Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Support the Troops

It's one of those images that becomes instantly iconic. In fact, no sooner had I read the headline and first sentence of Holland Cotter's review of the exhibition of Nina Berman's photographs of Iraq war veterans up at Jen Bekman's gallery than I immediately thought of an image I had seen a while back (although I hadn't known who had taken it). From today's New York Times:

Words Unspoken Are Rendered on War’s Faces

One of the more shocking photographs to emerge from the current Iraq war was taken last year in a rural farm town in the American Midwest.
And sure enough, he was describing the very image that is forever associated with the consequences of the invasion of Iraq in my mind (UPDATE: very interestingly, the New York Times, from where I originally sourced the "wedding" photo has renumbered the images of that story so that the one below actually appears twice and the wedding one doesn't appear at all. See http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2007/08/21/arts/bermanslide6.jpg and http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2007/08/21/arts/bermanslide6.jpg and http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2007/08/21/arts/bermanslide7.jpg). To see the image I'm referring to visit Jen Bekman Gallery's site.

Now I know it's foolhardy to conclude too much about someone's life from a photograph. It's possible that moments before and mere moments after that shot was snapped, both of these young people were all smiles and confident and hopeful and in love. But what this captured instant conveys, whether indicative or not, seems to be a heartbreaking blend of pain, uncertainty, and hope, and it stirs up the kind of empathy that makes you want to march on your nation's capital and hold some of those, who had other priorities when they were called to serve, accountable for their raging incompetence.

But before I stomp a hole through the top of my soapbox, let me separate out my stand on the war from that of the photographer. As Holland notes:
Ms. Berman adds no direct editorial comment to the presentation. She has said in interviews that she started photographing disabled veterans soon after the war began mainly because she didn’t see anyone else doing so.
As Holland also notes, though, the images in this exhibition represent only the tip of the iceberg with regards to the number of wounded Americans returning home from that conflict. Ms. Berman's image of Iraq war veterans has been published in the book, Purple Heart, Back From Iraq.

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59 Comments:

Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Salon has an interview with Nina Berman, and there's a great article on Ty and Renee at the UK Sunday Times.

8/22/2007 11:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonder if Bush was invited to the wedding?

8/22/2007 12:09:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Makes it all real.

8/22/2007 12:36:00 PM  
Anonymous jason said...

the very image that is forever associated with the consequences of the invasion of Iraq in my mind

I realize that many of these veterans were lied to, or otherwise coerced, into military service, but I'm much more concerned about the thousands of dead Iraqis that they helped to murder.

While certainly shocking, these images are almost politically neutral. Yes, it's important that we see the real life consequences of what happens to soldiers when they are sent to war (although I'm sure we are already very aware that people die, or are disabled, in war), but I don't see how these images contribute to anything remotely anti-war (and maybe that's not the artist's intention). That is, I could see how someone might easily interpret these photos as a kind of memorial to national heroism (indeed, some gave all.). Such an interpretation would only further the sentiments that make such atrocities possible.

8/22/2007 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger Sunil said...

Ed,
Funny that you chose this one - this one has been one of the most enduring ones from the war - competing on an even keel with the ones from Gitmo and the one where an Iraqi father watches helplessly at his sons limp impossibly bent out of shape body. Yes, indeed a powerful one. I fell for it a long time back.
Sunil

8/22/2007 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

but I'm much more concerned about the thousands of dead Iraqis that they helped to murder

I don't mean to separate the two and suggest wounded veterans are more [insert judgement value here] than the innocent victims of war. I will note that international law doesn't define the kind of collateral damage you're referencing as "murder" so unless you're suggesting all American soldiers are breaking the law, per se, Jason, you might want to rephrase that. It's the sort of polarizing rhetoric that only aggravates the often painful process many vets go through when they return home after conflict, offends their friends and families, and tells a wide range of otherwise sympathetic people that you're not being even-handed enough to take seriously on the subject.

Don't get me wrong. I'm as against this war as anyone out there, and as angry about the killing of innocent Iraqis as anyone out there, but unless we separate out the terms here, we're no better than those folks who ordered the invasion in terms of dangerous generalizations.

8/22/2007 01:22:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I do think it's worth pointing out that our armed forces are still all volunteer, which is to say they signed up for babykilling and getting their faces blown off. This is in direct contrast to our armed forces in Vietnam. And it seems much of our "support the troops" attitude these days is an attempt to redress the balance from thirty-five years ago; but not a legitimate reaction to current events.

