Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Quote of the day...

...is undoubtedly this chilling line;
There's not a word that would describe how much I hated these people, I wasn't thinking these people were humans.
Former soldier Steven Dale Green is serving five consecutive life sentences for raping and killing a 14-year old Iraqi girl and murdering her family.

When he was interviewed by the Associated Press, he said "that his crimes were fueled in part by experiences in Iraq's particularly violent "Triangle of Death" where two of his sergeants were gunned down." He also "cited a lack of leadership and help from the Army." In his own words, "I was crazy," and "if I hadn't ever been in Iraq, I wouldn't be in the kind of trouble I'm in now."

Now, there can be no doubt whatsoever that Dale's crimes are inexcusable. He cannot pass the buck to anybody else. However, there is a point to be made here about what war does to people, and his statement that "I wasn't thinking these people were humans" about sums it up.

Steven Dale Green's crimes were his own and nobody else's, but what he did is by no means an isolated incident. Taking only the headline grabbers, we can see that in the torture at Abu Ghirab, and in the Wikileaks "Collateral Murder" file. Looking deeper, we can see the atrocities in the US military's "night raids," hinting at a broader wave of terror and violence. Just as there were dozens of My Lais in Vietnam, so we shouldn't doubt that there were and are countless Steven Dale Greens in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The problem is not that, occasionally, people snap. It is that war itself is a brutal, dehumanising, and maddening exercise. Dale didn't see Iraqis as human because, if he did, he wouldn't have been able to do his job. You cannot obey orders unthinkingly if you can contemplate the horror and human suffering that serves as a backdrop. But if you can't, you are capable of anything.

And if you don't snap like Dale and commit horrendous crimes, the likelihood of other consequences is  very high. The suicide rate amongst US soldiers was last year revealed as higher than the civilian rate for the first time since the peak of the Vietnam War. 178,483 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were diagnosed with one or more mental illnesses between 2002 and September 2008. And as many as 18 veterans of American wars take their own lives in the United States every day - more than 6,500 per year.

These are disturbing facts. They don't fit in with the culture which puts soldiers on a pedestal as "heroes" and waves a shroud over the wholesale slaughter of men, women, and children.

But they are also the inevitable consequence of just such a culture. Steven Dale Green is not a blip or an anomaly. He is a symptom of militarism, and far from the only one. We create more like him every day that we tolerate war and venerate those who wage it.