i wrote a piece for the sunday guardian on the controversy about us marines urinating on the taliban. see the piece here. here is a post on duckofminerva that continues in a similar vein.
In fact, urinating on corpses, torturing prisoners, and cheering deaths is predictable in any war. Indeed, it shows that the military training necessary for most people to kill another human being is working. No doubt it also shows a failure in training on the laws of war – but there is little doubt which of these two courses of instruction is more fundamental to our military. Of course we should have laws of war and use them to prosecute violators. But we should not be surprised if ordinary people placed in contexts of peril and power act brutally.Low-level prosecutions also divert attention from the higher-ups who are most responsible. Of course, some at the bottom may truly be sadistic. But for the most part, they are ordinary men and women caught up in the fury of warfare. Much of that fervor is in fact drummed up by superiors – through public statements or tortured legal opinions. Prosecuting a few small fry for understandable if condemnable behavior makes it less likely that those at the top, who made it all possible, will face prosecution.
Most fundamentally, condemnations and prosecutions preserve and legitimate the war itself. They portray it – or at least our side’s engagement in it – as rule-bound, controlled, rational. By making a show of censuring young men and women caught up in the awfulness of war, those in power deflect attention from the far greater awfulness and futility of the war itself – for which they are responsible.