I think there's a limit on how much one can separate one's anti-war stance from one's support of the people who freely -- and in some cases enthusiastically -- offer to pursue and prosecute war. Note that when asked where his ears went, Ziegel replies "The bad guys took them." Not "The righteous freedom-fighters struggling against their imperialist oppressors took them."

Or to rephrase John Prine, your yellow ribbon magnet won't get you into Heaven any more -- it's already overcrowded from your dirty little war.

8/22/2007 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

grrr...

That sort of posturing on the subject ignores the reality of what motivates the vast majority of men and women who join the military, Chris. It's not any level of enthusiasm for killing, as you suggest. For some it's a simple matter of economic opportunity (versus being stuck somewhere with no opportunities). Having grown up in a region of the country that had 25% unemployment, I fully understood the decision of my three brothers to enlist. Not one of them, though, despite your insinuations, longed for combat (and thankfully, only one saw it and he survived fine). For others it's a real sense of duty or a family tradition. There are a whole host of honorable reasons folks sign up.

What you're not saying, but suggesting, mind you, is that no one should sign up (lest they acknowledge they want to kill others). I don't know whether that means you support conscription or think the US will be just fine without any military at all. Neither seems prudent in my view.

With all its problems, a volunteer military strikes me as the best possible scenario for the US at the moment. Like any walk of life, there are folks who sign up for all the wrong reasons, but the vast majority of those serving deserve the nations' thanks and respect.

8/22/2007 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

I would like to make a personal and heartfelt request that questions of relative personal guilt not make an entrance into this discussion. I know that this is a tall order, and that I do not have the right to make it, given that this is not my blog, but I'm making the suggestion anyway.

For me, the most touching element of the NYT article was the statement:

Almost all the veterans in Ms. Berman’s pictures look isolated, even if someone else is present. And a sense of loneliness comes through in their brief interviews.

Questions of guilt or otherwise do not assuage loneliness; neither does impotent political posturing, from any perspective. Only non-judgmental attention has a possibility of breaking through that wall of isolation, and I salute Nina Berman for providing a little of it.

8/22/2007 02:15:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I'm not by any stretch saying that most military people sign up because they want to go into combat. But I am saying that it's in the contract.

There are many good reasons to join the armed forces. I respect that. But at bottom when you join voluntarily you give up your autonomy. You happily promise to go and do whatever dangerous, misguided, or just plain evil thing you've been told to do.

Of course we need a military. And a volunteer military isn't a bad thing. What we could perhaps use more of is a culture where individual soldiers can make their own decisions, so they can say clearly "I'm not going to do what you've ordered because it's wrong." But of course that's endlessly arguable; there are sound reasons for having soldiers that do exactly what they're told without hesitation, too.

My point, however, is simply this: Our sympathy for these wounded veterans should be tempered by the fact that this is what they were paid to do. They're not like trapped coal miners killed because of cost-cutting corporations; they're casualties of war. (Granted that with this war particularly, there are plenty of casualties caused by corporate-style cost-cutting, so there's some overlap.)

Also -- and tangentially -- I think, Ed, living in New York City as you do, that you've lost touch with how xenophobic Americans can be. A good number of our military men and women really do believe the Iraqis are the Bad Guys, or Evil, or somehow subhuman. My octogenarian neighbor still feels that way about the Japanese. In 1969 my father tried to go kill a Commie for Mommy. It's not a wild supposition to believe that people signed up to kick some "other" ass.

8/22/2007 02:22:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Pretty Lady, you're right about guilt, of course; I don't think anyone deserves to be blown up, and I do think anyone who has been blown up deserves sympathy, empathy, and anything else we can give them, for whatever reason they were blown up in the first place.

On an individual basis, I agree with you. If I met someone like Ty Ziegel, I would most certainly not treat him as if he got what he asked for. It wouldn't even occur to me to do so. Each person, in connecting with another person, deserves full attention.

But when we start to expand that person-to-person connection to make larger. more political, decisions, then we do have to think about guilt. In a perfect world there would be no guilt. And no war.

8/22/2007 02:26:00 PM  
Anonymous kelli said...

