I just read about another reprehensible incident that has come to light after two years. Photos of soldiers from the 82nd Airborne, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., posing with body parts of dead suicide bombers in Afghanistan, were recently published by the Los Angeles Times. The troops were stationed in Afghanistan in 2010.
Americans have always cherished their war dead, and treated the remains with ultimate respect. This was epitomized by the 2009 HBO movie, Taking Chance, starring Kevin Bacon. Everywhere the remains landed, people held their hands over their hearts, saluted, or stood at attention. It was a very moving story. And I think for the most part very true.
In contrast, some soldiers have defiled the war dead of our enemy with apparent aplomb.
Why should we care? Because we, as Americans, consider ourselves to be morally superior to our enemy. We condemn it when our enemy, such as in Somalia when in 1993 supporters of Somali warlord Mohammed Aideed dragged the naked body of Staff Sgt. William David Cleveland through the streets of Mogadishu. Americans were so appalled that public opinion went against the mission, causing the Americans to withdraw by March 31, 1994.
And because we did not strike back with overwhelming force, it also caused our enemies to consider us weak. However, as has been seen, we did strike back after 9/11, and have been in a mucked-up turmoil ever since. This long war has shown that even with our overwhelming fire power, we have been unable to reduce the incidents of violence and unconventional warfare.
Our own soldiers posing with bloodied body parts may be a result of “blowing off steam” as a result of exposure to deadly fire, but it certainly does not help with “winning the hearts and minds” of the people with whom we are trying to engage. This incident will only add further fuel to the fire of hatred of us by the regular Afghans, who, like us, just want to get back to their normal lives and live in relative peace.
People aren’t trophies to show off like a photo taken after catching a 100-pound halibut, or a big Tom turkey. As Americans, we are supposed to be better than that. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has found himself having to apologize for our troops for the third time this year. Shouldn’t the Army do something to let their troops know that this behavior is unacceptable?
There has also been criticism of the Los Angeles Times for posting the ugly images because the event pictured happened more than two years ago. But it doesn’t matter if it happened two years ago, or 60 years ago. This type of behavior must be exposed and destroyed. War crimes have no time limit. This may be a harsh statement to say of our own troops, but until it is considered as such, there will continue to be such incidents.
The military must take the eradication of this behavior more seriously. Our troops not only represent Americans worldwide, but also directly influence our national security. It is not just a matter of putting our troops in greater danger of attack, but such acts reduce American influence around the world. It is a matter of national security and should be treated as such by our government.