War is a package deal. Along with hate and killing comes atrocities, which includes torture, gang rape, abuse, trophy parts, pissing on dead bodies, eating hearts, and other bad behavior. To try to separate this package deal into good and bad legal portions is naïve, disingenuous, and deceptive. Those who send others to War are aware of this package deal. Those who try to distance themselves, using the cloak of Law, from the committed atrocities, blaming a few bad apples, are risking blowback. A few bad apples indeed. Bring em’ home and let’s sort things out.
The Lucifer Effect by Zimbardo, 2007, Excerpts
There is little doubt that the systematic torture by men of their fellow men and women represent one of the darkest sides of human nature. The iconic image that ricocheted from that dungeon of Abu Ghraib Prison to the streets of Iraq and every corner of the globe was that of the “triangle man”. There were even more shocking photographs that the U.S. government chose not to release to the public because of the greater damage they would surely have done to the credibility and moral image of the U.S. military. I have seen hundreds of these images, and they are indeed horrifying.
The media and the “person on the street” around the globe asked how such evil deeds could be perpetuated by these seven men and women, whom the military leaders had labeled as “rogue soldiers” and “a few bad apples.” Instead, I wondered what circumstances in the prison cell block could have tipped the balance and led even good soldiers to do such bad things. To be sure, advancing a situational analysis for such crimes does not excuse them or make them morally acceptable. Only by examining and understanding the causes of such evil, by understanding how social influence operates and by realizing that any of us can be vulnerable to its subtle and pervasive powers, we can become wise and wily consumers instead of being easily influenced by authorities, group dynamics, persuasive appeals, and compliance strategies.
Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher R. Browning, 1993, Excerpts
Soldiers who are inured to violence, numbed to the taking of human life, embittered over their own casualties, and frustrated by the tenacity of an insidious and seemingly inhuman enemy sometimes explode to have their revenge at the first opportunity. Atrocities of this kind do not represent official government policy. Despite the hate-filled propaganda of each nation, they are not “standard operating procedure.”
The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang, 1997, Excerpts
When the city fell on December 13, 1937, Japanese soldiers began an orgy of cruelty seldom matched in world history. Looking back upon millennia of history, no race or culture has a monopoly on wartime cruelty. The veneer of civilization seems to be exceedingly thin – one that can be easily stripped away, especially by the stresses of war. Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to see dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise. The Rape of Nanking should be perceived as a cautionary tale – an illustration of how easily human beings can be encouraged to allow their teenagers to be molded into efficient killing machines able to suppress their better natures.
In the News
Viewpoint: The desecration of bodies in war
15 May 2013
The recent case of a Syrian rebel appearing to take a bite from an opponent's heart seems utterly shocking and disturbing. But is this incident more inhuman than all the other countless atrocities that have already taken place in this war? Systematic torture to make the opponent suffer, the mutilation of civilians, like cutting off ears, lips or genitals and the desecration of dead bodies are surprisingly common by-products of war and escalating violence, and can be found across different cultural and historical backgrounds. We are used to reports of mass graves, torture, killings and mutilations of civilians, and the eradication of complete villages. But this particular barbarous act has attracted special attention. Cannibalism seems to contradict common moral and ethical beliefs on what is acceptable in war scenarios and what is not. So has the violence really reached a new dimension and what motivation underlies these acts?
Out of utter rage and vengeance, humans can behave in a way that might appear to be inhumane. When moral barriers fall and violence is legitimized in the context of war, the inhibition towards intra-species killing breaks down. Seeing the victim suffer can be a sufficient reward for violence, irrespective of secondary rewards like honor, status or material rewards. Violence against civilians and unspeakably cruel acts against the enemy are powerful and effective coercive strategies to systematically intimidate and demoralize the enemy, even if they risk revenge. Consequently, we should not be amazed by the brutality of violent acts of war.
US condemns Afghan bodies 'abuse' by soldiers in 2010
18 Apr 2012
The pictures in the Los Angeles Times newspaper apparently show soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division posing with remains of suspected suicide bombers in Afghanistan's eastern Zabul province. Some are seen grinning next to the bodies, while others are seen holding the corpse's severed legs. Another set of photos - from a few months later - apparently shows soldiers from the same division holding a dead man's hand with the middle finger raised. The Los Angeles Times only published two of 18 photos. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: "That behavior is unacceptable and it will be fully investigated. These images by no means represent the values or professionalism of the vast majority of US troops serving in Afghanistan today.”
