Wednesday, 25 July 2007

NEWSFLASH: Ordinary Men Trained to Kill Occasionally Behave in Ways We Consider Inappropriate When I read Scott Thomas' "Shock Troops," it didn't ring inauthentic. I've taught the memoirs and novels of Vietnam veterans and what Thomas described was tame in comparison. So imagine my surprise when I learned that the right had gone apoplectic over Thomas' comparatively sedate column. He hadn't document the violation of fundamental human rights, nor had he spoken of atrocities committed by American troops. All he'd communicated was the lengths some soldiers will go to remain sane in the heat of war. From our perspective, the private who wore part of a human skull under his helmet is almost inhuman. From his perspective—i.e. from the perspective of someone who wakes up every morning knowing the odds of him ending someone else's life are comparable to those someone else will end his—his disrespect for the dead commingles with the profound disrespect for Death instilled in those who kill in our name. Their reluctance to revere our monuments to life is what makes them effective killers; moreover, it is what allows them to return home thoroughly disconnected from the monsters they had to become to kill. If they went to war strong Christian men, they'd be horrified by what they did on a minute-by-minute basis. Who among them could imagine sitting on their porch, spotting movement along a fence and, without thinking, firing indiscriminately? One-in-a-million? One-in-ten-million? Point being, the vast majority of our troops are not sociopaths: they are trained killers, and they kill within a context, and they laugh at death, and they are irreverent. They laugh at what would sicken us because they do what would sicken us. They are not horrible people. They are who we have made them. They are who we need them to be. So please, Mrs. Malkin, stop with the sanctimonious bullshit. You've been to Iraq. You know these men suffer. Spare them your feigned outrage. They're trying to cope. Permit them their poor taste. Permit them to thumb their nose at the mean deaths they bring by flipping their finger at the mean death they fear. Dan, stop tarring The New Republic for allowing a soldier to tell what happens in a combat zone. Whatever you say about him, grant him the courage of his convictions—he is no armchair liberal, and even if he were, deployed as he is, he has learned quickly and rudely the lessons of war. His humor belongs to the soldier, to the gallows; respect it for being won hard, and at a price well beyond the means of our outrage. Jeff, he may be an "antiwar opportunist," but that doesn't mean he's not a soldier. That doesn't mean he wouldn't lay down his life for the men he fights beside. Say what you will about the intentions of men who go to war—I've known more I care to count at this point—who they become when they get there changes them forever. They don't become flag-waving patriots, nor do they embrace the casus bellum unthinkingly; but they do feel...

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