The more I juxtapose logical world opinion with the Bush administrationâ€™s actions in the war on terror, I realize one overwhelming theme: hypocrisy. No one in any of the branches of government runs a physical risk to themselves by entering a war with Iraq, and we can bet that none of their family members are at risk, either. That is, until the next “terrorist” attack. I put “terrorist” in quotes because its definition is subjective, and I myself used to be in the Marine Corps, part of the most powerful “terrorist” organization on the planet: the U.S. government. Of course, we never call our operations “terrorism” because every operation is considered legitimate to us. When found guilty by the World Court for violence in Nicaragua, we ignore the decision. Too bad the nations we hurt canâ€™t just ignore what we do to them. When the planet condemns us for killing between 2,500-4,000 people in Panama, weâ€™re too busy planning the next invasion of a country that canâ€™t fight back.
I oppose this war as a U.S. citizen, a veteran, and a doctoral student in history. While my military experience is what first made me skeptical about our governmentâ€™s motives in the developing world, it wasnâ€™t until I went to college and began reading hundreds of books and thousands of articles that I was able to truly grasp the profundity of our leadershipâ€™s contempt for the freedoms they claim to protect. As a rule, we have worked hard to prevent the rise of democracy in the developing world, all the while claiming legitimacy as “the worldâ€™s police force” because of our so-called “democratic” values. The hypocrisy is astounding. When one investigates our complicity in death squads, torture, massacres, rape, and mass destruction, one realizes that freedom often threatens the current power structure in this country.
I used to consider those incidents as anomalistic in comparison to the “protection” we offered the planet at seemingly no charge. But then I joined the Marines, and I realized why I had believed in the government: they were experts in manipulation. Barely out of high school, the Corps broke us down and built us up in order to shape us into machines, willing to defend the ideals of the power elites in Washington and corporate America. Just look at the companies, which are funding political campaigns, and benefiting from war: weapons producers, technologies, food, clothing, munitions, oil, pharmaceuticals, etcâ€¦ U.S. interventions since WWII have not been done in the name of the worldâ€™s people (although that is always the claim), but for the preservation of concentrated power. The fact that they have been carried out against the tenets of international law (i.e. the rights of non-intervention and self-determination), in itself deflates their validity. If the U.S. government were held to the FBIâ€™s official definition of terrorism (“the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives”), their list of victims since WWII alone would include:
Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Mexico, Chile, Granada, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador, Zaire, Namibia, Lebanon, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Bangladesh, Iran, South Africa, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Iraq, Cambodia, Libya, Israel, Palestine, China, Afghanistan, Sudan, Indonesia, East Timor, Turkey, Angola, Mozambique, and Somalia.
In boot camp, deceit and manipulation accompany the necessity to motivate troops to murder on command. You canâ€™t take civilians from the street, give them machine guns, and expect them to kill without question in a democratic society; therefore people must be indoctrinated to do so. This fact alone should sound off alarms in our collective American brain. If the cause of war is justified, then why do we have to be put through boot camp? If you answer that we have to be trained in killing skills, well, then why is most of boot camp not focused on combat training? Why are privates shown videos of U.S. military massacres while playing Metallica in the background, thus causing us to scream with the joy of the killer instinct as brown bodies are obliterated? Why do privates answer every command with an enthusiastic, “kill!!” instead of, “yes, sir!!” like it is in the movies?
Military indoctrination could be said to prepare men to use disrespect for all living things as a means of destroying the enemyâ€™s morale. Boot camp itself is mostly a series of chaos-surrounded tests of will and strength, meant to eliminate a human beingâ€™s ability to feel weakness, in order for military leaders to harness obedience to their orders when itâ€™s time to kill. The topics covered in motivational songs are tools for desensitizing men who would be predisposed to respect women, so as to create an animal within him that can be activated when necessary to carry out any barbaric assignment. An example of these lyrics follows: “Throw some candy in the school yard, watch the children gather round. Load a belt in your M-60, mow them little bastards down!!” and “Weâ€™re gonna rape, kill, pillage and burn, gonna rape, kill, pillage and burn!!” Could the bar be set any higher on the level of atrocities that the military wants its men to be capable of? I say “men” because these kinds of songs are generally not repeated in the presence of women. These chants are meant to motivate the troops; they enjoy it, salivate from it, and get off on it. If one repeats these hundreds of times, one eventually begins to accept them as paradigmatically valid.
