I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Soldiers and body parts. What's new?

The publication of photos that show US soldiers posing with dismembered suicide bombers have drawn almost universal condemnation.

I confess I don't understand what the fuss is all about. Perhaps we have become accustomed to neat pictures of laser-guided missiles hitting their targets with uncanny precision, and have forgotten that war on the ground is not like that.

Although I know that sometimes wars are unavoidable and even appropriate, I am at heart a pacifist and a non-violent. To the point that I avoid swatting flies. That said, the images of soldiers pissing on dead enemies or posing with dead bodies, dismembered or not, don't surprise me in the least.

I would never do it, but then, I am not a soldier fighting a guerrilla war. To kill other human beings is not part of human nature. For the vast majority of people, killing somebody is a shock. Even when the killing is done in self defence. That's why combat training always involves creating automatisms and dehumanising the enemy. The more a soldier sees an enemy as a target or a threat rather than as a fellow human being, the more he is likely to shoot first and survive.

And then, there is the suppressed fear of dying and suffering, which bottles up on every mission and sortie. It is inevitable that under such circumstances, some soldiers go further than what we, watching a sanitised war on TV from our comfortable sofa, find acceptable.

The massacres of My Lai and Srebrenica are excesses that happened because the soldiers didn't consider their victims as other human beings. Same story with the Nazis and the Holocaust: it was OK to kill the Jews because, according to Hitler & Co., they were subhuman.

But to come back to the recent pictures of soldiers and body parts, they are not even something new. I found in my personal library a photographic book in Italian about the Vietnam War. The title, translated into English, is "Vietnam – Against a Genocide" (Vietnam – contro un genocidio), edited by Livia Rokach and published in 1972 by Napoleone Editore. Here is the picture on the front cover:

I know: it is very upsetting. But the point I want to make is that wars are always ugly.

Politicians want to have the cake and eat it too. Fortunately, the soldier who made the photos public, reminded us that war is not nice. The only clean war is a war that doesn't take place at all!

There is also another picture I would like to show you. This one shows a torture that we now call "waterboarding". In Vietnam, they didn't use a board, but the technique was the same. The soldier with a helmet is a colonel.

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