In Media Matters today LTC Bob Bateman addresses news stories of last week about the ethics of troops in Iraq. He refers, in his discussion, to this story in the San Diego Union-Tribune, which I recall reading. He then makes reference to 2002 surveys having to do with cheating and plagiarism in schools and offers an alternative to the survey results being a sign of the military forces being “broken,”
“…why is anyone at all surprised? This is not to say I condone or am trying to explain away the statistics. I am just noting that your military is the product of your society.”
I’m not sure that the two things really equate, so I don't think I agree with his premise. I do think that too much can be drawn, and is being drawn, from the recent survey and its findings.
For one thing, the sampling was pretty small. Only 1320 soldiers and 447 Marines were included in the survey, out of 150,000 serving. That’s barely over 1% of the serving force, and we do not know how typical that sample may have been. Where were they serving? What duties were they performing? How long had they been in theatre?
Polls are dangerous things. Before one starts reading a high level of gravitas into them one needs to be sure that the sampling is sufficient and that it is in reality representative. I don’t think we really have that here, and I think the results should be viewed with a certain amount of caution.
This survey was made after four years of war, and much of the conclusion being drawn seems to be that the prolonged exposure to war is lowering the ethics of our troops. I wonder, though, what the results would have been if the survey had been made three years earlier? And no, I am not suggesting that our troops are “bad guys.”
What I’m saying is that war is a “bad thing.”
In the days of Ghengis Kahn the warrior didn’t even attempt to distinguish between armed enemy and unarmed noncombatant, he slaughtered anyone who came in front him. Today we want our wars to be more civilized than that, but that is a contradiction in terms. War is what happens when civilization has failed.
We expect our soldier to go in harm’s way, to expose himself to the risk of being killed or maimed for life, but to be courteous in all his conduct in the theatre of war?
Whether or not this particular war needs to be fought is irrelevant at the moment. It has been compared to Viet Nam in too many ways, please God do not let us start down this road and begin to question the ethics of the soldiers fighting it. Bad things happen in war because they are the nature of war. You cannot sanitize war because you cannot sanitize killing. The only way to prevent the Hadithas, the My Lais, the Dresdens is to prevent war itself.
You and I at home enjoy the ethics of society.
Soldiers live with the ethics of war.
Update, May 11, 10:50 AM
No, I am not suggesting that any specific behavior is okay or not okay. What I am suggesting is that we should not sit here safe at home sipping our Starbucks and second-guessing the actions or ethics of soldiers who are under fire.
Condemn the war if you must, but do not even think about condemning the soldiers who are fighting it. Not to me.