Afghanistan killings suspect: Staff Sergeant Robert Bales
19 Mar 2012
The US Army staff sergeant who allegedly killed 16 Afghans in an early morning rampage has been named as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. He was on his fourth deployment to combat zones and had been injured twice on previous tours of duty. He is described as a father of two who has served in the US Army for 11 years after enlisting in 2001. Sergeant Bales is based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state and is a member of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry. His deployment with that unit to Afghanistan in December came after three prior combat tours in Iraq. During his time in Iraq, he was injured twice - a concussion after his vehicle hit a roadside bomb and a combat injury that led to the loss of part of his foot. He had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, and received treatment at Lewis-McChord before being cleared to resume duty.
US 'deplores' US Marines Taliban 'urination' video
12 Jan 2012
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta says a video which appears to show US Marines urinating on the corpses of Afghans is "utterly deplorable". Those who had taken part in the incident would be held accountable "to the fullest extent", he said. In a separate news conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her "total dismay" at the video. Mrs Clinton said she shared Mr Panetta's view that such behavior was inconsistent with the standards the "that vast, vast majority of our personnel - particularly our marines - hold themselves to".
'Kill team' trial: Are atrocities inevitable in war?
01 Nov 11
Atrocities large and small recur with disturbing frequency. The habitual response of the military is to describe such rampages as an "aberration" - bad actors among generally well-behaved soldiers. An alternative account is that atrocities result from structural reasons: poor training, aggressive commanders, a permissive military. And there are the conditions of war itself. The "bad actor" theory is most convenient for the military as it implicitly exonerates the military and the war policy.
US Army apology for photos of soldiers with Afghan body
21 Mar 2011
The US Army has apologized for graphic photographs of US soldiers grinning over the corpses of Afghan civilians they had allegedly killed. The photos published by Germany's Der Spiegel magazine were said to be among many seized by US Army investigators. It is unclear exactly when the photographs published were taken but Der Spiegel says they are among 4,000 pictures and pieces of video they have obtained. Some of the images show two soldiers kneeling over a body. All 12 men belonged to the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. These photographs are purported to have been taken by a "rogue" US Army unit in Afghanistan in 2010. These photographs purportedly depict the alleged actions of a few "renegade" soldiers. The US Army said these photographs depict "actions repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States Army.”
Iraqi civilians systematically abused
05 Nov 2010
More than 220 Iraqi civilians were subjected to "systemic abuse", including torture, by British soldiers and interrogators in Iraq, the High Court was told on Friday. Solicitors acting on behalf of the Iraqis submitted video evidence to support their claims. Allegations of mistreatment include sexual abuse, food, water and sleep deprivation, prolonged solitary confinement, mock executions and being denied clothes. A Ministry of Defense [MoD] spokesman said: "These remain unproven allegations of mistreatment.” Speaking before the start of the hearing at London's Law Court, Phil Shiner, who is representing the Iraqis, said it was nonsense to suggest - as he said the MoD did - that abuse had been confined to a "few bad apples". He added: "That is absolutely not the case. There are very serious allegations related to very troubling systemic abuse."
Iraq Vets Break Silence on War
29 Feb 2008
U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are planning to descend on Washington from Mar. 13-16 to testify about war crimes they committed or personally witnessed in those countries. Iraq Veterans Against the War argues that well-publicized incidents of U.S. brutality like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the massacre of an entire family of Iraqis in the town of Haditha are not the isolated incidents perpetrated by “a few bad apples”, as many politicians and military leaders have claimed. They are part of a pattern, the group says, of “an increasingly bloody occupation”.
The Battle for Haditha
Nick Broomfield: True events in Iraq inspire this documentary-like drama about a roadside bombing near the insurgent hotbed town of Haditha and the subsequent revenge killing of 24 Iraqis by the U,S. Marine unit that was hit. Told from different perspectives -- the Marines, the bombers and innocent civilians just trying to get by -- this provocative look at the madness of war defies easy answers.
Brian De Palma: Docudrama about an incident in which a 15-year old Iraqi girl was raped and killed by U.S. soldiers. Similar movie was Casualty of War starring Michael J. Fox where soldiers rape a Vietnamese girl.