Swans Commentary » swans.com January 12, 2009  



The Devil's Brigade


by Charles Marowitz





(Swans - January 12, 2009)   On the front page of The New York Times dated January 2nd, two prominent but seemingly unrelated stories appeared side by side. The headline of the first read: Bribes Corrode Afghans' Trust in Government, and described in detail how police, judges, and other appointed officials were so "shot through with corruption and graft" that virtually anything could be obtained by bribery and that "from the lowliest traffic policeman to the family of President Hamid Karzai himself, the state built on the ruins of the Taliban government seven years ago now often seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it."

One column away from the bribery story, the headline read: A Focus on Violence by G.I.s Back From the War. This story chronicled the fact that "Nine current or former members of Fort Carson's Fourth Brigade Combat Team have killed someone or were charged with killings in the last three years after returning from Iraq. Five of the slayings took place last year alone. In addition, charges of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault have risen sharply." It went on to say that Peter Green, the Secretary of the Army, "is considering conducting an Army-wide review of all soldiers involved in violent crimes since returning from Iraq and Afghanistan..." and that Secretary Green declared that "the Fort Carson task force had yet to find a specific factor underlying the killings but that the inquiry was continuing."

It doesn't take a sage or a profound social philosopher to discover the "specific factor underlying the killings" or to perceive the link that runs through both of these stories. Cause and effect are writ so large only the permanently-blinkered could miss them.

The bribery and corruption in Iraq is the Middle East's reverberation of American scandals of people like Senator William J. Jefferson, whose one-hundred-thousand-dollar fraudulent payoff was stashed away in his freezer; the white-collar thieves involved in the Enron scandals; the fifty-billion-dollar Madoff Ponzi caper; and Governor Blagojevich's attempt to sell Obama's senatorial seat to the highest bidder. A day doesn't pass without news of some fraud, bribe, or petty or grand larceny searing its way through the American media. In a nation whose politics have been corrupt for over three centuries, is it any wonder that the American presence in places like Iraq and Afghanistan have deteriorated the doctrines of fairness and justice that have been so long revered in our history?

It could be argued that corruption is not nation-specific; it is to be found everywhere and, to some extent or another, in almost every country. But its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is clearly traceable to the billions of American dollars that over the past seven years have been shoveled into these countries in America's misguided attempt to brainwash recalcitrant nations to adopt the mores and morals of our so-called Western democracy.

As for the increased incidence of murder, rape, and physical violence committed by returning veterans, is there any necessity "to initiate an inquiry" into the reasons behind this wave of criminality? You take hundreds of thousands of young men barely out of their teens, you teach them that they are virtually surrounded by an unidentifiable "enemy," and that survival consists of shooting first and asking questions afterward; that insurrectionists, whether women, children, or young men very like themselves, are there to destroy you unless you destroy them first; you place high-powered weapons in their hands and subtly inculcate the idea that indiscriminate murder is, in some inexplicable way, the path to victory in a war in which fatal ideology trumps human reason, and then you wonder why, when they return home, they are transformed into killers, rapists, and aggressors.

When the Iraq misadventure began, it was pointed out by many commentators (myself included) that the legacy of our involvement in the Middle East would be the transformation of sane, sensible, and moral young men into amoral ruffians, marauders, and killers. You teach thousands of impressionable young men the strategies of guerilla warfare, hatred of the enemy -- but an inability to distinguish friend from foe; you issue them lethal weapons and urge them to use them before the enemy can use theirs, and then you wonder why a proclivity towards violence has been inculcated.

It is pointless to encourage diplomacy and the cessation of hostilities while at the same time unleashing terror and rhetorical arguments about the need to be victorious. This tends to morally confuse men who are trying to resolve the contradiction that indiscriminate murder is in some tactical sense the only way to achieve legitimate ends. In some way, as the increasing numbers of psychologically-stressed veterans return and find themselves reflexively lapsing into mindless violence, America's defeat in this war is already a fait accompli. What kind of society will we have if it is imbued with the innate aggression we have nurtured in places like Iraq and Afghanistan? What kind of "victory" is it that transforms innocent young men into pathological cripples whose manhood has been permanently corrupted by the pestilence of war?

If we really want to honor our servicemen, we have to elucidate the difference between morality and immorality; between legitimate defense and indiscriminate destruction of people who may -- or may not -- be enemies. But in a climate in which torture is de rigueur and constitutional principles suspended (and among certain political leaders even derided), what kind of American will the war veteran become? If "supporting the troops" involves blindly encouraging them into mindsets that will destroy their bodies and corrupt their morals, what kind of patriotism is that? The only way to sensibly support our troops is to rally for their orderly withdrawal from a war that is unwinnable, unspeakable and should never have been waged.

Yes, war is hell -- but it is unsalvageably so if, in dispensing with the virtues instilled in us in our formative years, we are recruited into the ranks of the Devil's Brigade.


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published January 12, 2009