It's worth noting studies have shown people serving in Iraq are likely to have the same opinion of the war in similar percentages as other Americans. My sister's ex was a marine who served more than once there and is thinking of writing a negative book about the war. He still has nightmares. He says himself some of the trauma comes from the futility of the effort. Here's what he says:
-The war was run on the cheap. As a marine he went in on the first wave. Their directions were "head in this direction and kill anything that gets in your way". They had old, outdated maps even though satellite photography is pretty advanced. He thinks the old maps were used, like everything else they used which was outdated, for cheapness or carelessness. They got lost at one point and spent several days blowing off steam in the middle of nowhere.
-A lot of deaths there were gruesome industrial accidents not combat deaths.
-He swears a lot of people shot themselves and the deaths were reported to their families as friendly fire deaths not suicides.
-He thinks civil war is inevitable and the country should be divided in 3 sections based on religion.
-He owns a business which collapsed in his absence but never resisted being called back. He joined the marines long ago to pay for college and "defend" his country not "attack" another one. He's a sergeant and commands the same guys he's known for years. He feels they are safer in his command so he's proud of serving with them. But few people have a lower opinion of this war.

8/22/2007 02:29:00 PM  
Anonymous kelli said...

Long, long, long post cause I thought people might be interested in a (secondhand) account of what someone serving there thinks.

8/22/2007 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger Oly said...

re: "They're not like trapped coal miners killed because of cost-cutting corporations; they're casualties of war."

I don't know about that statement.

With the meager supplies and support stretched thin that they've been given-- body armor sent from home instead of from their base-- the planet's biggest cost-cutting corporation, The United States of America, is causing many of the casualties themselves.

Truly tragic work, and post.

The bride in the photos looks more lost than anyone.

Ol's

8/22/2007 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

then we do have to think about guilt.

No, we don't. All we have to do is ask the question, "How's that working for ya?"

The question of guilt just gets in the way of answering that question honestly, and honest answers to hard questions are the best way of untangling complex and difficult situations.

8/22/2007 02:33:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Very interesting, kelli, thanks.

8/22/2007 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Good note, Kelli. I've read stories from soldiers that are all over the map. Most are -- not surprisingly -- not supportive of how the war was waged. Most are supportive of the war itself, though, at least in theory.

Personally, it seems to me the war's been handled really badly, but I'm undecided about whether the war was necessarily a bad idea (except in the sense that all wars are bad ideas on some level). Ultimately, I don't think we'll have a good idea about either until the history shakes out. Hopefully within my lifetime.

Oly, all wars are like that. You should read up on World War I (which I mention because I just read a book on it myself). When the war began, the French didn't even have automobiles. They had to appropriate milk trucks and the like to use as ambulances; they were hauling heavy artillery using horses. On the front line, some of the most impregnable fortresses ever designed were captured by the Germans because the French ran out of water.

8/22/2007 02:40:00 PM  
Anonymous jason said...

so unless you're suggesting all American soldiers are breaking the law, per se, Jason, you might want to rephrase that.

Well, then, let me be more clear. I find the notion of "collateral damage" to be repugnant, and I have no interest in deferring to international law when determining whether or not murder has taken place (although I'm not so sure that international law would agree with you in this case; there is much to be said for the case that the U.S. invasion was very, very illegal). Every invading soldier directly involved in the killing of thousands of Iraqis is a murderer, and the rest are their accomplices (and we, as citizens, bankrolled the entire operation).

This doesn't mean that these murderers should be damned to hell, or banished from society, but it's disrespectful to the thousands of dead Iraqis to sugar-coat the atrocities that these soldiers have perpetrated by calling it "collateral damage" -- as if killing someone in a foreign land in service of one's government is somehow less immoral than shooting one's neighbor. It doesn't do the soldiers themselves any good to deny it either -- in fact, it's the very soldiers that have come to realize the seriousness of their actions, and acknowledge responsibility, that have been motivated to openly join the anti-war movement. Again, I acknowledge the existence of powerfully coercive methods employed by the U.S. government to create its so-called "volunteer" army, but soldiers need to realize that they had a choice of whether or not to kill for their government, and that they chose poorly. No matter how oppressive or powerful a President or fascist dictator may be, war cannot take place if soldiers refuse to fight.

I think it's important to discuss this in connection with these photographs, because there seems to be an assumption that by empathizing with these soldiers we take a step towards preventing another Iraq War from happening again, or that such photographs are in opposition to the war effort. They are not. The Iraq War wasn't enabled by a failure to empathize with U.S. soldiers, it was enabled, among other things, by a collective failure to empathize with the thousands of Iraqis whose deaths would come to be seen as mere "collateral damage."

8/22/2007 02:45:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Well said, Jason.

I've said that I believe we need a military but that the military should be defensive; of course, the United States hasn't fought a war in defense of American soil since around 1812.

8/22/2007 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I respectfully disagree with your positions, Jason and Chris. I think you're projecting responsibility onto soldiers who did not have the sort of clear-cut moral imperative to disobey orders that you seem to demand of them.

