Pissing On The Flag

Another day, another scandal involving United States servicemen.  This time its four marines pissing on the corpses of Taliban fighters they’ve killed.  Each time this happens we’re asked to treat it as an isolated case.  What we’re expected to believe is that when US troops misbehave it’s captured on camera and everyone knows about it.  When the cameras aren’t rolling they’re the honourable warriors Americans believe them to be.

Counterintuitive doesn’t begin to describe it.  In the wake of Abu Ghraib, the Iraq Helicopter Video, all those instances of collateral damage, the attack on a Pakistani border post and too many others, we’re expected to believe that these represent terrible exceptions, exceptions that just happen to be caught on video.

A far more credible explanation is that there is a far deeper problem, one stemming from an increasingly inhumane culture that, in the wake of September 11th, has gripped American forces.  The US military has become brutal and, dare one say it, fascist in the proper sense of the word – that it wields the power to punish and execute and sees itself as the final arbiter.

In the wake of the Vietnam War the US military drafted a ‘Soldier’s Creed’.   You can see the degree of emphasis put on protection, creditable behaviour and the importance of not disgracing one’s uniform.

 

I am an American Soldier.

I am a member of the United States Army – a protector of the greatest nation on earth.

Because I am proud of the uniform I wear, I will always act in ways creditable to the military service and the nation it is sworn to guard.

I am proud of my own organization. I will do all I can to make it the finest unit in the Army.

I will be loyal to those under whom I serve. I will do my full part to carry out orders and instructions given to me or my unit.

As a soldier, I realize that I am a member of a time-honored profession—that I am doing my share to keep alive the principles of freedom for which my country stands.

No matter what the situation I am in, I will never do anything, for pleasure, profit, or personal safety, which will disgrace my uniform, my unit, or my country.

I will use every means I have, even beyond the line of duty, to restrain my Army comrades from actions disgraceful to themselves and to the uniform.

I am proud of my country and its flag.

I will try to make the people of this nation proud of the service I represent, for I am an American Soldier.

 

In 2003, at the height of the war on terror a section of the US military responsible for the Warrior Ethos rewrote the Soldier’s Creed thus:

 

I am an American Soldier.

I am a Warrior and a member of a team.

I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.

I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.

I will never quit.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.

I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.

I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.

I am an expert and I am a professional.

I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.

I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.

I am an American Soldier.

 

All those references to protection and honour and avoiding disgrace have been stripped out.  It’s as though the task of writing the code has been handed to the teams responsible for Gears of War or Call of Duty.  There’s no ethos there just a cartoonish and brutal rant.  The actions of US troops pissing on their dead enemies fly in the face of the original Soldier’s Creed but they’re wholly consistent with the current version.

If the US military wants to defeat its enemies rather than see its soldiers acting as recruiting sergeants for new ones it needs to recognise that it is in the throes of an ethical and cultural crisis.  If it wants to take a step back towards a US military that projects American values, values that might have been recognised as American by the four men whose faces look out from Mount Rushmore, they could do worse than scrapping the current Soldier’s Creed and replacing it with the original.

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2 Responses to “Pissing On The Flag”

  1. “Men sleep peacefully in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

  2. Indeed, but the issue isn’t one about the use of force, it’s about whether the force used is proportionate and in accordance with the values of the nation that they serve.
    The problem here was that the marines did something that gained absolutely nothing but added to the impression that the US is simply a bad, brutal, occupying power and in so doing they make the task they’ve been ordered to do harder and the likelihood of US casualties higher.
    So rough men is one thing, stupid men is another. However it isn’t a one-off, it’s symptomatic of a culture that’s developed within the US military and the current version of the soldiers creed is part of that – it may be partly causal or simply reflectiive – but if the US military wants to stop incidents like this it should loook again at that creed and ideally return to the original.

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