We have mostly been spared the photographs and news clips of the brutality of U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan by the curious practice of "embedded reporters" and the abdication by the mainstream media of their Constitutional duty to inform the citizenry. Yet the recent disclosure of two stories, one having occurred in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan, provides the kind of illusion-ripping clarity necessary to understand war's horror.
By now, many of us have seen the video of the circling helicopter over the Baghdad suburb and the execution of the civilians on the ground. Those of us with stronger stomachs continued to watch as two men exit a van to aid the dying civilians and too are shot down. And as a "bradley" rolls onto the scene it runs over one of the fallen, said to have still been alive.
There are no photos or video of which I am aware that recorded the ghastly murder of Afghan women; perhaps the words describing the event are sufficient to scorch indifference. I urge you to read them.
Taken together, the revelation of these two events cast light onto what war, any war, is about--namely, the violent eclipse of humanity. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in his landmark book On Killing argues that soldiers, in order to kill, must overcome a strong instinctual prohibition against killing a fellow human. The reluctance to do so is exhaustively accounted for in Grossman's book by studies that measured the firing ratio of soldiers during combat. In large part, the military, our military, has taken seriously this reluctance to kill and sought through training to overcome this human instinct. The results of these improved methods of training are all too evident in today's headlines.
I believe the troubling incidents of returning soldiers reveals what many of them have said; having been taught to kill, they just can't turn it off. And so the bodies of innocent Iraqis and Afghans pile up over there, and the carnage of suicide and violence pursues our returning soldiers, and the obfuscating garment of policy and patriotism cannot soak up all the blood on the ground.