Western media has focused attention on Sgt. Robert Bales’s background. He allegedly murdered 16 Afghan civilians, 9 of them children, near Kandahar. After the bloodbath, Bales returned to his base and confessed.
The media delved into Bales’s childhood, his marriage, and even his role on the high school football team. Reporters underlined his recent financial stress, war-related traumas, and possible alcoholism – as possible explanations for carrying out his butchery.
Did PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) drive this father of two children, who said he enlisted to protect his country after 9/11, to commit such an atrocity? A common problem for multiple tours of duty veterans, but not a satisfying explanation!
TV provides endless biographical portraits of this “unfortunate” 38-year-old guy reluctantly serving his fourth tour of duty. He witnessed fellow soldiers dying and losing limbs from the perverted use of improvised explosive devices planted by the Taliban. Dirty tactics. (We use clean tactics, like bombs from the air, missiles from the ground and air, bullets and artillery fire – and don’t forget those cool helicopter gun-ships and slithery drones.)
Then came contradictory news. Bales had cheated an old couple out of their life savings when he worked for a brokerage firm in Ohio, and may have joined the army to escape prosecution. Maybe not Mr. Nice Guy?
Bales’s lawyer says his client cannot remember the events, setting the stage for a “diminished capacity” defense.
“Diminished capacity” better describes the politicians who started and continued the war in Afghanistan and the Republican presidential aspirants who want to escalate the war and start a new one with Iran.
True, Bales served three tours of duty in Iraq and resented the very people he was supposedly helping. Bales pejoratively called them “Hajjis.” Imagine four tours of duty! It had to be PTSD that drove him crazy.
Wait! Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who have lost their families and homes to U.S. bullets, bombs and missiles also suffer from PTSD. Why don’t they go on more rampages? How many Pakistani villagers have died from drone strikes? Why haven’t we witnessed similar rampages from those war victims?
Bales, however, has ample precedent in U.S. military history. The demonized Indians got slaughtered for almost a century. In 1898, President McKinley wanted to convert to Christianity the “heathen” Filipinos. “God told me to take the Philippines,” he told incredulous reporters, but didn’t tell him where to find the Philippines.
After Admiral George Dewey reported that he had captured Manila, McKinley went to his globe. “I could not,” he later confessed, “have told where those damned islands were within 2,000 miles.”
Not important. Doing God’s work doesn’t entail knowledge of geography or ethics. When residents of Balangiga, a village on Samar Island, ambushed a U.S. military unit and killed forty soldiers, Gen. Jacob H. Smith ordered his men to execute every villager over age ten. Filipinos estimate 3,000 died. General Smith’s punishment? Forced early retirement!
President Truman ordered the air force to drop two nuclear bombs on Japanese cities — the massacre of massacres. And he didn’t have PTSD.
In June 2000, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung asked President Clinton to investigate the June 1950 mass killing of Korean refugees by U.S. soldiers near a railway bridge at No Gun Ri.
In March 1968, U.S. soldiers raped and killed more than 300 unarmed Vietnamese villagers at My Lai — the most dramatic of the atrocities committed in Vietnam. In Iraq, U.S. soldiers went “crazy” in Haditha and also killed civilians in Falluja.
Should these incidents have won support from the U.S. public for the “poor killers?” Isn’t it time the media slapped itself in the face and restored sanity to its notion of balanced reporting? Wars create killers and killers then kill — anyone. But if they do it in uniform they rarely get punished.
The U.S. government deployed Bales to Afghanistan to do his part to defend U.S. security and bring stability and democracy to Afghanistan. The Afghan people did not invite the troops, nor did their government.
Some U.S. soldiers resented the fact that Afghan troops they had trained then killed U.S. servicemen. They felt frustrated when Afghans demonstrated over U.S. soldiers burning Korans and peeing on Afghan corpses. Some Afghans responded violently: six NATO soldiers, including two Americans, paid the fatal price.
Those ungrateful people! We came to help and this is the way they behave! The U.S. soldiers who seek revenge and forego military discipline get labeled as crazy, not “homicidal Sergeants.” (Robert Fisk, “Madness is not the reason for this massacre,” The Independent, March 17)
The U.S. has lost the war in Afghanistan. After eleven years of U.S. occupation, preceded by Taliban brutality, preceded by U.S.-backed war-lords, who took over from a communist government supported by Soviet military occupation, Afghanistan is also full of people with PTSD.
The U.S. still pretends that their trained killers can also win hearts and minds. Will Washington learn outgoing Secretary of Defense Bob Gates’ lesson? “Any future defense secretary who advises the president to send a big American land army into Asia, or into the Middle East or Africa, should have his head examined.” (Quoted by Maureen Dowd, NY Times, March 21)
To stop future massacres, send Bales back to Afghanistan for trial. Let’s see how “diminished capacity” plays in Kandahar — the scene of the crime.
- Saul Landau’s latest film is Will The Real Terrorist Please Stand Up.