Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

March 20, 2012

LION AND THE LAMB: Death comes in the night

CROSSVILLE — After a decade of war in Afghanistan, our effort to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people is now coming to a disgraceful and shameful ending.

Three events this year have sealed the fate of this decade-long effort. In January, a video surfaced showing Marines laughing and urinating on three Afghan bodies. In February, Korans were burned on a garbage dump of a U.S. base north of Kabul. And in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 11, sixteen Afghan civilians (nine children under twelve, three women, and four men) were shot or stabbed to death in their own homes, and some of their bodies set on fire, by a staff sergeant assigned to a forward operating base outside Kandahar.

The Afghan government has now demanded that U.S. forces no longer be allowed to go into Afghan villages, and that they move up the date for their evacuation from the country. It has also demanded that the staff sergeant be brought to trial in Afghanistan. He, however, has been whisked back to the U.S. where he is being held in the Fort Leavenworth prison. A Seattle-based lawyer, John Henry Browne, has been assigned to his case.

The 38-year-old staff sergeant, Robert Bales, had enlisted in the military soon after 9/11, and was home-based at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, where he was part of the Third Stryker Brigade in the Second Infantry Division. The base had been described by the Stars and Stripes newspaper as "the most troubled one in the military." 2011 marked a record for soldier suicides there. Bales had been deployed three times from there to Iraq where he had suffered a number of injuries to his head and legs. He had hoped to be sent next to Europe or Hawaii, and was particularly upset to be sent to Afghanistan.

As has been pointed out, his profile—including a history of war injuries, financial pressures, disappointment about being passed over for promotion, brushes with law enforcement, and a wife who went through pregnancy and years of parenting alone—matches that of many other American soldiers and Marines. So far, 15,460 Americans have been wounded there, and 1,787 killed.

Journalist Chris Hedges has written a perceptive analysis of this war and its character: "The war in Afghanistan—where the enemy is elusive and rarely seen, where the cultural and linguistic disconnect makes every trip outside the wire a visit to hostile territory, where it is clear that you are losing despite the vast industrial killing machine at your disposal—feeds the culture of atrocity.

"The fear and stress, the anger and hatred, reduce all Afghans to the enemy, and this includes women, children, and the elderly. Civilians and combatants merge into one detested nameless, faceless mass. The psychological leap to murder is short. And murder happens every day in Afghanistan. It happens in drone strikes, artillery bombardments, airstrikes, missile attacks and the withering suppressing fire unleashed in villages from belt-fed machine guns.

"To decry the butchery of this case and to defend the wars of occupation we wage is to know nothing about combat. We kill children nearly every day in Afghanistan. We do not usually kill them outside the structure of a military unit. If an American soldier had killed or wounded scores of civilians after the ignition of an improvised explosive device against his convoy, it would not have made the news. Units do not stick around to count their 'collateral damage.' But the Afghans know. They hate us for the murderous rampages. They hate us for our hypocrisy."

A World War II study determined that, after 60 days of continuous combat, 98 percent of all surviving soldiers will have become psychiatric casualties. Does that still hold true for today?

Today, however, we have another kind of casualty. Nations that are addicted to violence to solve national and international problems can also become psychiatric casualties. Bomb Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Iran...and that will help bring us peace! As A.J. Muste reminded us many years ago, "There is no way to peace; peace is the way."

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