A response to Jacob G. Hornberger
Jacob G. Hornberger’s essay “Were Nazi Soldiers War Heroes?” conveyed a seldom-voiced truth few care to even look at. I would like to carry this discussion into the struggles and conflicts we are facing today, especially as regards our rhetoric surrounding terrorism and the meaning of moral courage.
Have we become so uncertain of the virtues of our own cause that we need to deny arguably courageous acts committed by those against whom we are fighting? Must our vilifying of the followers of radical Islam require our striping them even of the humanity reflected in their acts of obvious physical courage? Our killing of innocents is somehow OK while we react with revulsion at the same acts committed by “terrorists.” In no way do I attempt to excuse the heinous acts of terror and retribution committed by Islamists anymore than I do the same kind of acts we commit.
Remember radical Islam is largely an entity of our own creation. We must assume the greater share of credit for their existence and their violent mindset forged in Egyptian torture rooms our CIA set up and supervised under Nasser. We have a theocracy in Iran because our lust for their oil made democracy there impossible. It doesn’t take much of a reading of modern history to understand exactly where terrorism in the modern world comes from and how we must be compelled to understand its origins and development and to acknowledge own our part in creating it. Ask not who caused the towers to fall. Ultimately it was blowback.
I remember Bill Maher being pilloried for his comment that it took courage to fly planes into buildings. Now there are many characterizations one can attach to the 15 Saudis and their friends who carried out the “Planes Operation.” “Cowards” is certainly not one of them.
I also was strangely moved by revelations that, when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (the real 9/11 mastermind) was being water boarded (183 times!), he had the presence of mind and the amazing physical courage not to panic. His cowardly tormentors noted that he would count out the number of seconds of his ordeal on the fingers of his hand. I have read accounts of our torture techniques and I believe such physical resolve and courage can only merit my grudging respect no matter who the victim.
Of course this is merely a matter of physical courage that can be trained into almost any soldier. (One of the reasons torture so often fails when used against hardcore Islamists is that they have developed a practiced resistance against even our most barbaric techniques.)
Moral courage can be quite a different matter. I have said that the only coalition soldier deserving of the name “hero” in our illegal wars is Private Bradley Manning. Many ex vets of Iraq and Afghanistan have come to repudiate their actions and their medals—after the fact. Only Bradley Manning stood against the horror while under command. This took a level of moral courage that shames us all.
I was deeply moved by Jacob Hornberger’s account of the history of the White Rose movement in WWII Germany and the fate of Christoph Probst and Hans and Sophie Scholl. As he said, “they were among the most courageous and heroic people in history.”
This was a moral courage that I think is lost on this country today. It is easier to be a moral hero when your cause is popular and universally recognized as just. That is why the Right in this country is always harkening back to the sacrifices our soldiers made in WWII—our last “Good War.” It is far more difficult to prove that our soldiers’ subsequent sacrifices in intervening wars have served in any way to “make us free.” Liberal opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush ’43 reign was an honored activity. (Remember back when we actually had a Peace Movement Liberals supported?) Now that we have a fictitiously Liberal President, people turn away in shocked disgust from anyone courageous (or foolish) enough to call him a war criminal. It is difficult for us to realize how, in his day, Hitler was far more popular with Germans than Obama is with Liberal Democrats. The White Rose people were really swimming against the tide.
I have no desire to minimize reverence for physical courage either on the battlefield or in civilian life. Combat medals, for the most part, reward physical courage. Has Daniel Ellsberg been awarded the Medal of Freedom for helping to end the war in Vietnam? No. Many of those who gave the “last full measure” in our most recent wars were arguably physically courageous. Most were, if not moral cowards, at least not moral heroes. Most, like many serving in the military today, were looking for an escape from poverty, and for educational opportunities a toilet-bound economy could not provide. I will not speak against these motives. Just don’t ask me to honor their self-serving strategies. And please don’t ask me to regard them as greater moral heroes than my dentist or my plumber.
It is quite disheartening to observe that, alongside the great quantities of deserved combat medals regularly distributed to soldiers, we have developed the disgraceful habit of excusing, ignoring, covering up or minimizing the impact of monumental acts of cowardice and atrocity on the part of many of those same troops.
To my knowledge, not one of that army of little cowards who hunker down in their air-conditioned, Nevada-desert, video-drone game rooms has ever been brought up on charges for “mistakenly” killing any of all those women and children in Pakistan.
The murder of Osama bin Laden by the celebrated Navy Seals team may someday be universally condemned by the civilized world not only for its illegality but for its cowardice. The murder, by superior tactical forces, of an unarmed man defended only by his wives, possessed all the moral rectitude and dignity of a mob hit. No one has asked why Obama was so terrified of bringing him to trial or establishing irrefutable proof that they even got their man? Why is no one shocked by all this? Obama has called the morally wrenching murders of legally innocent people “easy decisions.” Why are none of my Liberal friends calling him out for the monster he is? Are they really that terrified of Romney?
Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs received life with a promise of parole in 10 years for leading his unit in the long-standing practice of “sport hunting” non-combatant Afghans and taking souvenir body parts—a familiar practice for our military over there. Gibbs was one of the very few of many prosecuted for his ghoulish behavior—mainly because he bragged about it too much and widely published “trophy” photos.
Obama is more interested in making an example of Bradley Manning (through torture and threat of death) for revealing just such widespread crimes and cover-ups in Iraq. At one point during the Iraqi War these popular trophy photos became a cottage industry nearly achieving a commodities exchange status. Does anyone even remember that trophies of any kind in war constitute a war crime with extreme penalties for both the culprits and for their tolerant commanders?
The Department of Veterans Affairs has revealed that one in three women had experience of military sexual trauma while on active service in Iraq and Afghanistan or while awaiting deployment. Women who report cases of sexual assault are dealt with far more harshly than those who victimized them. Oh yes, just in case you fear for the further moral degeneration of the American military be assured our highest standards of Christian morality are at least being preserved by military medical personnel. Military hospitals are forbidden to perform abortions in the case of soldier pregnancies resulting from rape. God Bless America!
I have no doubt the worldwide military/industrial/corporate complex will soon be in ruins. The faster the better. The illusion of American exceptionalism and our moral superiority has gone with our ideas of God, and manifest destiny in to that good dark dustbin of history. (America was originally founded on illusions and the motto, “Never give a sucker an even break.”) Of course even at this late date, few in this society choose to see it that way. The official rhetoric, in its pursuit of shoring up this rotting hulk, has characterized any act that supports the state or any advocate who serves empire (like Obama) heroic. Those who resist—the Sophie Scholls are branded cowards and terrorists.
The war is coming home, boys and girls. Look for drones patrolling the friendly skies of your neighborhood soon. They are already watching you through the lens of your computer’s camera and your i-phone. (The East-German Stasi would have been green with envy) The war on Terror was never about al Qaeda abroad but only about spreading our full-spectrum dominance over the world’s people and resources (Hitler would be so jealous!). The primary goal of the War on Terror has mostly been to infantilize and pacify the American people. You can check its progress anytime by visiting the long lines of dazed and compliant sheeple in an airport near you.
The War is coming home at last—unfortunately not in the way the Weathermen intended. All that was needed was a popular president to overcome the last little wimpy pockets of Liberal resistance in order to close and lock the doors of our cells forever.
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