The violation of women in war is a weapon, just as are conventional arms. The movie “Casualties of War” illustrates this clearly when actor Sean Penn holds up his rifle and says, “The army calls this a weapon, but it ainâ€™t,” then, grabbing his crotch with the other he says, “This is a weapon.” The movie, based on a true story, involves a small U.S. combat unit that kidnapped, raped, and murdered a Vietnamese woman during the war. I assert that times have not changed with respect to the mentality of sexual assault in the military. Although soldiers are given sensitivity classes that tell the men to respect civilians and especially women, another message pervades everything else one learns and trains for, which effectively obliterates all notions of respect during war. This is generally speaking, of course, but sensitivity inherently conflicts with the identity of a killer, which is what infantrymen are conditioned to be. They are trained to thrive on the blood of humans, and this is used to create a lustful sensation when conditioning for combat.
Wartime rape may be used by men who have convinced themselves that they must be able to do anything to a person in order to be comfortable with participating in the horrific acts that surround them. The extreme nature of war itself seems to breed the mentality that makes people surpass the limits of desired reality. War makes criminals of ordinary men, who can not easily switch off the killer within them when off the battlefield, as the training manuals espouse. This certainly does not excuse the atrocities they commit.
The environment of the military is pervaded by sex. When out in the Fleet Marine Force, sadistic initiation rituals are surrounded by sex and physical pain, often together. Although I never experienced this myself, initiation rituals often force men to fondle other menâ€™s genitals, and devices such as broomsticks are used for rectal insertion. This often happens in the presence of, and with the participation of the higher ranks. The Tail hook scandal of 1991 exposed a ritual dating at least back to 1986, where women naval officers were made to walk a gauntlet of male officers that grabbed their buttocks and breasts. It certainly does not end there. In the case of Okinawa, three men planned every detail of the kidnapping, beating, and rape of a twelve year old girl in advance.
The militaryâ€™s desensitization against a personâ€™s natural inhibitions to hurt people is a way of toughening them up, or making them “hard core.” Thus, it makes sense that because this is encouraged by superiors, then it should translate into destructive behavior in combat, and to a lesser extent, in peacetime. This is definitely not to say that the soldier is innocent; far from it. But if we subscribe to the concept that one is shaped largely by their environment, then we can largely blame the institutions which have created this particular proclivity within the men who commit these horrible crimes against women, while supposedly serving to defend the freedom of the world.
The demonization of the enemy is crucial to wartime planners, and the above examples of indoctrination are relevant to the present. Before carrying out a security exercise in Qatar, my unit went through “Muslim indoctrination” classes. The level of racism was unbelievable. Muslims were referred to as “Ahmed,” “towlheads,” “ragheads,” and “terrorists.” We were told that most Muslim males were homosexual, and that their hygiene was so primitive that we shouldnâ€™t even shake their hands. The object was demonization through feminization and dehumanization, so as to make it easier for us to pull the trigger when ordered to. But Qatar is our ally, so imagine the language being used today in these indoctrination courses about Iraq and Afghanistan. The question is, how can we claim to be intervening out of a desire to protect people that we train troops to feel contempt for?
The Iraqi population has suffered countless U.S. supported atrocities over the past eleven years. Not only were between 100 and 200 thousand people killed in 1991, but the bombing has continued ever since then, and sanctions have led to the deaths of possibly 1 million people, in a nation of 17 million. Former UNSCOM execs assert that they destroyed 95-98 percent of Saddamâ€™s weapons by 1998, and that a nuclear weapons capability is extremely unlikely due to their devastated economy. According to this morningâ€™s New York Times, the U.S. reasons that Saddamâ€™s gassing of his own people and his hatred of the U.S. are what warrant our harder stance toward Iraq in comparison to North Korea. While we pursue diplomacy with North Korea (who has admitted to having nukes), we prefer to invade Iraq, who we claim is only looking for nukes. Have we forgotten the 1994 Congressional report revealing that we supplied Saddam with biological and chemical weapons during the 1980s? Although U.S. casualties will be lower than that of Iraq, letâ€™s not forget the danger we are placing squarely on the shoulders of U.S. troops, who have been indoctrinated as I was. Funny how the people who are least likely to go to war are the ones working the hardest to convince others to fight it for them.
Chris White is an ex-Marine infantryman and current doctoral student in history at the University of Kansas, Lawrence. He served from 1994-98, in places such as Diego Garcia, Camp Pendleton, CA, Okinawa, Japan, and Doha, Qatar.