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What are we doing to ourselves?

January 17, 2012

The latest thing we’re all being forced to try to make sense of and/or pick up the pieces from is the video of four US Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

Last Friday I woke up at 2 am feeling an itch in my brain, so I got out of bed and wrote “Marines Urinating on Dead Taliban: How Low Will We Go?” If you want to know what I think about the incident itself, please read that article. This article is about some of the comments posted on that one, which brought home that some things that seem glaringly obvious to me are quite a bit less so to many of my fellow Americans.

“To call for these four guys’ heads over something so minor is ridiculous,” asserted one reader.

In response to my remark that I’ll remember the urination incident the next time I witness passengers in a US airport breaking out in applause when the gate agent or flight attendant congratulates “our men and women in uniform,” another wrote: “You are free to think that, you are free to write this column … thanks to men and women in uniform. Your statement shows your ignorance of the service and sacrifice of people like myself who give of ourselves and willingly put ourselves in harm’s way to ensure our loved ones and people like yourself can be free. This also shows blatant prejudice of an entire group based on the actions of a few. May you continue to enjoy the freedoms earned by men and women that volunteered to ensure you never lose them.”

My response to such pro-military bullies and blowhards is: No, I’m not free because of the sacrifices of “our men and women in uniform.” I’m free because I’m free. You can’t give me my freedom, nor can you withhold it. It’s mine by right. That’s what America is all about – right?

I’m prepared to insist on that point because, even though freedom is mine by right, I can keep it only by exercising it. So I’m going to continue exercising it, because it’s not possible to be both completely free and completely secure, and I prefer freedom.

Fetishising “our men and women in uniform” leads to justifying, excusing, or explaining away whatever they might do in the heat of battle. But should they even be in battle in the first place? And, despite their bravery and training, “our men and women in uniform” seem somehow to have failed or neglected to protect me from the National Defense Authorisation Act, which since December 31 provides for indefinite detention of US citizens. It’s fair to ask whether the Taliban are truly more dangerous to Americans’ freedom than the United States Congress or Supreme Court.

A commenter on Sebastian Junger’s fine Washington Post article “We’re all guilty of dehumanising the enemy” wrote: “It’s tribal. It’s not a police action. While these acts are deplorable, they are also understandable. In a warrior’s mind, they already dehumanised the enemy.” I can’t disagree with this; as Junger pointed out, “A 19-year-old Marine has a very hard time reconciling the fact that it’s [allegedly] okay to waterboard a live Taliban fighter but not okay to urinate on a dead one.”

We can’t deplore (such a milquetoast word) enlisted Marines urinating on people we’ve defined as our enemy without acknowledging that (another lame phrase) “our political leaders” – which is to say all of us, especially if we still believe in democracy – are guilty well prior to the Marines themselves. What could the Taliban do to us that’s worse than the things we’re already doing to ourselves and each other? And is allowing ourselves to commit atrocities preferable to leaving ourselves vulnerable?

How you see this incident depends on whether you’re willing to acknowledge that the corpses urinated on were those of human beings.

Read full article here.


Ethan Casey is the author of Alive and Well in Pakistan and Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip. He can be reached at and

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.