It’s OK to bully civilians: US soldiers

Canadian soldiers have a reputation for treating their detainees well:

Most Afghans captured — even Taliban sympathizers — praised the Canadian soldiers for their politeness, their gentle handling of captives and conditions in their detention facility.

Many American soldiers advocate a harsher approach, according to a survey conducted by the US Army:

About two-thirds of Marines and half the Army troops surveyed said they would not report a team member for mistreating a civilian or for destroying civilian property unnecessarily. “Less than half of Soldiers and Marines believed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect,” the Army report stated.

About 10 percent of the 1,767 troops in the official survey — conducted in Iraq last fall — reported that they had mistreated civilians in Iraq, such as kicking them or needlessly damaging their possessions.

Note the contrast here. Canadian soldiers have a reputation for treating enemy combatants humanely; more than half of American soldiers support the mistreatment of Iraqi civilians.

The quote is from the Washington Post, via Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan’s post is well worth reading in its entirety. It’s a furious summation of the damage done to American interests by the Iraq war.

But Sullivan isn’t out to smear US soldiers. He sees American soldiers as the “first casualty” of the war. The statement is plainly hyperbolic — surely Iraqis suffered the first casualties of the war — but Sullivan has a valid point:

In Iraq, there is no safe zone anywhere. The tours of duty are much longer than at any time in recent U.S. history. … The psychological toll on an over-stretched military is … profound:

“A considerable number of Soldiers and Marines are conducting combat operations everyday of the week, 10-12 hours per day seven days a week for months on end,” wrote Col. Carl Castro and Maj. Dennis McGurk, both psychologists. “At no time in our military history have Soldiers or Marines been required to serve on the front line in any war for a period of 6-7 months.”

Sullivan points out that US soldiers are taking their lead from their pro-torture commander-in-chief. At least in this instance, trickle-down theory may actually work.

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. juggling mother
    May 12, 2007 @ 05:39:39

    We have known, for many years, that there is a fundemental problem with the attitude of American troops. Their whole training system is designed to make them see a “them and us” world, with them being a sub-species. It is a specific aim of their commanders to turn normal, nice young men into violent killing machines, and to ensure that they follow orders blindly wthout having the ability to think for themselves.

    Like all things, America sees all combat situations as black and white, whereas we all know, the world is not like that!

    Reply

  2. Ozymandias
    May 13, 2007 @ 00:46:34

    We have known, for many years, that there is a fundemental problem with the attitude of American troops. Their whole training system is designed to make them see a “them and us” world, with them being a sub-species. It is a specific aim of their commanders to turn normal, nice young men into violent killing machines, and to ensure that they follow orders blindly wthout having the ability to think for themselves.

    I have to take exception with this. The goal of every army is to turn their combat soldiers into killing machines. It is an unfortunate reality that during war people must be killed.

    A necessary part of the process of becoming a soldier requires that soldiers learn how to accept orders and support the chain of command.

    However, it is simply untrue to say that soldiers are not taught to think for themselves.

    This is not to suggest that everything that happens during war is just, that the US is without blame and that mistakes haven’t been made. But the reality is that you cannot find an army that does not deal with the same issues that we are discussing here.

    Like all things, America sees all combat situations as black and white, whereas we all know, the world is not like that!

    Your comment is subject to the same sickness that you rail about. It is not a black and white world. America does not see all combat situations as being black and white, but you do not allow for that in your comment.

    There are many shades of gray. It is a troubling situation. One could argue that there has been a sea change in how war is fought. The combatants are no longer identifiable by uniform.

    Look at this article Iraqi insurgents blow up car with children inside. It is a sad example of the challenge now being faced by soldiers.

    When there is no respite, when there are no uniforms and all around you the bombs and bullets continue to fly you learn firsthand that war is hell.

    Reply

  3. juggling mother
    May 13, 2007 @ 03:05:22

    “The goal of every army is to turn their combat soldiers into killing machines”

    no, it is the goal of every army to ensure their soldiers will be able to kill without qualm when necessary. Much of the army’s work is trying to stop the killing, and anyone who has dealt with terorist/guerilla situations before has worked out that killing everyone you suspect of being one of “them” is not the way to do this!

    The US army training dehumanises its soldiers – there was comment on this long before Iraq.

    I’m not a big fan of the British army either, but they HAVE to think for hemselves in cetain situations – it is actually part of their legal obligations and duty to refuse to carry out orders that they consider to be immoral – some even wriggled out of going to Iraq at all under this rule. It’s been in place since WW2, when German soldiers claimed they were just carrying out orders and had no way of stopping the genocide.

    I apologise for “America sees all combat situations as black and white,” I meant to say “American solidiers are taught to see the world in….” It was not a condemnation of Americans, but of their army training and outcomes

    Reply

  4. 49erDweet
    May 13, 2007 @ 03:07:51

    Hear, hear, Ozymandias, well said! But wasted energy, anyway. The jm’s of this world think they are even-handed and reasonable, and “Presto”, they then are.

    It is beyond sad that some in our military have lost their moral compasses, but to paint the entire lot with that brush is simply sloppy and lazy thinking. There is way too much information on the net – from all types of media – that shows a much broader picture, to allow these narrow comments to pass unchallenged. Thank you for that.

    Of course, if one only listens to the BBC or CBC, what else could they possibly think?

