Detachment and Outrage

I have been following the story involving a leaked video of U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of three Taliban fighters. And I have been listening to the outrage pour out from Pentagon that they will identify the men involved and “bring them to justice.”

This is all familiar to me.

I’m reminded of the leaked photos that emerged from Abu Ghraib in the Iraq war. The pyramid. The woman pointing at the man wearing only a black cloth sack on his head. The mockery of the dead man who seemed to have an erection.

Again, outrage emerged from our country and the Pentagon.

“How could these men and women in uniform so desecrate the image and reputation of the United States of America? How could they treat these men in this way?”

The woman in the picture was found guilty and sentenced to a term of up to five and a half years.

And yet, all of this seems sanctimonious and pious and detached.

The outrage comes from those of us who watch tv from the couch, read the paper at the kitchen table, or listen to the news in our car. It comes from those who, whether for or against the war, reside in the country that is at war in Afghanistan and now concluding the war in Iraq. It comes from those who are removed from the situation and know only of war through a medium.

And yet, we are outraged.

“How could these soldiers of the finest military in the world desecrate a fallen enemy?” 

“Don’t they have any respect?” 

And I wonder, How detached are we?

That we would send our neighbors, siblings, and children off to fight in combat with real ammunition, with real danger, where real live people shoot at each other and bomb each other and kill each other – that we would send off our troops into war and expect that after all that they have seen and heard and done, that they would retain the ability to offer the cordial and “normal” courtesy to the deceased enemies?

How detached are we?

That we would send a soul to kill another, and expect that this individual would be able to remember that amidst all of this combat and violence, the enemy is still a person.

We treat the enemies as if they are targets, war as if it is safe and “smart”, and soldiers as if they are impermeable to the horrors they experience and we have the audacity to suggest that these men and women are desecrating the image and reputation of our country?

What does it say of a country that expects war and “normalcy” to coexist?

What does it say of a country that expects killing and “decency” to go hand in hand?

I think that the true horror to be found in this story is that we could honestly be disturbed or disappointed or surprised that war could cause a soldier to try and cope with the fullness of life and death in this sort of way.

We seem to have little reservation or regard to sending our troops off in battle to kill the enemies, but God forbid that one of them be inappropriate about it all!

If anything, these images should be a disruptive reminder to us of the outcomes and byproducts of war and violence to our soldiers.

That we could insist they engage in a method that produces these sort of dehumanizing behaviors should be enough for us to insist that we not place them in these situations any longer.

That we would expect them to kill and respect the sanctity of life is enough to suggest that our culture has so interwoven violence that we are no longer shocked when it is done – only when it is done “incorrectly.” 

That is where we should direct our outrage.