We Are The System

B J Fine

In the recent past, the media has flooded us with articles and a few photographs about mistreatment of captive prisoners by American soldiers.

The moralizers are now hard at work demanding investigations so that America’s name can be cleared and we can show that the mistreatment was really an anomaly.  You know, a few sick soldiers indulging themselves, brought down to a depraved level by the circumstances of war.

Welcome to the real world. Our societies breed hatred and aggression in us all, then rise in indignation when the consequences become obvious.

Welcome to the real world. Our societies breed hatred and aggression in us all, then rise in indignation when the consequences become obvious.

It’s “systemic,” says former Special Forces Master Sergeant Stan Goff, meaning that the “system,” the military system, is such that it dehumanizes you and it dehumanizes the enemy. 

Well, watch out, folks, get into “systemic” and you may get more than you bargained for

Many people, including most veterans, know about the military “system” of dehumanization.  Most people familiar with war know very well that torture of prisoners goes on in every war, by all sides and with many more participants than you’d care to think about.  Physical torture and psychological torture.  Cruel, indecent, inhuman.  And, yes, even done by Americans.

And, yes, American soldiers do shoot civilians, men, women and children, in cold blood.  And yes, some even enjoy it.  And yes, some will even admit they enjoy it.

Stan Goff was a professional soldier.  I respect his experience, his intelligence and his opinions very much.  His experience with soldiers has been as a soldier.  My experience, other than my two years of active duty during World War Two has been nearly 38 years of studying soldiers as a civilian scientist for the Army.  I did research with and on enlisted personnel, including Stan’s branch - Special Forces.

Yes, it may be systemic, but it’s more than that.  Too many systems seem to be able to quickly initiate man’s inhumanity to man for it all to be blamed on “the” system.

One only has to see:

- the faces of many in the white community yelling in rage at black kids boarding buses when busing started in Boston years ago,

- or the faces of many screaming, ranting Right-to-Life extremists picketing abortion clinics,

- or, the faces of union pickets when a strike-breaker comes through the line,

- or, for that matter, the faces of screaming hockey and soccer fans when things go wrong for their team . . . or even when things go right.

It’s deep.  It festers below the civility level, ready to be turned on at a moment’s notice, given the right trigger.  It’s a basic trait, I hate to say genetic, but at least a trait, either genetic or acquired through indoctrination or training or living with hate or ignorance.  You see it in groups; you see it in individuals.

Decent people, really decent people, get dragged into soldiering for so many reasons least of which typically is to go kill people.  But war is relentless and fickle.  It makes cowards out of brave men and brave men out of cowards.  It makes animals out of decent human beings.  It pulls nearly everyone down to the lowest common denominator.  Many more soldiers say “fuck this,” than say “gosh, I hate this.” I mean we’re men here.  Kill or be killed.  Shoot first and ask questions later.

The man who at home is so gentle and caressing with his wife can pull a good fingernail in order to get an answer to a question.  He’s almost as good at it as the guy who likes to pull fingernails.  The gal who’s so mousy and cautious suddenly finds that she has power.  Maybe it’s delegated power, but it’s power nevertheless.  Exhilerating! She can do things to people, taunt them, hurt them, laugh at them in their misery.  Perhaps as was done to her by others in civilian life.  Maybe that is she we see in the photos that are circulating.  They made sure to say that she lived in a trailer park in Virginia, just to make sure that this wasn’t “our” kind of girl.  Some sick stray, perhaps; a backwoods country bumpkin.  God man, you just don’t get it.  Who else would pose in pictures with a bunch of naked Iraqi men and point to their genitals with a big grin and thumbs up?

Every psychological sickness and depravity is given free reign in combat.  Only a comparative few maintain their rationality.  One kid goes to his commander with pictures of the mistreatment of Iraqis.  Where was everyone else?  Too busy torturing and gloating and taunting and flaunting?  What’s the ratio between the number of G.I.’s who will speak out against abuse by their fellow soldiers and those who turn away and those who actually will participate.  And, believe me, the kid who squealed will be the subject of much abuse, verbal and possibly otherwise from those whose fun he spoiled.  No one loves a squealer.  Squealing is un-American. 

The greatest cause of all of this is the vets who have seen it all, possibly participated in it and then came home and didn’t talk about it.  After every war, the vets come home and won’t talk about it.  Too horrible. 

It’s so horrible that many of them are haunted by it for the rest of their lives.  Ruined lives.  Yet, they won’t talk about it.  They never talk about it.

What’s with it, guys?  Was it so horrible that you’re willing to send others who are like you used to be off to experience the same crap that you experienced so that they can become psychological and physical basket cases like so many of you are now?  That makes no sense whatsoever.  We seem to be having a least one war every generation.  And generation after generation of damaged vets return and won’t talk about their experiences.  Too horrible. Perhaps the Medal of Honor should be reserved for those who come back and talk about their experiences, in detail; what they saw, what they did themselves, what they did to others and how they felt.  Only then can what we have become as a nation be seen. 

At the highest levels, we’ve got leaders who haven’t the slightest idea of what combat is like sending young kids off to be killed or made into criminals or physical and/or psychological wrecks for political reasons or personal economic reasons. 

And the public plays on.  Entranced.  Locked in helplessness, appealing to those who sent the kids off in the first place to punish the few bad apples that are giving “us” a bad name. Folks, we have a bad name ALREADY.  We’re the folks who came uninvited and for fictitious reasons into someone else’s homeland and now have some of our high brass telling those folks that we will make them free even if we have to kill everyone of them to do it.  Thank you, General.  Cool.  Makes me feel great.  I’m so glad my kid is in your outfit. Take good care of him now, he doesn’t like to eat cold food, and he needs his sleep. 

Let someone write in the newspaper about how it really was in combat and the majority of the American public, that public that doesn’t like to see “bad” things in their newspapers and on TV, is shocked.  Many of these same folks can support a cruel, one-sided slaughter of a war without compunction, but let anyone say that an American soldier did a naughty and we’re ready to launch a protest. 

War not only brings out the best and the worst in soldiers, it’s by-products also bring out the best and the worst in those that stay at home.

As more and more damaged vets come home and don’t talk about it, our society becomes more and more inured to war at least partially because we don’t have any idea of the misery it causes . . . not the generalities of misery, but the specifics.  It’s far easier to support wars when you don’t have to deal with the sad results.  And support wars we do.

It may be systematic, as Stan Goff says, but if it is, the system is us.  Our institutions reflect what we are.  Right now too many of us are a very self-righteous people wallowing around in a deep morass of ignorance about war, about combat and about the combined effect of that ignorance and some of our basic cultural practices that tend to mold many of our children into potentially very aggressive human beings.

The more aggressive human beings, the more wars.  The more wars, the more damaged veterans that come back and don’t talk about it.

Published Thursday, July 22nd, 2004 - 07:17am GMT

Article courtesy of Fiat Lux

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