    Cheers

    Reply

  5. juggling mother
    May 13, 2007 @ 09:43:37

    I don’t watch CBC, and only about 25% of my current affairs comes for the BBC. However, on this occasion I am not talking about what the media of any kind says, but raher what our military says. Having worked on military bases, and having close family in the RAF, and in the MOD, with clearance to see real documents and be involved an actual policy making, I merely said that we (our military) has known for a long time that the US military training does not achieve the outcomes we would suggest are the required ones for a modern army.

    Reply

  6. Stephen
    May 13, 2007 @ 10:04:04

    • Juggling Mother:
    Your initial comment seemed to go too far, but you’ve clarified it in your second comment: placing the emphasis on the training American troops receive, and contrasting it to the training of British soldiers.

    • Ozymandias:
    The combatants are no longer identifiable by uniform.

    That’s an important point (and one that Sullivan makes, btw). The distinction between civilians and enemy combatants has been blurred, deliberately.

    On the other hand, the report seems to suggest that the US soldiers are engaging in gratuitous bullying. (“… needlessly damaging their possessions”.) I think Juggling Mother is justified when she sees an element of “us” vs. “them” in play here.

    • 49er:
    Of course, if one only listens to the BBC or CBC, what else could they possibly think?

    Sure, it’s the media’s fault. Except this survey was commissioned by the army.

    Blaming the media is a knee-jerk reaction which too often amounts to ducking the issue. My recent posts illustrate the point: the Globe and Mail exposed a real problem in Afghanistan which was subsequently corrected by the Canadian Government. The free press is an important institution in a democracy, and it is not as biased as some folks (on both the right and the left!) suppose it to be.

    It is beyond sad that some in our military have lost their moral compasses.

    It’s fair to point out that we shouldn’t tar everyone with the same brush. But more than half say they wouldn’t report a fellow soldier for mistreating a civilian; and 10% (a small minority, but hardly insignificant) have actively mistreated civilians. “Some” is correct, but let’s not underestimate the scale of the problem.

    Reply

  7. Ozymandias
    May 14, 2007 @ 02:35:02

    I think Juggling Mother is justified when she sees an element of “us” vs. “them” in play here.

    I can accept and agree with that. However I don’t think that it is that unusual for wartime.

    no, it is the goal of every army to ensure their soldiers will be able to kill without qualm when necessary.

    In short you teach them how to be a killing machine as needed.

    The US army training dehumanises its soldiers – there was comment on this long before Iraq.

    I would ask that you provide some sort of proof of this and I would ask that we break it down so that it is not a broad based comment on perception.

    I’m not a big fan of the British army either, but they HAVE to think for hemselves in cetain situations

    As does every soldier. This is not something that is limited to Britain.
    I apologise for “America sees all combat situations as black and white,” I meant to say “American solidiers are taught to see the world in….” It was not a condemnation of Americans, but of their army training and outcomes

    No worries.
    I merely said that we (our military) has known for a long time that the US military training does not achieve the outcomes we would suggest are the required ones for a modern army.

    I am going to be a stickler, but this is far too broad a statement for me to accept at face value. Without some support I can’t accept it.

    But more than half say they wouldn’t report a fellow soldier for mistreating a civilian; and 10% (a small minority, but hardly insignificant) have actively mistreated civilians. “Some” is correct, but let’s not underestimate the scale of the problem.

    Stephen,

    I think that this has to be among the toughest problems to solve. I am not going to defend mistreatment of civilians, but I would like to provide some context.

    Groups of soldiers work together each day in situations in which they truly are covering each others ass. If you don’t do your job it is probable that someone will die.

    That provides incentive not to anger those who protect your own life. That is not to suggest that they shouldn’t speak out against those who commit these acts, but that their relationships probably make it more difficult.

    All in all it is a thorny situation.

    Reply

  8. juggling mother
    May 16, 2007 @ 10:55:39

    Ozy said “this is far too broad a statement for me to accept at face value. Without some support I can’t accept it”

    um, just wanted to reply, rather than leave you thinking you were being ignored, but it’s a difficult one…

    It is something “known” within the British armed forces. I’m not sure how much is written down in the public domain.

    There are various newspaper reports etc saying that the armies are very diffiernt in training, attitudes and reasons for joining. But it would be a pretty stupid paper that said “we think Americans are all bllodthirsty maniacs” After all, it’s not true, and likely to get us bombed;-) If anything has been written internally – which it probably has, it would be secret – or restricted “not US eyes”.

    Of course, the fact that we have a “restricted – not US eyes” category says somehttng about our thoughts on our closest allies:-)

    i guess you will either just have to accept “this is something we know” as a cultural statment or not. as you wish.

    Reply

  9. Ozymandias
    May 17, 2007 @ 13:24:59

    “we think Americans are all bllodthirsty maniacs” After all, it’s not true, and likely to get us bombed;-)

    Nah, we already kicked your limey butts out of our country once. Why fight someone that you have already repeatedly defeated. Besides I don’t think that the environment could take dumping another ton of tea in the ocean. 😉

    Of course, the fact that we have a “restricted – not US eyes” category says somehttng about our thoughts on our closest allies:-)

    Ah, that is part of the fun. Every country/organization has internal documents that are not for sharing. You are correct, we are going to have to agree to disagree on this.

    Reply

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