June 2006


American Ethics, or Not.

I am a bit pissed right now.

Angry, actually.

I’m not sure if I should blame George W. Bush for the idiotic war in Iraq, the Marines for failing to train their soldiers adequately, or the individual marines who misbehave whilst in Al Haditha and in Iraq in general.

It’s absolute bullshit: and I have to say that the guilt goes to the top: George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and the entire military.

And it’s so incredibly different from the way it was 60 years ago.

Think about it.

Back during World War II, when the US invaded my current host country, the soldiers were trained to achieve not just victory in war, but also to achieve victory in peace. American soldiers achieved both: they battled their way across Germany on their way to Berlin, along the way stopping and liberating the people—liberating, for example, Buchenwald.

But with liberation came responsibility: soldiers were specifically trained and warned to behave while occupying the country. They were warned not to steal German citizen’s belongings, warned to treat the citizens with respect, trained to be human. The reputation of treatment by the Western Allies (e.g. the United States, Great Britain, and France) led many Germans to specifically surrender to these Allies as opposed to the Russians.

(As an aside, certainly the Germans treated Western Allied POWs with far greater respect and human dignity than they treated Russian POWs, so one could state that Russians treated all Germans the way Russian POWs had been treated during the war. One could spend a lot of time dissecting this, but it is beside the point of my complaint here.)

Now, I have no doubt that American soldiers were not uniformly perfect—I’m no fool, but I am willing to unequivocally state that at the end of World War II the Leadership of the United States of America understood that treating the conquered people with dignity and respect would have far greater benefits in the long haul: certainly the US Marshall Plan investments in Japan and West Germany paid off handsomely in the long run, not just for the United States, but those country’s economies and societies.

I recently acquired a fascinating book that was given to all US soldiers who were a part of the invasion of Germany. The booklet covered the basics of German society in a positive light and provided soldiers the basic language needed to get around the country and make themselves understood. For some reason I doubt such a manual existed for soldiers invading Iraq. I have the impression that the soldiers were told to get Saddam Hussein while other things, such as how to rebuild society and win the peace, were completely and totally forgotten. The moral leadership of the United States after World War II was unequivocally clear: the soldiers were clearly told to behave.

The Leadership in the States today is less certain: it’s never set clear moral boundaries—actually it and its greatest internal supporters have been unequivocally ambivalent about everything except party loyalty. For example calling Rep. John Murtha (Democrat) a traitor for calling Al Haditha a crime, whilst Rep. John Kline (Republican) is given a free pass for making similar criticisms.

Meanwhile soldiers have been turned into unthinking, uncaring, automatic killing machines that suffer no guilt or remorse when the bullets they shoot from their guns hurt or kill individual humans. What’s worse is that with our current leadership, say, Dick Cheney, the soldiers seem to expect their victims to apologize for any problems they caused by getting in the way of the bullets.

Sadly I am fairly certain that the current state of affairs in Iraq will be hard, if not impossible, to change. The people of Iraq have little reason to trust either the American soldiers or the American people.

And since the buck stops at the desk of the US President, I’m going to hold him responsible.

It is time we have dignity and responsibility in American Government. An unequivocal and clear message and example of dignity and responsibility from American leadership will serve as an example for the soldiers.

Too bad George W. Bush will still be president for another two and a half years.


4 comments to American Ethics, or Not.

  • I would absolutely love to know the name of that book that the US soliders received abot Germany and its society. Can I easily locate it in the library or at Amazon.com? Please let me know asap! Thank you in advance!

  • I certainly think a parliamentary system would help the US in this situation: it would provide a way for a confidence vote to take place so that new elections could be called before 2008. Of course, given Republican majorities in the chambers, some members of that party would have to vote for it, but the president’s poll numbers are so low that some of them might vote for it anyway.

    As for Iraq, I would like to see an accurate count of annual deaths (political opponents, etc.) during the waning years of Hussein’s regime and civilian/military deaths that have occured each year since 2003. I imagine that fatalities from insurgency, military mishaps, and random violence in places without adequate policing probably exceed the annual deaths produced by Hussein (excluding his anti-Kurdish actions on the 1990s). Sadly, the US bears much of the responsibility, even for the victims of sectarian actions and insurgent force: the invading country has (so far) failed to establish order and its leaders have ‘misunderestimated’ the potency of the insurgency.

    Sadly, there is no clear way for the US to exit this quagmire, and Iraq may have to be divided into multiple countries along religious/ethnic lines in order to quell the violence. Saddam was a terrible man and injust ruler, but he accomplished something that may elude the “coalition of the willing”: keeping the country together.

  • mateo

    I blame video games to some extent for how soldiers are acting within the war and after. Video games which involve violence often make the opponent seem less than human, and don’t often show the consequences of certain actions. Sure, it may be just a game, but, sadly, many of the kids today don’t really see much difference between a game and reality. Also, the whole process of using manners when dealing with others has been declining over the years, and I’m sure that doesn’t help much. I agree that George W. Bush needs to take some of the blame, though. I’m sure some soldiers look to him for guidance (rightly or wrongly) when it comes to dealing with those they encounter in Iraq.

  • James, I found the booklet at a history museum in Leipzig. I’ll post excerpts from it over the next week… I’m sure its available, but probably not anywhere but tourist shops or the Library of Congress