8/22/2007 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Even waiving their responsibility for their actions as soldiers doesn't make their signing up in the first place less problematic.

8/22/2007 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

whos watching the sheep?

Are you people vegetarians? I like the flavor.

8/22/2007 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Even waiving their responsibility for their actions as soldiers doesn't make their signing up in the first place less problematic.

I'm sorry if you answered this and I just can't see it, but in immediate terms that suggests all citizens should refrain from joining the military, leaving the nation defenseless, or at least threatening to in order to bring about some kind of alternative you're not defining very well, more or less ensuring I'll never elect you Commander in Chief.

8/22/2007 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

It doesn't mean no one should sign up; it means, though, if someone does sign up, bad things might happen to them, and we shouldn't really act all shocked about it.

Also, this should be put into perspective: Iraq is hardly the most deadly mistake America's ever made. Each year the war's been on we've lost fewer soldiers than we have coal miners to black lung; we've lost more people to asbestosis, too.

8/22/2007 03:37:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Chris, you're not making any sense to me. How do you reconcile "It doesn't mean no one should sign up" with "their signing up in the first place [is] problematic"?

And people are certainly entitled to be shocked when they see a wounded soldier return. It's entirely a different image from the ones they use to recruit soldiers and promote support for the war.

8/22/2007 03:47:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Their signing up is problematic in the sense of being supportive of the soldiers. "I'm against the war but for the soldiers" implies that the military had no choice. But they did. They are, by definition, pro-war: pro-any-war-they're-ordered-to-fight. That's what it means to enlist. Especially in America, where our military history -- for over two hundred years -- has been primarily offensive and imperialist.

So I'm not saying no one should sign up. It's a free country. You're allowed to be pro-war if you want.

What I'm saying is, we should feel bad for these wounded soldiers (to say nothing of the dead ones), but we can't feel too bad about them, because they did, after all, volunteer.

8/22/2007 03:57:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

They volunteer to join navy, but nobody volunteer to go to war. Thats for sure. And on the other hand who volunteers to go army? Young people from under middle class population, to save some money for the education or something else. But they did not sign to go war and kill or to be killed.
I feel bad for everyone, for thosw who wounded, those who got killed, for families who lost close ones, for us living under color coded rating alarm that goverment places depens on their mood and economy.
I would not feel bad if people who decided to go war will join army and serve patrioticly as they talk on tv or media.
Life is too short to fight and what for?
It's shame that some families understand that war is pointless and wrong only when they loose close ones.

8/22/2007 04:06:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed also said:
And people are certainly entitled to be shocked when they see a wounded soldier return. It's entirely a different image from the ones they use to recruit soldiers and promote support for the war.

And, wait, does this mean we should be outraged, not because of the war or the wounded and dead soldiers, but because we were hoodwinked?

Does that mean I should be shocked to find that Coca-Cola makes me fat? That Budweiser makes me drunk and stupid?

8/22/2007 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You can be pro-strong defense without being pro-war, Chris. Two of my brothers served and never saw combat. None of my brothers was or is pro-war, even the one still serving.

Volunteering means, if sent, you fight. It doesn't mean you desire to fight. The degrees of "feeling bad" you construe strike me as heartless.

8/22/2007 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Bambino sez:
It's shame that some families understand that war is pointless and wrong only when they loose close ones.

I heartily agree. It's very sad that some people need to get their faces blown off -- generation after generation -- to realize that war is hell. It's sad that there are young Americans who need to see combat to realize what a bad idea it is. It's sad that there are some people who see combat and still can't tell it's a bad idea.

In a larger sense -- or maybe in a smaller, more personal sense -- I do feel bad for everyone, including us (but not me, because my life is pretty good). Seriously: Humankind is messed up, and that makes me sad.

8/22/2007 04:12:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed ripostes:
Volunteering means, if sent, you fight. It doesn't mean you desire to fight.

But it does mean you accept the consequences. Most people who jump off bridges probably regret the decision on the way down. One of the consequences is that, as you say, if sent, you fight.

You can't be pro-strong defense and anti-war, because defense is war, too.

8/22/2007 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

And, wait, does this mean we should be outraged, not because of the war or the wounded and dead soldiers, but because we were hoodwinked?

Shocked, Chris. Not outraged. I wrote "shocked." I hope it remains shocking to see, up close, the results of a war.

I think you're grasping at straws here, quite honestly. I understand you're trying to suggest folks should know that we'll see wounded soldiers when they initially support a war (and I agree: it's one of the things I shouted most loudly at the anti-war marches I joined), but what you're suggesting is that we, partially at least, shouldn't empathize with those returning wounded soldiers because they should have seen they had it coming.

