Small Wars Journal

Expect the Best Behaviour from Our Troops

Expect the Best Behaviour from Our Troops

by Kurt Sanger

Chicago Tribune

(H/T Butch Bracknell)

The video showing Marines urinating on dead enemy bodies in Afghanistan has refocused America's attention on the behavior of service members. We have been painfully aware of the strategic implications of this kind of action since we saw the photos from Abu Ghraib. How could something like this happen now? Something is broken.

We remember with sorrow the U.S. service members and contractors killed in combat whose bodies were desecrated by our enemies. The humiliations visited on bodies raise feelings of disgust for the enemy and empathy for our own, compounded by the pointlessness of the humiliations. It would be useful to assume that our enemies feel likewise today. To prevent this from happening again, or at least for the U.S. service members to be able to look themselves in the mirror and honestly say we did everything we possibly could to prevent it, leaders at every level must make unequivocally clear that they expect their troops' best behavior, even in the worst circumstances.

Americans share in responsibility. Gratitude for hard work and sacrifice should not lead us to mistakenly excuse reprehensible conduct by service members. Our behavior toward the enemy is too often excused because so many Americans do not believe the enemy is worthy of respect, relying perhaps on memories of dehumanized foes in Vietnam, Korea and World War II.

Kurt Sanger is a major in the Marine Corps, a judge advocate and is a law instructor at Marine Corps University. He deployed in 2009 as the senior legal adviser to the Afghan National Army.

Comments

Jeff Mix

Wed, 01/18/2012 - 11:32am

The behavior of the Marines urinating on the corpses should not be excused. However, the actions of these few are not representative of the majority. In my experience, the majority of Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen are respectful to fellow service members, civilians, allies, and our enemies. Since Abu Ghraib, the military has made great strides to ensure that our service members are educated on the appropriate treatment of all combatants and non-combatants. Still, the blame for this incident will lie on the shoulders of the military leadership and its institutions.

It is time for our society to take the blame for the type of citizens it produces. It is our society (the parents, schools, media, etc…, that are responsible for producing the type of person that sees it as acceptable to urinate on a corpse. A perfect example of this type of person is the founder of Pinkberry. The LA Times reported today that the founder of Pinkberry chased down and beat a transient man because he was offended by the transient man’s tattoo. This is just a high profile example of a case similar to cases that occur every day in America. These are the type of people who join our military and conduct high profile heinous acts such as the Marines in the video. These are the type of people who enlist in the military and are expected to be transformed into upstanding respectful citizens. The burden lies on the shoulders of the military to break 18 plus years of poor upbringing, poor role models, and a deluge of immoral messages and images in the media. It should lie on the shoulders of society to produce a better American. The military should only need to refine them.