Sergeant Robert Bales stands accused of murdering 16 Afghans, including 9 children. Many top American military officials, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, have intimated that even the death penalty “could be a consideration” should Bales be found guilty of the crime. On cue, the Left has used this tragic incident as an opportunity to impugn the entire military and the nation, claiming the killing is on par with My Lai and is representative of our servicemen and women generally.
CNN blogger Stephen Prothero exemplified this dementia perfectly in a recent piece titled “My Take: It takes a nation to make a massacre” in which he spells out who is really at fault. “It takes a country to make a man do these things, and we were his country,” writes Prothero. “We U.S. citizens voted for the presidents who sent him into combat and for the Congress that appropriated the money for our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” If Bales is found guilty? Prothero suggests that “each of the rest of us should spend a day sitting in front of our local jail. There we should confess to our respective gods ‘our sins, known and unknown, things done and left undone’ (as the Book of Common Prayer puts it). Then we should write a letter to the wife and children of Sgt. Bales asking for their forgiveness too.”
Prothero then reflexively descends into one of the prevailing themes that inevitably emerges when an American soldier is accused war crimes: comparisons to Lieutenant William Calley and the massacre at My Lai that occurred during the Vietnam War. Calley’s crimes were indeed horrific, but Counterpunch writer Jeff Sparrow uses them, along with Neil Shea writing for Democracy Now, not merely to condemn Bales, but soldiers in general, who need “a protective layer of hatred to perform what [is] asked of them.” He then takes on America itself, which has ostensibly normalized “torture against (mostly Muslim) detainees; the construction of secret prisons to detain Muslim prisoners indefinitely without charges or trial; the routinisation of assassinations and other extrajudicial killings of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen; and, most of all, deaths of (by the most conservative reckoning) hundreds of thousands of people, most of them Muslim, in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.”
His conclusion is that the war against Islamic terror has “created a new audience who wants to never leave the gun, an audience no longer shocked by atrocity but increasingly prepared to celebrate it.” Completely missing from Sparrow’s article, however, is a single word on the far greater — and continuing — atrocities committed by the Taliban and other jihadists across the world, which our military has sacrificed enormously to prevent.
Shea himself continues with another trope made popular during the Vietnam war: American soldiers straddle the border between sanity and psychosis. “I met up with a group of soldiers who were the first I had ever come across who made me feel pretty nervous about what I was going to see while I was with them,” he writes. “And I spent a few days with them and came to just really understand that they had gotten to the edge of violence, as we understand it, in Afghanistan, and they seemed ready and capable of doing some pretty bad things. I didn’t actually witness them do anything too terrible, but the way that they talked and the way that they acted toward Afghan civilians and animals and property in the country was sort of stunning to me…Many of these guys seemed like they had reached the end of their rope in terms of stability and controlling their aggression.” That’s a rather remarkable conclusion for a man who “didn’t actually witness” our troops doing anything wrong.
At least Shea was somewhat restrained. Benjamin Busch’s Daily Beast article on the issue warns that the murders allegedly committed by Bales allow “for the possibility that any one of us could go insane at any time, and that every veteran poisoned by their combat experience could be on edge for life.” He too takes Americans as a whole to task, noting that our “national disinterest” in “distant events” is unsurprising because “we are a people known more and more for our selfish distractions than for our awareness.”
In the New York Times, psychiatrist and retired brigadier general Dr. Stephen Xenakis employs both themes, and asserts that Sgt. Bales is “emblematic” of bigger problems within the military. “This is equivalent to what My Lai did to reveal all the problems with the conduct of the Vietnam War,” contends Xenakis. “The Army will want to say that soldiers who commit crimes are rogues, that they are individual, isolated cases. But they are not.” The Tucson Sentinel’s Charles M. Sennott echoes those thoughts. “Overnight, Bales has for many around the world become the face of what is wrong with America’s war in Afghanistan,” he contends. “Just as 44 years ago in the ides of March of 1968, the My Lai massacre and Lt. William Calley became synonymous with all that was wrong with the war in Vietnam.”
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