Personally, I can't do that. That's placing politics over people, and if it's wrong going into a war, it's wrong coming out of one too.

The rest of your comment is a red herring. I don't see any moral equivalence at all.

You can't be pro-strong defense and anti-war, because defense is war, too.

Take that idea to it's logical conclusion and it suggest you have to forego having any military to live in peace. You might be willing to try that, but I'm not.

8/22/2007 04:18:00 PM  
Anonymous jason said...

you're projecting responsibility onto soldiers who did not have the sort of clear-cut moral imperative to disobey orders that you seem to demand of them.

Then, at what point, if any, do soldiers bear the moral responsibility for their actions, and why hasn't such a point been reached in this case? Do you really think that "just following orders" is a reasonable excuse to absolve someone of accountability?

Further, isn't "just following orders" the very logic that has enabled a history of ruthless leaders to commit mass atrocities, including the mobilization of massive armies in political pursuits that, in many cases, are actually antithetical to the interests of the soldiers employed?

8/22/2007 04:18:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
You might be willing to try that, but I'm not.

On the other hand, I'm in good company, with Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Thich Quang Duc.

And not only should those soldiers have seen what they had coming, but many of them did as much or worse to others.

In case it's not clear, I have thoughts and feelings on this at many levels. I can see a lot of different sides. Jason's comments take a really large view: That the "little people" are pitted against each other by the basically untouchable "big people," and that therefore, perhaps, we should be less angry with each other and more angry with the powers that be. The photos of Nina Berman take a very close view: Look what happened to these people.

I may be confusing the argument because I'm shifting between levels as I go, and that's unfortunate, I guess, but I can't help it. On one level I feel sorry for us all as pawns in some cosmic game we don't understand -- or as motes in an uncaring universe. On another level I think, yes, these soldiers have simply reaped what they sowed. On another level I think no one deserves this; on yet another I think it's all George W. Bush's fault.

So, sorry if I'm incoherent.

8/22/2007 04:31:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
Shocked, Chris. Not outraged. I wrote "shocked." I hope it remains shocking to see, up close, the results of a war.

By the way: Generations after generations have gone to war only to come back "shocked." I think it's about time we stopped being shocked. How many times can everyone say, "My Lord, I bought a pig in a poke when I went off to war! No one told me how bad it was gonna be!"

8/22/2007 04:33:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Then, at what point, if any, do soldiers bear the moral responsibility for their actions...

Those points are well defined by the military itself Jason. There are things that soldiers know they should not do even if commanded to. Beyond such definitions, the military has courts in which a soldier can argue their case if court martialed for not following orders and that too gives them the ability to follow their conscience if they are sure what's being asked is moral, all of which serves well to put the morality questions back on the shoulders of the individual soldier where it belongs.

... and why hasn't such a point been reached in this case?

Because Congress authorized the war. I disagree with Congress and vote and write letters to back that up, but members of the military have been sent into battle by the representatives of their fellow citizens. It's pretty cut and dry why they are obligated to follow orders legally. Morally speaking, I'm sure there are those waivering month by month. Most probably weigh desertion against their loyalty to their fellow soldiers as well as their belief that the number of innocent Iraqis being killed now will pale compared to the bloodbath that will follow an immediate pull-out.

In other words the situation to far too complicated to suggest anyone and everyone involved is morally obligated to resist every order, or just put down their guns and try to make their way home, or desert or whatever.

In my opinion they right way to end this fiasco is for Congress to effectively force the President to begin a careful withdrawal. In doing so there are two priorities. Protecting as many innocent civilians as possible and protecting as many of our troops as possible. Neither of those will be easy. I simply hope when it's done, and the power struggle that will inevitably follow it between the Sunnis and Shiites left in Baghdad runs out of steam, that the resulting situation will be better, in the long-run, than if we hadn't invaded at all. I'm not hopeful, but it's what I have left to cling to.

8/22/2007 04:34:00 PM  
Anonymous oriane stender said...

Ed said:
"...more or less ensuring I'll never elect you Commander in Chief."

Does losing the popular vote count as being elected? As I recall, we didn't "elect" the current one either.

8/22/2007 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

By the way: Generations after generations have gone to war only to come back "shocked." I think it's about time we stopped being shocked.

I don't think that's how we're wired. I think each generation must learn that lesson for themselves the hard way, unfortunately. That's the only explanation I can find for why we don't, to be honest. I suspect it's genetic.

