Ed's Blog

"Some people know everything, but that's all they know."

WHY SOME AMERICAN WARRIORS BEHAVE BADLY

In every American war there have been those few that will urinate on enemy corpses or degrade and abuse enemy detainees. War is hell and it can bring out the worst in people. But do those who behave badly do so because of the stresses of combat or because of a propensity for such behavior before they entered the military? As a Vietnam War combat veteran, I can testify that both are true; but instances of the latter, in my opinion, outnumber the former as American men and women in uniform bring with them their personal moral and ethical bearings.  (Read the full column at EWRoss.com)

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10 Responses

  1. Dear Ed, like many people who ‘witnessed’ this grotesque incident on the news media I was shocked and appalled by this barbaric behaviour. War is the ultimate failure of ethics, not because of its nature as a sanctioned violence but because it demands that human beings must be conditioned to take the lives of other human beings. One is forced to consider the true significance of urinating on a corpse in the light of the fact that the person with penis in hand has taken the life of the flesh they are now degrading. Why stop at this? Why not also have sexual intercourse with the dead person? It seems no longer to matter. Any society which takes its poorer children and trains them to kill in order to protect the society of the élite cannot be committed to the ethical training of those same children. Why then are we shocked when they behave like beasts?

  2. Tom Waring says:

    Dear Ed: Like you I served in Vietnam, I was there for two tours. I do not condone what was done. When I was in Vietnam I would not have done this nor would I have allowed anyone to do it in my presence. In combat situations, especially where you have a significant number of IED’s, and you are fighting an enemy that blends into the local population and hides behind families, in public places, and in religious buildings, frustration and anger can unfortunately override moral, ethical, and legal obligations. It Vietnam where incidents like this occurred they decided to place the blame at the lowest level possible. However I strongly disagreed with that. In my opinion this type of situation is a failure of leadership at the top of the organization. Thier review of the training for lower level personnel after this incident is just window dressing for public consumption. What they really need to do is review how the message is continually reinforced during deployment by the officers. My experience in Vietnam was that the “acceptable norm” was the culture that the senior officers were aware of and took no action to change. In a military unit secrets are difficult to keep and it does not take long for everyone to know exactly what is happening and what the “culture” of the organization is. Unfortunately for political purposes the public will see military personnel at the lower level severely punished, while the senior officers will “shout out in outrage” and call for severe penalty and revised policies, training and oversight.

  3. The fact that the Marines’ actions were digitally recorded and showed on the Internet does not make the incident any more irreprehensible. Given the sensitive nature of the American led action in Afghanistan, this incident could not have occurred at a worst time. I agree that these particular servicemen exercised poor personal judgment and did not act based upon training or orders. This having been state; no intellectual juxtaposition can convince any reasonable person that war is not hell. Once the first shot is fired civil norms of behavior are the first casualties of the conflict.

    War or prolonged conflict more often than not brings out the worst in people. In order to be an effective solider, freedom fighter or insurgent a person must overcome their reluctance and abhorrence to physically and mentally assault another person. A good soldier must be able to overcome certain inhibitions and suppress emotions in order to be an effective warrior. We should not burden our soldiers with moralistic niceties when the enemy is trying to take his (her) head off. Isn’t it the Taliban that orders the stoning of woman who have been raped? I believe it is the Taliban that executes foreign missionaries for preaching anything that is not strict Islam. How should American military leaders prepare citizens to fight in a zone that features beheading that are intentionally taped, distributed to the news media and put on YouTube and other social media for the world to see? We should extend our servicemen and woman more leeway and support.

    This essay argues that these soldiers might have acted in this fashion due to the way that there were raised or how they behaved as civilians. The blog concludes that “American men and woman in uniform bring with them their personal moral and ethical bearings.” I do not believe that there can be any doubt that war acts as a magnate that distorts soldiers’ personal moral compasses. To a certain degree soldiers lose their moral bearings due to combat. From what I have read about this urinating incident these soldiers were not morally corrupt or bankrupted as civilians, in fact the opposite might be true.

    Let’s assume for the moment that these soldiers were buddies back home. They agreed to meet after work to watch the game at the at local sports bar. On the way to the bar they came across corpses lying in a ditch. Does anyone believe for a moment that they would have unzipped their pants and peed on the corpses?

    I think this post focuses on the wrong end of the problem, if there even is a problem.

