Thursday, July 12, 2007 

The other war.

Lenin has an excellent overview of a similarly brilliant piece of research and reporting on the experiences of 50 US Iraq war veterans, almost uniformly depressing. A taster:

We heard a few reports, in one case corroborated by photo­graphs, that some soldiers had so lost their moral compass that they'd mocked or desecrated Iraqi corpses. One photo, among dozens turned over to The Nation during the investigation, shows an American soldier acting as if he is about to eat the spilled brains of a dead Iraqi man with his brown plastic Army-issue spoon.

"Take a picture of me and this motherfucker," a soldier who had been in Sergeant Mejía's squad said as he put his arm around the corpse. Sergeant Mejía recalls that the shroud covering the body fell away, revealing that the young man was wearing only his pants. There was a bullet hole in his chest.

"Damn, they really fucked you up, didn't they?" the soldier laughed.

The scene, Sergeant Mejía said, was witnessed by the dead man's brothers and cousins.

It's not that men are bad people, or that they don't feel guilt, which usually kicks in once they eventually finish their extended tours of duty. Rather, it's that the situation is both so bad, and that the punishments for ill-treatment or "accidental" killing are either non-existent or so unlikely that the incidents aren't worth writing up, as well that the Iraqis themselves have been dehumanised by the officers in charge, routinely referred to as either "hajis" or by other pejoratives, that so many innocents have died as a result. It's both the colonial mindset, along with the absolute power that these almost uniquely young men have over those they're meant to be protecting that corrupts them, at least while they're there and trying to stay alive that does the most damage, and there seems to be very little that can be done to stop it from continuing, without a complete step-change in policy which we all know isn't going to happen.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007 

The new untermensch.

The findings of the Mental Health Advisory Team's survey of deployed American services serving in Iraq shouldn't come as anything like a surprise. It's also easy to blame the apparent contempt with which US servicemen hold Iraqis in general to their state of mind as result of long serving tours and deaths within their ranks, when this only tells half the story.

From the very beginning of the Iraq war, the American approach in particular to the citizens of the country has been telling. They promised shock and awe, knowing full well that there were few military targets that hadn't been hit over the previous decade of imposed no-fly zones, meaning that innocent civilians were going to be slaughtered so that it made for good television pictures. Within weeks of the overthrow of Saddam, trigger-happy soldiers were shooting dead unarmed protesters, one of the major factors in kicking off the insurgency. Then there was Abu Ghraib.

Reading the posts of those who have returned from Iraq is just as instructive. Iraqis are referred to as "hajis", for which read the way that the Vietnamese were called "gooks". We can bleat all we like about the dehumanising aspects of war, and true as it is, there's nothing like good old-fashioned colonial attitudes and the belief that some lives are worth less than others.

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