Dehumanizing the Opponent: US Soldiers Pose with Body of Suicide Bombers in Afghanistan

When you want to sell a war that is going to cost people the lives of their sons and daughters, then obviously you cannot show the true face of war. You cloak it and shroud it in a romantic veil – like a hero movie, like something with honor. You turn it into an honorable and desirable act: fighting for one’s country, fighting for freedom.  But war is none of that. War is killing and destruction, leaving people emotional, physical and most importantly spiritual wrecks and there is no honor to be had in that.

When I see people in this country cheer for war, as if they were cheering for their favorite football team, I seriously doubt most truly comprehend what is involved here. I mean this is war; it means killing, it means ending lives and often it is for reasons most of us don’t understand, nor are likely to benefit from.

Last month, Staff Sargent Robert Bales massacred 17 innocent civilians in two small villages in Afghanistan, nine of which were children. He killed them in cold blood and then torched them. Today, pictures of  US troops have surfaced showing them posing with bodies of suicide bombers – as if they had gone hunting and are now posing for pictures with their kill to be placed in the country club trophy section. That is contemptuous and unacceptable behavior – war or not and it says a lot more about us than about the ones we are at war with.

One could argue that those suicide bombers are worthless human beings who don’t deserve any better. After all, they blow others to pieces.

But the point really is that it is not about them, it is about us. When we start acting like the terrorists and wrongdoers we condemn, we lose credibility and the moral high ground and thus the ability to judge. Killing is killing. Ending a human life, is ending a human life. Having no respect for life, is having no respect for life, regardless of who does it. It is not better or more acceptable when an American does it.

A soldier from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division with a dead insurgent's hand on his shoulder. It's one of 18 photos given to The Times of troops posing with corpse

Killing in war time should be seen and handled as a necessary evil, not as an enjoyable act to be memorexed. Such actions strip those committing them off their humanity. The suicide bombers was not born a suicide bomber, he was made into one. For whatever reason, circumstances in that person’s life lead him to take this path. But he is still a human being and no one should pose with a picture of their dead, charred bodies as if it were a sport. It is dehumanizing.

Dehumanizing the Opponent

In order to acquire such a mindset as we have seen in Bales and now with the above mentioned soldiers, you have to think of your enemy as unhuman, you have to view them as something much less than you, so that you can go out there and treat them accordingly without remorse. This, in turn, requires dishonoring and devaluing life itself.

The army and the propaganda machine they run, understand that; they need to in order to create efficient soldiers. They cannot have people on the field feeling remorse or questioning why they have to kill others. This is a wise strategic policy for warfare but such a mentality also backfires, resulting in the kinds of actions we have seen with Bales and various other similar incidences over the years in that regard.

Dehumanizing and disrespecting life is what Robert Bales did; that is what the soldiers above did and that is how most Americans view the people in the Middle East.  That is also precisely the reason why people continue cheering for war and why Robert Bales’ atrocities did not receive much outrage and public outpouring of condemnation. Even Anderson Cooper did not talk about the issue much and when it was talked about it was more in the context of trying to understand (read: find an excuse for)  Bales, rather than to truly condemn his behavior.

They did not even post pictures and biographies of his victims.  They remained face and nameless because posting pictures and telling us about who those children were would place a human face on those victims, which is the last thing the war department (DOD) in this nation needs.

Bales’ victims remain faceless for the same reason body bags containing the remains of US troops killed in combat are not allowed to be filmed, photographed or else broadcast. The moment people realize that these are human beings there whose lives have been extinguished, they will not freely embrace war and treat it like a team sport.

Cooperation and Diplomacy as the Paths to Peace

The use of force for self defense is justified. If you are being attacked, you have to defend yourself. Standing by and watching being killed is stupid and futile. However, that is where it should end.

Our problems as a society in particular, and human kind in general, cannot be solved through warfare and killing. They can be solved through cooperation and diplomacy and war, while sometimes a necessary evil, should be used sparsely and as the last resort. Something the United States and its people are yet to truly comprehend.

We have been in Afghanistan for ten years now –  we were in Iraq for almost the same amount. Thousands of people, mostly innocent, have lost their lives on both sides; US mothers and fathers and children who will never see their loved ones again. Innocent Iraqi and Afghan families that are just as much the victims of their society as those killed during the 9/11 attacks, have lost people in the most gruesome and atrocious ways.

There is nothing romantic in this; nothing heroic

The sad thing is that while we see these kinds of stories,  there are those who still cheer for another preemptive, baseless war.  This time against Iran. An act which will require dehumanizing your opponent as well as your own soul to be able to go in and pull the trigger and justify creating havoc and blood-shed once again – not to defend yourself, but to preemptively go against people whom you suspect, but have no evidence, are up to no good.

Fighting a war for a decade is insane and requiring young Americans to die and fight in a cause that was always unwinable, is without honor by our elected leaders.

The Public is to Blame

Unfortunately, the public is to blame for this as much as our elected leaders. Remember that they cannot do anything without our consent and unfortunately, the public has been supporting such wars.

A Pew Research Survey found voters strongly in favor of aggression towards Iran. “Of those following the Iran situation,” Pew finds, “54% say the U.S. should take a firm stand against Iran’s actions, while 39% say it is more important to avoid a military conflict with Iran.” Trevor Thrall at The National Interest picked up on this at the time, noting that “support for military action against Iran today is almost exactly the same as support for the invasion of Iraq right before the war began.” And that was after one of the most coordinated and aggressive propaganda efforts in American history.

These people were voted in, they didn’t just take over.

So if you are reading this and you are one of those people who voted for an official that signed off on the war but think that you are absolved of carrying any responsibility towards this since you did not personally pull the trigger, you are sorely mistaken and in high denial. There is as much blood on your hands as on the hands of those soldiers that have been rendered soulless.


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