8/22/2007 04:36:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I think Jason's point is not what the military defines as legal and illegal, but what is right and wrong in a larger sense.

8/22/2007 06:21:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

I think everybody should think for a moment and take a deep breath, and say if you personally would join in army now and go to war? And what purpose will go to war? What purpose will you have in your head and your heart?

If you'd ask me, Personally I dont think I'd join army, why should I fight for somebody's personal interest.

We were in danger before and still in danger, and will be in danger.
So goverment's propoganda with war, that will make us safer is not truth. More and more we are becoming afraid of each other, distance from each other.

Every generation will educate itself depens on situation. But it's our responsibility now to show that war is not the way to solve the problem. There are other ways to communicate, the world is too small (ecspecially with global warming) solve problems, find solutions.

8/22/2007 06:59:00 PM  
Blogger Betta said...

Deeply shocked and saddened by this image on a human level.

8/22/2007 07:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

like probably all of you, i can't stand bush and couldn't believe it as the iraq invasion talk escalated and it happened. really sickened.

but, like almost no one i know, i don't want a pullout now because of how many deaths i imagine would result when the civil war bloodpath massacre begins.

8/22/2007 08:25:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I was just re-reading Ed's original post -- the "stomp a hole in my soapbox" line caught my eye, and a brilliant use of the metaphor that is, Ed -- and I wanted to add that I do think the actions of our leaders are totally shameful. The Boy Scouts taught me that no leader should ever ask anyone to do something they're not willing to do themselves, but -- as Ed points out eloquently when he calls them "those who had other priorities when they were called to serve" -- our leaders, both in the Executive and Legislative branches, apparently didn't. (George W. at least didn't even make it past Cub Scout, and it shows.)

8/23/2007 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Daniel Cooney said...

Congratulations to Jen for showing such a powerful and difficult exhibition.

8/23/2007 06:11:00 PM  
Blogger painterdog said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8/24/2007 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger painterdog said...

I am coming to this discussion late but after having read Jason and Chris's absurd renditions of blaming and calling the rank and file of the military murders, I feel compelled to comment.

First I will say I never supported this war. I think Bush and company should be brought to trial for crimes against humanity, this most likely will not happen.
Bush and Cheney should be impeached at the very least.


Jason I don't know what to say except you sound very young and seem to view things in very simple black and white terms. It's very sophomoric to tar everyone as murders. I noticed you did not mention anything about the huge amount of senseless killing that the different insurgent factions are caring out. Why is that?

Jason I hope in your lifetime you never have to depend on the national guard to save your ass or rescue you from a flood or earthquake. Will you be calling them killers then?

A lot of these people in the guard are there to make ends meet. The men an women who volunteer for service are not asking to go and kill and from what I understand the vast majority are not sociopaths.
The few who have been caught committing these kind of crimes have been dealt with and are now in jail. They do not join the military kill people.

Chris; I agree with everything Ed has to say on this matter and he says it much better than I can so I wont go on as you should re-read what he is saying as you and Jason are wrong.

8/24/2007 12:25:00 PM  
Anonymous jason said...

I think Bush and company should be brought to trial for crimes against humanity

painterdog, I see that you are quick to blame the leaders who ordered the "crimes against humanity", but are equally eager to exonerate the soldiers who physically performed the "crimes against humanity." Bush's power would be nothing, NOTHING, without thousands of troops, and millions of taxpayers, obeying his every command.

I'm curious, in the case of horrible crimes committed in the past by fascist or communist leaders, do you also lay moral responsibility only on the leaders, and not the troops who carried out the orders? That is, are the Nazi troops who executed millions of Jews, or Mao's troops who killed millions of Chinese, not also morally responsible for their actions? Or, are only the leaders to blame? Indeed, were the suicide bombers that carried out the attacks on 9/11 morally responsible for what they did, or was it only Osama's fault?

My point is not to say that the senseless killing performed by U.S. soldiers is necessarily the moral equivalent to the above examples, or to deny that in many cases soldiers are coerced by powerful leaders, but that surely the soldiers in each case are not absolved of all moral accountability simply by claiming that they were "just following orders." Or, "I didn't sign up to kill people, or go to war." It doesn't matter. U.S. soldiers invaded the country of other human beings and killed thousands of them, in many cases innocent women and children. It's called murder. "Just did what I was told," or "I needed the money that the army offered me," doesn't absolve them of the part they played in carrying out "crimes against humanity."

It's very sophomoric to tar everyone as murder[er]s.

