The Army has been in the news this week, with the Pentagon condemning soldiers for taking pictures of dead insurgents in a manner that that is “disrespectful, politically incorrect, and potentially beneficial to the propaganda efforts of the Taliban.”
More than likely, I am once again proposing the nut point of view, but I disagree with all of this. Taking those objections in reverse order, do the Taliban really need us to come up with ideas for their propaganda? People who treat women as chattel and forbid them any form of education, allow honor killings, destroy a nation’s art works, and ban all forms of music do not exactly need inspiration from the US Army to come up with ideas for propaganda. And why would we expect the Taliban to tell the truth? Anyone who condones the stoning of rape victims might just be willing to lie.
And exactly what are we afraid of? People who proudly film the decapitations of innocent civilians are hardly going to be shocked with US soldiers posing next to dead insurgents.
Pictures of both battle and the victims of battle are as old as photography. Matthew Brady took hundreds of such photos. We have pictures from the Crimean War, and every war where soldiers could take a camera. There is nothing new about any of this. Actually, these pictures have been recorded for thousands of years before cameras. There must be thousands of paintings, sculptures, and engravings all proclaiming the same message; “They are dead and we are alive.”
The Bayeux Tapestry is full of such scenes. The image shown is the death of King Harold. King William respected Harold and even stripped the knighthood from the soldier who decapitated Harold’s lifeless body. Respect or not, the tapestry was produced to show the triumph of William.
After the stress of combat, soldiers need a catharsis, a release of tension, a dramatic statement that they are still alive. It has been this way since the beginning of time--history records enumerable examples.
In 1916, a young Lt. Patton survived a gun battle at a farm house in Mexico. He tied the body of one of Pancho Villa’s officers across the hood of his Ford Model T and drove it back to General Pershing. In normal circumstances, this would not be considered rational behavior, but Patton had just shot the officer in a desperate gun fight that was reminiscent of a Wild West shootout.
There are stories of soldiers urinating into rivers that mark the boundaries of enemy territory. Epic stories of soldiers on wild drunken leaves after long periods of battle, and endless stories of eccentric behavior from soldiers stationed for long periods of time on the front lines. A group of American fighter pilots in World War I actually kept a lion for a pet.
This kind of behavior is the norm, not the exception. As a country, if we want to spend time thinking about politically incorrect behavior, we should be thinking about the war, not the behavior of young men after a battle.