state that everyone in the military is a sociopath, I merely stated that there is most likely a higher incidence of sociopathic tendencies among volunteer military personnel.
    my views are drawn from synthesizing information from my dad, who was drafted into vietnam and served alongside "volunteers", and from friends and associates in high-school who planned to and did go into the military.

    I beg you to read what was written instead of formulating over simplified generalizations about what you feel my outlook may or may not be. note that you have focused on only one of my three points.
    Points 2 and 3 do deal with the article.
     
  6. zimv20 macrumors 601

    zimv20

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    #6
    two points:
    1. i wouldn't make such an assumption w/o seeing some kind of study
    2. do you leave room for the relatively higher stress of combat / being in iraq bringing out such tendencies in people who, in other professions, wouldn't exhibit them?
     
  7. poopyhead macrumors 6502a

    poopyhead

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    #7
    1. I am only talking about my opinions based on my life experiences and admittedly biased news reports. I am admittedly assuming.

    2. yes I certainly do, and I feel this is where lack of training and proper command takes definite responsibility.

    from my second point above
     
  8. Lyle macrumors 68000

    Lyle

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    #8
    Oh, sure, I would agree with that.

    My first thought is that none of this is new. What I mean is, I think it's safe to say that there have been civilian casualties in any war. Ideally there wouldn't be, but that's the reality. Similiarly, I think it's naive to believe that these are the first prisoners who have been tortured during a war. But we didn't have digital cameras, and an internet to quickly spread that information around the world before.

    Interestingly, I think the author hits on the dilemma in the first paragraph. I believe that America is, for the most part, "a compassionate country that believes in freedom" and "cares about every individual". These are some of the qualities that sometimes require our armed forces to go to war, to try to correct perceived injustices around the world.

    At the same time, that compassion that we feel makes it difficult to stomach the true costs of war. For example, regardless of your current beliefs, suppose that some years down the road Iraq does in fact turn out to be a free, democratic society as a result of this war. Does that make it "worth" the wartime civilian casualties?
     
  9. takao macrumors 68040

    takao

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    #9
    addition:
    from the 150 guys in my unit during consription service 3-4 joined the army after the 8 months for another 3 years and their comments were like:
    "SHOOTING IS SOOO FUNNY"
    "I WANT TO GET ALL THOSE GIRLS"...
    and yeah they slept with their assault rifle in the bed and wear the gas-mask during sleep "for fun"
    those weren't the best in writing/reading and they were very xenophobic ....

    that was only my personal experience....
     
  10. IJ Reilly thread starter macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #10
    Of course it isn't new. But the fundamental irony is that, failing the ability to prove that Saddam was a threat to anyone but his own people, the political rationale for the war needed to be altered to fit the facts. It became a war of liberation. It's awfully difficult to deliver freedom and justice at the point of a gun, especially if that gun belongs to a foreign army. It's also at least a bit naive to think it will be easy -- and that's effectively what we were told.

    We were deceived about the true costs of this war, in terms of dollars, lives (both US and Iraqi), and in terms of lost US prestige in the world. At this point, it's difficult to imagine it working out well.
     
  11. zimv20 macrumors 601

    zimv20

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    #11
    i'm reminded of the WWII class i took in college (taught by a former officer in the Prussian army). he told us that when the german armies swept through the balkans, they were welcomed as liberators. until they were sent into germany to work in the factories, anyway.
     
  12. wwworry macrumors regular

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    #12

    Well you are supposing what might be the case years from now. Until that time it might be best to look at the reality on the ground.

    No you can not say that just because prisoners have been tortured in the past that this time is OK too. No American soldiers and private contractors should torture prisoners. Not only is information gained by torture useless. THings like the country you are trying to "liberate" will suspect you have other motives. It is not "hazing" not is it a "prank". Get real here!

    Why try to put a positive spin on it? Really why? It is wrong. I am sick of people trying to minimize things like this.
     
  13. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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    #13
    This is NOT a war. This is a "regime change". Isn't it?

    So you can't get away with the outrageous treatment of prisoners routinely handed out as a matter of official policy in Afghanistan, Cuba and Iraq, to people who have not even been charged with anything and for the most part are probably completely innocent? Oh dear. Do you think you can hack it by the rules, or do you think you can only win by tearing up your own rule book? Is winning THAT important?

    Those days are over, mate. America is from now on a country which engages in sadistic perversion at home and seeks to export it worldwide under the cover of "liberation". Didn't you read the news? Nobody gives a stuff about your "perceived injustices" any more.

    Dream on.
     
  14. poopyhead macrumors 6502a

    poopyhead

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    #14
    I just want to point out that the United Kingdom is complicit in this as well and is part of the "sadistic perversion". The US is not the only country with blood on its hands or a prisoner abuse scandal.
     
  15. blackfox macrumors 65816

    blackfox

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    #15
    HEY...How do you know what I do in the privacy of my own home...my therapist says...oh...wait...you're talking about something else...nevermind...
     
  16. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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    #16
    Oh, absolutely. I usually include "our lot" in my rants. :(
     
  17. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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    #17
    I know where you live.... :cool:
     
  18. Lyle macrumors 68000

    Lyle

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    #18
    Umm, I didn't say that.
    I did not say that prisoners should be tortured. I did not compare it to hazing or a prank.

    I did not intentionally try to put a positive spin on what's going on in Iraq. If you've seen some of my recent posts about the prisoner abuse I think I've made it very clear that there's no excuse for it.
     
  19. Ugg macrumors 68000

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    #19
    Civilian casualties are a part of war whether we like it or not. One aspect of this war is the fact that the US has deliberately not given out any numbers and has actively discouraged the Iraqi ministry of health from doing so as well. It wasn't until Fallujah that we had any formal declaration of deaths. That is wrong.