I didn't. I wrote that "Every invading soldier directly involved in the killing of thousands of Iraqis is a murderer, and the rest [invading soldiers] are their accomplices (and we, as citizens, bankrolled the entire operation)." I've hardly called everyone a murderer, and I've even placed blame on myself, as someone who helped "bankroll the operation" through tax payments.

My point was that when someone goes to someone else's country and kills them in service of their own government, it's still murder (and those that help them are called accomplices). Our government wants us to think of it as "collateral damage," so that we won't notice the glaring hypocrisy of our government when it commands: "If you kill someone WE don't want you to kill, WE will throw you in prison, but if you kill OUR enemy, WE will call it 'collateral damage,' or 'enemy casualties', give you a medal, and call you a hero."

The few who have been caught committing these kind of crimes have been dealt with and are now in jail.

I'm not sure what "crimes" you're talking about, but I'm talking about U.S. military pilots who invaded Iraq and dropped bombs on thousands of people, killing them. Or, U.S. troops who invaded Iraq and killed thousands of people. As far as I know, this was the stated objective of the U.S. military when it invaded Iraq, and those who carried it out are now considered heroes, not criminals.

8/24/2007 04:16:00 PM  
Blogger painterdog said...

So your calling all German solders war criminals who where in the Wehrmacht in WW2? That's absurd and I had family killed by the Nazis in WW2.

Your reasoning is to simple, the people who gave the orders are the ones I would start with.

To go after the pilots for following orders is not right.

We carpet bombed Germany in WW2, killed 100's of thousands of civilians, are those pilots guilty of murder?

We did the same to the Japanese, more people died in Tokyo during one fire bombing raid than did at Hiroshima, are those pilots guilty?

You can say what you want but I think your wrong.

So I guess the insurgents killing and maiming hundreds of women,children and men in the name og God is alright?

Your making a lot of assumptions about things you seem to know nothing about and just look at it through this black and white lense.

I don't assume anything, I was against the Viet Nam war but do not call all Viet Nam vets baby killers. It's to simple and just wrong.

What do want, you want to put every boot on the ground who saw action in jail? Every pilot should be tired for murder?

That is chaos, and while I hate this war I don't think it's healthy to think like this.

8/24/2007 06:11:00 PM  
Anonymous jason said...

So your calling all German solders war criminals who where in the Wehrmacht in WW2?

Not "war criminals," I'm calling the ones who killed somebody murderers, or killers. "War crimes" are governmental constructs that dictate legality. I'm talking about ethics, not law. Of course they're not "war criminals" -- the concept of "war crimes" is dictated by governments, the same governments that want their soldiers to kill in battle. My whole point, that you seem to have missed again, is that there is a double standard between what is considered moral here, at home, and what is considered moral in another country when it's at the bidding of one's government. Intentionally killing someone (murder) is wrong, whether it's your neighbor across the street, or a person in a foreign country that one's government has deemed an enemy.

We carpet bombed Germany in WW2, killed 100's of thousands of civilians, are those pilots guilty of murder? ... We did the same to the Japanese, more people died in Tokyo during one fire bombing raid than did at Hiroshima, are those pilots guilty?

For chrissake, YES!

the people who gave the orders are the ones I would start with.

Definitely. But don't absolve the hired guns, they had a choice whether or not to obey, or sign up in the first place, and they chose poorly.

So I guess the insurgents killing and maiming hundreds of women,children and men in the name og God is alright?

NO! I don't think you really mean that.

What do want, you want to put every boot on the ground who saw action in jail?

Who said anything about jail? I'm talking about morality, not punishment. I'm not a fan of punishment, and I hate prisons. Prisons are just another form of institutionalized violence, where the government puts people who disobey it. Why would the government put its obedient heroes in prisons?

8/24/2007 07:01:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

PD sez:
That is chaos, and while I hate this war I don't think it's healthy to think like this.

Funny, I don't think it's healthy to think otherwise.

8/24/2007 07:01:00 PM  
Blogger painterdog said...

Chris your a clown and it's not really funny.

Jason your points on the morals of society I agree with, but I would say that I am guilty as well of this lack of moral fortitude and so are a lot others. I did not vote for Bush, I think he's the worse
president since Caligula. Your points get lost in the rhetoric, you say our troops committed murder yet you do not wish to punish them for the crime.

So I guess the insurgents killing and maiming hundreds of women,children and men in the name of God is alright?

What I meant is that you left this part of the mess in Iraq out. I do not think it's alright to kill in the name of God.

The world is an ugly place sometimes, people do bad things, countries start wars and kill innocent civilians.
Does it make it morally right? No.

So what are you suggesting we all do here?

