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for May 19, 2004

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Wake Up!
by Robin Pastorio-Newman

In the history of human endeavors, nothing has brought out the worst in human nature like war. Soldiers march out on the field of battle, intent on killing who they must and subduing the conquered. Sun Tzu and Machiavelli wrote books about the psychology of empire, and we all know a little about it, even if our modest education came from dubious sources like an entire season of Xena, Warrior Princess. What we, who have never been in military service, do not know (except from movies) is what warfare does to the psyche of a generation involved in combat.
If you are old enough to remember a war that consumed a generation, you know that young men went off and returned with horrors burned into their souls. Society at large didn't know what to make of Vietnam vets who could not be assimilated into the workforce because what they had done overseas scarred them so deeply. In that war, the enemy was not a people our forces were ostensibly there to assist, and so atrocities came to light slowly, if they came to light at all. In warfare, slaughters are committed, brutality is the rule of law, combatants and civilians will be deeply damaged by the experience. Peer pressure and hierarchy are the lifeblood of the exercise. Return to normal life is not guaranteed.
Thus, the current scandal should come as no surprise to anyone. Outraged cries about humiliations suffered by prisoners at the hands of our own personnel are so many crocodile tears from those who are really saying, "We're supposed to be better than those savages, aren't we?" It is a human impulse to think so, but no. We are no better or worse than human. History tells us that when human beings march off to war, murder, rape, plundering and humiliations follow. It must be so. There is no clean war. And, by the way, the Catholic Church's condemnation of atrocities is so bizarre - in light of the Church's history of murder, rape, plundering and humiliation - it's almost funny. Almost.
We must finally wake up and smell the sulfur. We must realize what we are really engaged in. We must recognize what it's going to do to our soldiers who are so, so young for now, and for the rest of their lives, not to mention the rest of ours. It is only with a clear understanding of what we are actually doing that we can choose a rational course on which to proceed. I am not saying our forces should leave Iraq. I am not saying our forces should stay. I am saying that our forces, somewhat casually deployed in a battle against a populace that regards the conflict as an all-out holy life or death struggle are engaged in warfare, with all the brutality and ugliness that entails.
Wake up! The time for an equally brutal examination of our national conscience is now.

©2004 Robin Pastorio-Newman

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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