The liberal blogosphere is abuzz over a story that it seems the main-stream media are ignoring: soldiers in the Mid-East theater of operations are trading photos of themselves with dead Iraqis or pieces thereof for access to an amateur porn site (no link from me). The military has given some rather wishy-washy answers about whether or not this is legal. Two blogs that I read frequently have some excellent posts: Blonde Sense
. Lots of others are writing about it as well.
My interest in this subject has a very different tack than these other bloggers. As an ex-soldier, I have some insight into at least part of what's going on here.
It's a well known phenomenon in military history that governments, societies and military leaders take great pains to dehumanize their enemies. This is a necessary psychological step prior to and during wars; citizen-soldiers have to be given a reason to overcome their ingrained aversion to killing fellow humans. Without this important step armies could not function during wartime. With the rise of what some term the "professional army," taken from volunteers as opposed to draftees, and the expansion of our "national interests" to far corners of the globe for extended periods we see the rise of a perpetual dehumanization of the enemy-of-the-day. It's not too hard to imagine this animus extending to everyone "not us," to all non-Americans. Everyone outside our borders has become "them."
What we're seeing in events like Abu Graib, the developing story on more abuses by the 82nd Airborne Division and this story are all a result of the dehumanization of our current foes.
Are any of these things "right," whatever that means? No. I don't think anyone would claim that they are (except a few extreme-right-wingnuts). But perhaps instead of "is it right?" we should be asking another question. It's not an easy question to ask and it's even harder to answer - in fact, no answer will be completely satisfactory to anyone. And perhaps that ambiguity itself has a lesson to teach us about the things we do as humans, as a society. The answer could help illuminate our path forward in the post-Cold War era.
So what is that question?
Are we willing to accept the results of the necessary dehumanization of our "enemies" in order to effect our national policies?
I'll be very interested to read your responses.Cross-posted from The Fulcrum.