Tuesday, 4 May 2004
I'ts 3:30 a.m. and I've been lying awake for half an hour with this going through my mind. I have to get it out, and I'm hoping once I do I will be able to sleep again. If ever I can sleep well again.
First, the woman who gave the coffin photograph to a newspaper violated her employment contract. I personally am glad she did, because we need to see those pictures. We need to acknowledge and mourn our dead, and the government has been trying to stop us because that means we would acknowledge that our people are dying. When we see that and know that and feel that, we start to question why our people are dying, and someone doesn't want us thinking those thoughts.
When I first saw that picture, my immediate reaction was to hope that there weren't enough identifying characteristics for anyone to say who took it. I never thought anyone would be so stupid as to take a picture on a military plane and then give it away using her real name. Because I know, without ever having seen or signed one of those contracts, that you do not take pictures inside military vessels and then publish them. The military have their own photographers for that, so they can control what is seen. This is war, this is the military, it is restricted.
Her employer didn't have a choice in whether to fire her, and if she didn't know that then she didn't read her contract. Maybe she did it because she believed we needed to see this, and it was an act of defiance. I'd like to think so. But she should have known she could lose her job over that.
Second: In order to be readily able to kill someone, you must first reduce that someone (those someones) to something less than human. In a military situation, generally the enemy is demonized. They are not human, they are monsters.
Imagine being in Iraq. Imagine watching your colleages, your comrades, die. Imagine hearing every day about another bombing, another guerilla attack, more religious fanatics (or patriots, depending on your point of view) willing to do anything to murder you and yours to get you out of their country.
This not only makes you angry, it also frightens you. You never know when or where another attack will come from. This puts you constantly on edge and alert, which makes you jumpy and tired and then even more angry.
Imagine then being put in charge of the prisoners. These are people who were taken while they were attacking your colleagues. While killing your friends. You already think of them as less than human. They are religious fanatics, they are zealots, they are related to the people who flew planes into buildings and killed thousands of your countrymen and sent the whole world into mourning. You hate them. (Never mind that it's not true, that it's simplistic and fabricated; that's what you've been told by those you have been trained to believe and obey.)
You are not given any training in how to handle this. You are simply left responsible for making sure these people don't escape and that they don't die. You probably get a little bored. And you are angry, deep down. You hate them. They are the reason why you are in this god-forsaken place. It's their fault. Not only have they killed your colleages, they are refusing to give up and stop fighting, so you can go home.
There is only so long that a person can remain constantly vigilant. A standing military does its very best, in all the training, to turn soldiers into unthinking killing machines. But they aren't machines, they're people.
Part of the reason for military discipline, for the unthinking obedience to a superior officer, is because the person receiving the order cannot always know the reasons for the order, and there isn't always time to stop and tell that soldier why an officer is giving that order. There also must be the belief that your superior officer wouldn't give an order that was wrong, that was selfish or against core military beliefs rather than a part of them. But it happens. It's not just the soldiers on the front lines who are jumpy and tired and in a constant state of fear and rage.
If you don't think of a group of people as human, it becomes easier to treat them badly. To turn them into your amusement. To do evil things to them. It doesn't matter, they're not human. Besides, no one will ever know, right? Plus they deserve it, they killed your friends and colleages and left you stuck here in this god-forsaken place.
I'm not saying this condones what's going on. I'm not saying it excuses it. No. I don't believe anything can excuse it or condone it or make it better. I am saying that the blame for this does not only rest on the perpetrators. Disciplining the officers in charge and the people who tortured and humiliated Iraqi prisoners will not stop it, it will not prevent it from happening again. We have to stop the demonizing of other people, we have to change the way the military prepares its men and women for war.
I tend to agree with those who think the US should have mandatory military (or government) service, because if you get all kinds of people in the military, and they're not all voluntary, it changes the way things work. Currently, our military is made up of volunteers. The enlisted class (non-officers) tend to come from the less advantaged parts of our society. The military is seen as a way up and out of poverty, as a way to get an education and see the world and get a step up on your future. Some of them signed up because of the war, but a lot of them signed up before the war and now they're stuck there. They are scared and angry and they're taking it out on the evil monsters who killed their friends.
I wish I could say we don't need a standing military. I wish I knew how to fix the one we have so that it didn't try to create unthinking killing machines of hate. I don't have answers, but I have plenty of questions and a whole lot of rage of my own. Those people are making the world unsafe for all Americans. They are perpetuating the hate and the evil, and they are bringing down more than just the wrath of the Arab world on us. Not that it's "only" or "just" the wrath of the Arab world, but that this is not the only response to what is happening. The rest of the world is starting to hate us too.
Are you angry? You should be. This will be coming to us now. We are the evil ones, and we are going to pay for this for generations. If you do not like it and you want something to change, I suggest you write to your representatives, your congressman, your mayor, your governor, your councilmembers, and tell them so. Many of us are or have been afraid to do that, because that will get our names on the list to be questioned and harassed by our own government. But if all of us who are outraged do something, there will be too many of us for retaliation. Even if your representative supports this war and this administration, send letters anyway. My representative is not running for office again, and I'd like to think my letters are part of the reason why. Maybe enough of us wrote and said she wasn't representing us and we wouldn't vote for her if she continued to support these things.
I also suggest, if you don't like this, that you think long and hard about the elections in seven months, and that you vote. Every vote counts. Every single last vote. Don't let that be taken away too. Use your voice while you still have one. Silence denotes agreement and complicity.
Stop the killing, stop the torture, stop the senseless violence and destruction. What we the Americans have done is every bit as bad as what has been done to us, if not worse. It has to stop. I will not be party to this, and I will not have it done at all let alone in my name.
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