Another Military Photo Scandal

The LA Times today released some photos of US troops posing in shockingly disrespectful poses with Afghan corpses. I won’t summarize the story, which is a bit bigger and badder than the Iraqi prison photo scandal from last decade.

The Army is investigating the incident and strongly denounces it. An army whistleblower is responsible for turning the photos in to the press. Good for that person!

So here is all I’ll say about it: If we dehumanize the enemy enough to kill him, and if we frame the act as one of self-defense against a mysterious and dangerous murderer, and if we train our troops to try to maintain a sense of dignity and self-worth afterward, why are we shocked when something like this happens? When US troops urinate on Afghan bodies, or defile corpses on film? Enemy combatants are de facto not human, and US troops are trained to feel morally and technologically superior to them. Maybe this is what happens when individuals under great duress respond to this particular environment. Maybe, despite the high standards of professionalism the military seeks to uphold, this happens far more often than we think.

I hope that the military and government’s swift response, condemnation, and punishment will help prevent acts of vengeance against all the troops that did not engage in such behavior.

And I hope that the investigation goes beyond the individuals involved and into the very structure of modern warfare that gives rise to this behavior. But as the Lynndie England story shows, not to mention the “drift” towards war conducted increasingly outside of mainstream American life, that seems unlikely.

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