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Thursday, January 12, 2012

How Is It We Continue to Be Surprised By the Depravity and Vulgarity of War?

As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular. -- Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

I make no excuses for the four representatives of my country who defiled the dead bodies of their enemies. I am also not so naive as to think that urinating on the bodies of a fallen enemy is the first heinous act committed during war. I am outraged by this but no more outraged than I am everytime I see a casket, or a body, or a maimed soldier trying to piece his or her life back together. (The Pentagon has since confirmed but not released the identities of the soldiers and are not disputing the authenticity of the video)

A few years ago, I spoke with a soldier whose country and branch of service I'll keep private as per his wish. He worked in the medical corp in Afghanistan. A badly burned and nearly dead little girl was brought to this soldier's compound by her father. The little girl's body was so badly damaged by a bomb intended to kill Taliban insurgents that this soldier and his commanding officer had no choice but to overdose the child with morphine.  That day, at least four lives were destroyed by war. This soldier's actions were necessary given the situation, but that necessity does not lessen the vulgarity.

Of course the Marines in this picture cheapened the perceived values of all Americans and set back foreign relations by a measure of years. Of course I am disgusted by what I saw, but I am no more disgusted by this than I am by all of the other stories of death and mutlilation I am aware of.

This is what happens during war.

Americans have come to believe that war is antiseptic and something that happens to other people in other lands. Then, when the daily depravity of war slaps us in the face we act surprised and indignant. We have disconnected the killing of people via drones and missiles from the killing of people by young men with guns. We send soldiers to kill but we demand they remain civilized. This my friends is the depraved behavior at the root of what these soldiers did, and we as a country should all take responsibility for it. Until we take that responsibility we should stop with the faux-outrage.

We have been at war in Afghanistan for ten years, and we barely pay attention to the death and mutilation anymore. Yet somehow defiling dead soldiers is suddenly wrong? I think we all need to check our personal and collective values.

War is necessary at times, but until we understand that war is always necessarily depraved we will continue to be outraged at the wrong things.

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