8/24/2007 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger painterdog said...

I don't think the pilots who bombed those cities are criminals, if you have ever read any of the thoughts some of these men had after the war you would know it's not so black and white. Some of them had deep remorse for what they did and spent years hating that part of there lives.

I had 2 great uncles who saw a lot action in WW2 and they killed a lot of men, the killed civilians by mistake. It was war and they did things that they could never talk about much. Their lives were never the same after that experience. They died depressed and damaged men from it. One of them was awarded a bronze star, he was a hero in the Battle of the Bulge. Our family did not find this out into after he passed away. Some men have moral convictions, and it eats them up their whole lives after experiencing the violence and horror of war. It's not so cut and dry.

8/24/2007 07:36:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

If the soldier in the photo above had been injured in Afghanistan, in pursuit of bin Laden, instead of in Iraq, would the "wedding photo" have been taken, the news articles written, this blog entry created or the discussions above started?

8/24/2007 08:24:00 PM  
Blogger painterdog said...

Excellent point Henry.

8/24/2007 09:23:00 PM  
Anonymous jason said...

The world is an ugly place sometimes, people do bad things, countries start wars and kill innocent civilians.
Does it make it morally right? No. So what are you suggesting we all do here?


Disobey. Encourage others to disobey, and support those who are already disobeying. This means not only soldiers, but every one of us who plays a supporting role in enabling war.

It will not be easy to disobey. In fact, the government will consider you a criminal for disobeying, and will try to punish you for it. But there are many, many inspirational stories of people who have had the courage to disobey in the past. Have you ever seen the film "Sir No Sir!"? It's an excellent documentary film, and a wonderful piece of anti-war art. Sir No Sir! tells the true story of Vietnam soldiers who took responsibility for their actions, and decided to do something about it. They disobeyed the government, and started the Vietnam anti-war movement, forming its most powerful component.

To sum up what I'm trying to say here (not my original reason for commenting on this thread, but my response to those that absolve soldiers of moral accountability):

By disregarding that each soldier has a choice, and a corresponding moral accountability for their actions, we encourage blind obedience. Blind obedience is what gives tyrants their power -- it's what makes the atrocities of war possible. As long as we expect soldiers (and the rest of us) to blindly obey, war will continue to be a constant reality.

8/25/2007 04:55:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm not sure I understand your question actually, Henry. Plenty of artists are combining Afgahnistan and Iraq in their exploration of the effects of the war (the piece Saatchi just bought by Emily Prince being one example).

8/25/2007 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Henry said...

You blogged about this photo among other reasons because "it stirs up the kind of empathy that makes you want to march on your nation's capital and hold some of those, who had other priorities when they were called to serve, accountable for their raging incompetence."

You're on record recently as saying our soldiers should be chasing bin Laden instead of Hussein. You have a little banner on your front page to that effect. If that is a justifiable military action, how would your blog post have changed had the solider been injured in its pursuit? Would it have been written at all?

8/25/2007 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

If that is a justifiable military action, how would your blog post have changed had the solider been injured in its pursuit? Would it have been written at all?

I see what you're asking now. Thanks for clarifying.

There are several issues here. First is whether there's a difference between how we feel about wounded soldiers returning from conflicts we believe we had to fight (WWII being a good example, Afghanistan being somewhat less clear to some, but not to me...although I think it's debatable whether an army is the best tool to use to root out a single enemy) versus those of choice. I think it's fair to say I do. I suspect that's human nature.

Also though is the question of using a wounded soldier to make a point about the sort of conflict one doesn't believe we should have entered. I thank you for the gentle way you're making that point Henry. In my defense, though, I did mock myself for stomping on my soapbox.

I'm not at all sure how one can separate out the evidence of one's worse fears from their anger about the decision to enter into a conflict by choice. Add in the incomprehensible incompetence with which that conflict was waged (and I was careful to target the incompetence [the factor prolonging our soldiers' time in harms' way] in my complaint) and again I think it's human nature to conflate the two.

8/25/2007 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger painterdog said...

I watched a program last night called 'Now' on PBS and this very subject(conscientious objection and desertion)came up.

It was an excellent program which followed 2 solders.

One was a medic who decided that the war was immoral and applied for CO status, which he was denied. He refused to go back to Iraq and was jailed.

He was discharged with dishonorable designation. His life is now in limbo.

The other deserted after his first tour of duty and fled to Canada where he is now waiting to be granted refuge status.

Something like 2000 solders have deserted since the war started and the number is going up.

8/25/2007 11:01:00 AM  

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