    Yeah, and there was no live tv prior to Vietnam or letters home from soldiers prior to WWII and no pony express, etc...... You can't place the blame on technology. Just as faxes allowed the Chinese to communicate with the world during the Tiannamen Square crisis there will always be some way for the abuses to get out.

    You are right though, we never saw any photos of the abuses that took place in Germany after WWII, but if you were to read first hand accounts of the postwar years, you would soon realize that human lives were cheap and all those soldiers who hadn't gotten any if ever, took advantage of the starving german girls and boys. It isn't anything new, but it is disgusting that it was condoned from fairly high up the chain of command.

    I'm not so sure anymore that America is compassionate anymore. We were in the sixties if somewhat misguided in our attempts to bring democracy to the world. Now, it's more a matter of economics.

    A book I would highly suggest is "Dark Star Safari" by Paul Theroux. It's an account of his trip from Cairo to Capetown in 2002. He returns to Africa after an absence of 40 years and one of the most disgusting things he observes is the NGOs are no longer about helping Africans but about helping the country the aid originated from.

    One of the classic parts of the book is when he's traveling to Malawi where he taught in the Peace Corps and later at the University. The road to the capital is long and winding and needs lots of maintenance year round. In the past the road had been maintained by many locals who were paid a fair wage. An NGO decided that this work was demeaning for the men and women so imported road grading equipment. It worked great for a couple of years but then the eqpt. needed parts but the NGO had long since gone and no thought had been given to maintenance. The equipment is now rusting, all those people from before are out of work and the road is worse than it has ever been.

    Our ideals may be good but if we don't follow through, then what's the point? It has become more a sop to our conscience than any kind of true compassion. If gw had any compassion, aids drugs would be made available to Africa and Asia without expensive subsidies to American drug makers and there would be no restriction on family planning clinics around the world.

    When it is a matter of life or death, what's the point of values?

    It is way too early to tell whether the destruction of Iraq will result in a lasting democracy. Probably about 50 years too early. The US was able to choose its destiny and aided by France it achieved freedom. If we were to look back over the 200 + years, we would see very few instances where "freedom and democracy" were successfully forced on other people. If people don't want it for themselves then there is little hope that it will take root by bombing the country into the middle ages.

    I really do see your point but I think you make way too many assumptions about the US being the beacon of hope and Iraq the cesspit of the middle east.

    Part of freedom is the right to self-determination.
     
  20. Neserk macrumors 6502a

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    #20

    I am no fan of the military, but... people who volunteer for service sometimes come from families that have a history of service. It is a way of life for them.

    I bet you'll also find they are often in the lower middle class to below poverty. How many have been quoted as saying they joined so they could get their college paid for?

    I'm sure *some* fit your profile. But I think most don't realize they are going to lose their identity. Nor does the reality that they are going to be trained to kill and then be expected to use that training really fit into their thinking. I'm guessing most people join when they are 18. And we all remember being 18 and having really no clue that we were not in fact immortal.
     
  21. IJ Reilly thread starter macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #21
    Excellent post, Ugg. Thanks for giving this so much thought.
     
  22. Lyle macrumors 68000

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    #22
    Perhaps so.

    I don't blame technology for the problems. On the contrary, I think the technological advances of the "information age" are going to start changing how people think about war and evaluate its consequences. Which is part of what I took the article's author to be saying.

    Yes, agree. If that war had been fought during the present age (well, I mean, with the present level of technology, the internet, etc.) I wonder how we would perceive it.

    I think a lot of Americans believe that we're still compassionate. But I do understand your point.

    I agree with all of this (no, really). Although polls seem to indicate that most Iraqis believe that they are "better off" than they were under Saddam, I don't really see a free, democratic society in Iraq's future. I'm not sure that they do want it for themselves.

    Thanks very much for the response. I know that we don't often agree on things but I appreciate the time you took to present your views on this.
     
  23. poopyhead macrumors 6502a

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    #23
    my girlfriends dad went to military school to escape poverty. my grandpa and my uncle on my moms side joined the navy, my uncle to pay for medical school. in my dad's family, considered by many in the community at the time to be poor white trash share croppers, all 5 sons were drafted into either Korea or Vietnam my uncle died at the age or 18 laying telegraph cable the day before the fighting ended in Korea. My dad who by the grace of God earned a full scholarship to emory and later to emory law was not supposed to be drafted, he was both a full time student and the brother of a fallen soldier, but he was considered far more expendable by the local draft board than one of the many sons from a white middle class "towney" family. Luckily, because of my dad's intelligence he was spared conflict and instead went to officers school and Czechalslovokia.
    I do not claim that all military people are sociopaths. I feel based on my experiences with people who were in ROTC when I was in high school, friends of mine in both middle school and high school who desperately wanted to join the armed forces, and things that my dad has said that the culture of the military is one that does not support the development of empathy and has sociopahtic under pinnings, and that many, but not all or even the majority, of soldiers are sociopaths or psychopaths.
     
  24. Neserk macrumors 6502a

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    #24
    I would agree 100%
     
  25. PickledSquirrel macrumors regular

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    #25
    Yup. Believe me. I live in Denmark and watch the news. Even though my country takes part in the invading coalition, it's clearly britons and americans who are the bad guys. And nobody asks what OUR soldiers are doing, because our crown prince is getting married the day after tommorow. So, 30 minutes of news in DK consists of 15 minutes of Iraq-torture with speculations on whether various american and brittish ministers will have to leave office, and of 15 minutes of national wedding preperations. Very surreal indeed.
     

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