  4. Reposted from LinkedIn says:

    LinkedIn Group: U.S. Veteran

    Discussion: WHY SOME AMERICAN WARRIORS BEHAVE BADLY

    Soldiers, civilians, contractors and people helping to establish a central government strong enough to provide for its citizens have had their heads cut off to terrorize and scare away others. Pissing on the dead bodies of these people that are trying to stop progress and bring oppression, submittion and the days of the prophet back dont deserve the attention the press is giving this event.

    Behedding of a live human being or urinating on dead bodies whats worse?

    Posted by Kevin

  5. Reposted from LinkedIn says:

    LinkedIn Group: U.S. Veteran

    Discussion: WHY SOME AMERICAN WARRIORS BEHAVE BADLY

    Soldiers are asked to do the impossible. It is not in the average human’s nature to take another human life. Soldiers often find it easier to accomplish this task by dehumanizing the enemy to a point that guilt does not drive them crazy. We are all capable of doing these things and if put in the right set of circumstances we will to survive. Each man will have to work through what he did or did not do during his time in combat. Judgement of his actions by anyone else is not necessary.
    My heart goes out our soldiers no matter what they find it necessary to do. I appreciate their service.

    Posted by Jim

  6. Reposted from LinkedIn says:

    LinkedIn Group: The Heritage Foundation

    Discussion: WHY SOME AMERICAN WARRIORS BEHAVE BADLY

    Call me old school…but..aren’t warriors “suppose” to behave badly?

    Posted by Sean

  7. Reposted from LinkedIn says:

    LinkedIn Group: Defense Industries

    Discussion: WHY SOME AMERICAN WARRIORS BEHAVE BADLY

    Dear Ed. is your comment incomplete? It appears to finish mid sentence.

    Firstly, inappropriate behaviour or actions by combatants is not just a US problem. All Defence forces and countries experience similar events. it just depends whether the defence force fosters such events through ambivalent attitude or support. This is not to say the government of the day nor that countries citizens support the actions. A case in point would be the actions of the TNI in West Papua or Syrian armed forces currently.

    Secondly most inappropriate behaviour occurs because of poor/inconsistent leadership practices or lack of supervision. If soldiers believe they have the support of their chain of command or the chain of command does not care then they will act in a manner they believe best supports them. Clear and consistent leadership and supervision is not just required by soldiers, in a lot of ways it is desired.

    Thirdly, battle stress is digested differently by soldiers in different ways. Soldiers in units that are constantly in engagements of their own choosing (raids, attacks, ambush etc) will experience a high level of rationalisation of the conflict and in most cases deal with the experience positively. They will also be able to have a measure of effectiveness applied to their roles as they will see results first hand. A transport driver who maybe hauling stores from rear areas and is constantly under threat from ambush or IED will not internalise either real contact or threatened contact with the enemy well as he will not have a foe to strike back at. Ergo when he gets an opportunity to meter out some payback he will not necessarily be applying the ROE.

    Lastly, peer group pressures can play a big part in this. If the soldiers are all sitting around and trying to out do each other in how tough they are they can end up taking those words and putting them into actions to demonstrate to their comrades how tough they are. This is probable the easiest failure point to combat and can be solved with good and consistent leadership.

    My caveat to the words above are just personal thoughts, put down on the fly and do not reflect any body of research.

    Posted by Lachlan

  8. EWRoss says:

    “War has no power to transform, it merely exaggerates the good and evil that are in us, till it is plain for all to read; it cannot change, it exposes. Man’s fate in battle is worked out before war begins. For his acts in war are dictated not by courage, nor by fear, but by conscience, of which war is the final test.” Lord Moran, Anatomy of Courage, 1966, p.160

  9. Jim Henke says:

    Ed. After reading your article, Why some Americans Warriors behave badly, I come to one conclusion. Each and every one of us have our own way of handling the horror of war. I no for my self, i did things that year, I’am not proud of. At the time i only saw what the enemy did to our own guys. It can bring out the worst in a soldier. On June 19th 1967 A company 4th 47th 9th Inf Div, walked in an ambush in Ap Bac, in the Mekong Delta. We suffered the worst loss of the Div, with 32 dead, and 76 wounded, and a hand full walked away the next day. Only after policing our wounded, and dead, did i realize that each and every survivor, would never be the same. To look into there eyes from that day on, i new they would never be the same. That thousand yard stair, would always be with them. Some handled it better than others, after Nam, but some of us still relive it every night, and others cant talk about it. The way the Vietnam Vet was treated when came home, did not help .They didn’t call it PTSD back then, but they do today. Its called war, and War is Hell. Don,t blame the soldier.Remember we fought for one another that year, in order to stay alive, and did what we had to do. This is one mans opinion, and i don,t talk for all. Jim

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