I wrote before about how Dana Loesch, who as far as I am aware is still employed by CNN, said on her radio show that she would have joined four Marines in urinating on the bodies of three dead Afghans, as depicted in a video that surfaced this week.
Now, tea party darling Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) has joined in, making some perfunctory noises about the Marines’ actions being wrong. His recommendation is for field-grade Article 15s (this being a relatively common form of military “non-judicial punishment,” issued by an officer of the rank of at least major) and for the soldiers “in full dress uniform [to] stand before their Battalion, each personally apologize to God, Country, and Corps videotaped and conclude by singing the full US Marine Corps Hymn without a teleprompter.”
(Not-so-subtle teleprompter dig duly noted.)
But his statement is more interesting for the remarks preceding, and following, the above. From the Weekly Standard:
“I have sat back and assessed the incident with the video of our Marines urinating on Taliban corpses. I do not recall any self-righteous indignation when our Delta snipers Shugart and Gordon had their bodies dragged through Mogadishu. Neither do I recall media outrage and condemnation of our Blackwater security contractors being killed, their bodies burned, and hung from a bridge in Fallujah.
“All these over-emotional pundits and armchair quarterbacks need to chill. Does anyone remember the two Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division who were beheaded and gutted in Iraq?
As for everyone else, unless you have been shot at by the Taliban, shut your mouth, war is hell.”
It should be noted here that this is the same Allen West whose own military career came to an abrupt close shortly after he was charged with assaulting and threatening to kill an Iraqi prisoner he was helping “interrogate” in 2003, and any “assessment” he makes of apparent atrocities committed by members of the military should be taken with this well in mind. West initially faced court martial, but this was downgraded to a version of Article 15 punishment – which, while effectively ending his career as an officer, left his ability to retire and collect a lifetime pension intact. He could have faced 11 years in a military prison.
Instead, he is now a member of Congress, who spends his off-time writing childishly vituperative emails to female members of the opposing party, and promulgating the utter fiction that “the media” (read, “liberals”) do not care about the safety and well-being of soldiers, or when their bodies are deliberately mutilated by enemy forces. The long-time conservative drumbeat is that liberals hate the troops.
Dana Loesch repeated this same baseless smear prior to stating her desire to “drop trou” along with the Marines:
“Now we have a bunch of progressives that [sic] are talking smack about our military because there were marines caught urinating on corpses, Taliban corpses.”
Criticism of any action by a specific member of the military, in Loesch’s addled mind, equates to “talking smack about our military.”
In any event, I happen to recall the horror I felt when I saw the footage and photographs of the Blackwater contractors’ bodies hung from the bridge over the Euphrates in Fallujah. Unlike West, I do remember a widespread sense of shock and outrage – and who could have failed to feel the same, reading reports like this one, from BBC News, which spared few details?
An angry crowd descended on the cars, throwing stones and setting the vehicles ablaze.
The corpses were dragged from the wreckage and television pictures showed one burnt body being kicked and stamped on, while at least two were tied to cars and driven through the city, witnesses said.
Adults and children hacked the bodies to pieces, before lynching two of the charred remains from a bridge spanning the Euphrates River.
“The people of Falluja hanged some of the bodies on the old bridge like slaughtered sheep,” said local resident Abdul Aziz Mohammed.
One Iraqi held a sign underneath one of the lynched bodies which read: “Falluja is the cemetery for Americans”.
Veteran broadcaster Ted Koppel was hosting ABC’s Nightline at the time, and he devoted an entire segment of each program to reading the names and showing pictures of American soldiers who had been killed in battle. The segment, called “The Fallen,” elicited ire from many conservatives, who insisted Koppel was deliberately undermining the war effort.
The horrific images of the bodies of Sgt. 1st Class Randy Shugart and Master Sgt. Gary Gordon being dragged through the Mogadishu streets (events depicted in Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down”*) caused enough of a public uproar that President Bill Clinton pulled all U.S. forces out of Somalia shortly after. Gordon and Shugart both were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
In Fallujah, elsewhere in Iraq, and in Somalia, where is there an appropriate place for the “self-righteous indignation” Rep. West seems to be missing? The proper reaction to seeing this kind of thing is abject horror, not “indignation.” And there was no lack of horror on the part of Americans – liberal and conservative alike – at seeing the true cost of war, and at the desecration of soldiers’ and contractors’ remains. To suggest that liberals failed somehow to feel this too is simply a revolting lie.
GOP gag-candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry has joined this chorus. Talking about the video of the Marines Jan. 15, he had this to say:
“What’s really disturbing to me is just, kind of, the over-the-top-rhetoric from this administration and their disdain for the military,” said Perry, who has been wooing the military vote as well as evangelicals.
West and Perry and Dana Loesch and their co-thinkers are not just insulting liberals and the Obama administration with the insinuation that these people hate the military. The more grievous insult is to members of the armed forces themselves.
As Prof. Tarak Barkawi notes in his brilliantly-nuanced Al-Jazeera op-ed,
“While offering assurances that they will clean house, [U.S. officials] should strongly distance themselves from the notion that this is a peculiarly US issue. Iraqis, Afghans, Americans and others have been mutilating each others’ corpses for some years now.”
This is indeed true, but that should not be taken to mean that we should shrug it off when it is done by soldiers operating under our flag. These are indeed our soldiers, and they represent the United States. As citizens, we can reasonably expect those who wear the uniform to behave in a way that befits it. In the grand scheme of things, pissing on a corpse isn’t nearly as objectively bad as actually causing a person to become a corpse, but, as a Japanese officer quoted in Barkawi’s piece remarked, “it is the war that forces us to do the killing.”
We can accept the sad fact that death is a necessary end of war, but we can also be justifiably appalled at those who revel in death. While the Marines depicted in the video were very likely experiencing the mental ravages of prolonged combat, their stateside apologists have no such excuse. It’s deeply insulting to every member of military, past and present, to suggest that a moral equivalence exists between the behavior of enraged mobs in Mogadishu or Fallujah and the standards of conduct to which our fighting forces are held.
Yes, Allen West – War is hell. But that doesn’t require anyone to shut their mouth about it.
*The 1993 “Battle of Mogadishu” is more fully treated in Mark Bowden’s book Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, on which Scott based his film. Chief Warrant Officer 4 (Ret.) Michael Durant, the Blackhawk pilot who was taken captive during the fight, wrote about his experiences in his book, In The Company of Heroes. He describes being beaten unconscious after his helicopter crash with what he believes was a severed human arm. Both books are well worth the read.