by Timothy Villareal
On August 8th, one of the most respected non-governmental organizations in the world, Amnesty International, released a damning report alleging that U.S. military forces committed war crimes against Afghan civilians, including torture and murder, and covered-up for the crimes. The report centers on incidents between 2009 and 2013, a time frame which coincided with the tenure of four-star General John Allen, who was the top allied military commander in Afghanistan prior to his retirement.
On the need to crush ISIS before it becomes an even greater threat to global security, Allen wrote in a column for Defense One magazine, “American and allied efforts must operate against IS from Mosul in the east across its entire depth to western Syria….We cannot leave IS a safe haven anywhere or a secure support platform from which to regroup or enjoy sanctuary across the now-irrelevant frontier between Syria and Iraq.”
War-weary Americans could reasonably ask this retired general: What “we” are you talking about when describing your prescriptions to deny ISIS safe havens in both Iraq and Syria? Here’s Allen’s rather blunt answer embedded in the same column: “The whole questionable debate on American war weariness aside, the U.S. military is not war weary and is fully capable of attacking and reducing IS…”
Whatever you think of Allen’s prescriptions to crush ISIS, at least give him credit for being candid about one fact: the American people and the U.S. military have, for all intents and purposes, become entirely separate political entities, with separate value systems and life motivations.
A stark reminder of that wall of separation between U.S. civilian and soldier, oftentimes all too benignly referred to as the “civilian-military divide,” came with the recent death of 28-year-old former Marine sniper, Rob Richards, who died at his home in North Carolina on August 13th. Richards, one of the four Marines videotaped urinating on the dead bodies of Afghans in July 2011 – just days after General Allen assumed the top command post in Afghanistan – said in an interview that when CNN first reported the existence of the dead body urination videotape, his reaction was, “Oh f–k. I just knew my career was over.” In that interview with the Marine Corps Times, Richards went on to describe the dead body urination episode as “hilarious” and “another ordinary day” for which he had no regrets, adding “Being a Marine sniper was the only thing I was really good at in life. I miss it every day.”
From ISIS to the Assad regime to Vladimir Putin, the forces of global tyranny are on the march, and if our nation is to learn anything from the moral and strategic fiascos of our post-9/11 wars, and the despicable corresponding militarization of our country’s civilian police departments, it ought to be this: when a democratic nation chooses to fight tyranny abroad by fine-tuning the tools of tyranny within its own government, civilian and military, it loses its purpose.If America is to help dissolve tyranny abroad, it can only be done by Americans who love human life, human rights and the values of open society – not by people who commit war crimes, conceal the war crimes of others, or who would even take umbrage that such allegations from one of the world’s most sterling NGOs should be investigated to the fullest.
Though most morally-centered Americans rightly loathe war, we all have an existential stake in ensuring our country’s ability to fight a just war, for which bloodlust and the macabre sense of fulfillment and “job satisfaction” that some individuals get from killing people is utterly inimical.
Already, in the early stages of this just war against ISIS, there are reports that innocent Iraqis and Syrians in ISIS’s deadly path are also fearing and resenting U.S. military intervention, owing to our military record of the last decade. The fact that we are already experiencing a strain on our nation’s ability to carry out a just war should worry Americans across the political spectrum.
To change this dangerous course, Congress should abolish the pay-incentivized soldiery enlistment system altogether. Comprising a soldiery by dangling finanical incentives in the faces of financially vulnerable young adults is not only immoral, but it totally distorts mainstream America’s actual political will toward the wider world.
In addition to relying strictly on appeals to the moral consciences of our people to comprise an armed soldiery, Congress should create an additional category of U.S. soldiers: accompaniment soldiers. This additional category of soldier would be unarmed, have no age limitation, and would be open to Americans with some physical disabilities. Accompaniment soldiers would, literally, accompany the regular armed soldiers to the battle zones to provide them with moral support, including prayer support for their co-religionists – a Catholic accompaniment soldier could pray the Rosary with an armed soldier, for example.
Accompaniment soldiers would ensure that the physical, mental and spiritual hazards of our nation’s wars can be shared by all who are willing. This new category would also help to end the moral scourge that can rightly be called chickenhawkism: the craveness of grown and able-bodied adults who profusely profess how much they “support the troops” and egg on every war that comes down the pike, but who sacrifice nothing themselves. The establishment of an accompaniment soldier program, open to all willing adult Americans, would help put the kibosh on that self-serving and phony song and dance routine.
In the meantime, Congress should demand from retired General Allen that he be as candid in a congressional hearing about that damning Amnesty International report alleging war crimes and war crimes cover-ups on his own watch, as he is candid about the totally separate identities, values and interests of American civilians who value the sanctity of human life, liberty and open society – and whose global viewpoints in whichever foreign policy directions are driven precisely by how best to secure those values – and the small minority of Americans who tragically see engaging in battle, which entails killing people, as a career opportunity.
What would Jesus, or the deity you might pray to, have to say about killing people as a career opportunity?
Of course, if one fears the judgment of military men more than one fears the judgement of one’s own Creator, it’s not much of a question to ponder, is it?
Timothy Villareal is a Miami-based writer.