Free people do bad things

An oldie but goodie from my friend Joe Bageant:

My redneck psychotherapist friend Brad Blanton tells me that militarization and open democratic societies do not work together at all and produce pathologies at both the individual and collective levels. Thus we get such conflicted bullshit as the U.S. soldiers being kind to that Iraqi boy wiggling around in his pus stained bed like a bandaged grub because an America bomb took off his arms and legs. “Attention private first class Leroy Rodriquez Jackson! Stand forward and give that dusky little torso with a head a chocolate bar and a Wal-Mart teddy bear. And grin for the camera, for Christ sake! Hey let’s airlift the kid to Germany, mount four metal claws on the stumps, and hang him on the playground monkey bars. Make a great PR shot! One thing for sure, that one won’t ever be driving any suicide car bombs into the compound, right private?” (Heh, heh,heh!)

But you have to feel sorry for Private Jackson. It is his ass that gets caught in the disconnect, as he tries to wrap his head around how to be “lethal and compassionate.” As in “Kill the motherfuckers, but be loving and kind to children as you blow their parents’ guts out onto the sidewalk.” People who kill other people are desensitized. Humans are hardened to the face of suffering; the killing becomes reality, compassion an abstraction. Private Jackson is totally screwed. When he does his soldierly duty of causing misery, death and maiming, he must do it compassionately, according to some hallucination generated in the Pentagon by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. The hallucination is transferred through the chain of command until it reaches where the rubber meets the road — then five privates go on trial for hurting an enemy they were specifically trained to kill. Anyone who has ever been in the armed forces understands the certain hypocrisy of the proposition.

For some reason though, civilians, smugly ensconced in their recliners and on barstools, cannot grasp why ignorant kid soldiers do horrible things during wars. I once defended Lynndie England in print and got hundreds of emails demonizing the poor Appalachian mutt girl, saying that she dishonored our “heroes” in Iraq. State generated garbage such as “Lethal and compassionate” works fine for these people, whose entire lives have been spent in the controlled environment of America’s industrial military state marketing messages. All these post-teens in desert camo, the ones making the “good kills”, as an appropriately conducted murder of an Iraqi is deemed military parlance, they are heroes on the TV news. Funny how you cannot see their Clearasil on TV. I have never seen as much acne medicine as when I was in the military during the Nam era, of which this war reminds me greatly.

As James Carroll brilliantly put it in “A Nation Lost” (Boston Globe, 4/22/03):

Photographic celebrations of our young warriors, glorifications of released American prisoners, heroic rituals of the war dead all take on the character of crass exploitation of the men and women in uniform. First they were forced into a dubious circumstance, and now they are themselves being mythologized as its main post-facto justification — as if the United States went to Iraq not to seize Saddam (disappeared), or to dispose of weapons of mass destruction (missing), or to save the Iraqi people (chaos), but ”to support the troops.” War thus becomes its own justification. Such confusion on this grave point, as on the others, signifies a nation lost.