‘Are our soldiers seeing too much combat?’ as one retired military general asked after the most recent Afghan massacre of 16 civilians. How much combat – organized and spontaneous killing, destruction – is too much? Enough so that US killing in Afghanistan is just short of being caught massacring civilians? Enough so that anyone any soldier considers a threat for any reason can still be killed just in case they might pose a danger? By now Americans are used to such reports, most turning the other way either because they don’t care or because they feel impotent to make change, both reasons leaving the US military virtually untouched while one investigation and court judgment after another exonerates the murders.
And why was this massacre horrendous? Because “innocent” lives were taken? That is the question regarding the US supported Israeli war against Lebanon in 2006 that prompted me to write Unmaking War, Remaking Men (2011) where I found that soldiers, whether they are US military, NATO or resistance forces, are duty bound to kill their enemies on terrain where everyone who is not of their military is their enemy. That means all Afghans in Afghanistan, all Iraqis in Iraq, and potentially, if Prime Minister Netanyahu has his way, all Iranians in Iran are the enemies of invading troops whether they are bombed from the air or killed in house to house raids.
Combat is not someplace out there in Afghanistan. When the US invades or attacks through NATO which it controls, it turns the entire state into a war zone – villages and cities, countryside and remote mountainous routes. Consider the difference between this massacre and one event I described in Unmaking War, Remaking Men where a group of Marines were off duty and returning to their barracks after a day of combat when, walking down a road, they saw a pleasant Iraqi home complete with a lovely, carefully attended garden. Just because they could, because it was what they were doing everyday, they went in and destroyed the garden, then the house on the pretense that they were looking for some connection to insurgents. They had no reason to suspect the residents of anything and they did not have orders to do this “house cleaning” it was just something to do on the way home. It’s the kind of thing they did every day. Had the homeowner resisted, or had the soldiers just decided to destroy lives as well as property, they could have been killed. It was the soldiers’ call under conditions where there were no restraints on them and all the soldiers would have closed rank to protect each other against any accusations. In countries invaded and occupied by the United States, the line between life and death is so thin as to exist only at the whim of the soldiers.
Did the soldier who killed those 16 women and children in Afghanistan this week suffer from traumatic brain injury? Possibly. But why? Too many combat missions? No. U.S. military training breaks the bonds of soldiers humanity when they turn them into remorseless killers. That massacre could have happened on a soldier’s first week in combat, on leave at home with his wife and children, or after several combat missions.
The problem begins with the depravity of the U.S. military in its mission, its training and its purpose. It is fed by the cult of masculinity that daily plays out in violence against women throughout the world. There is another way: Consider the possibility of state demilitarization. In Unmaking War, Remaking Men I consider the possibility of another kind of protection, a global peace-making force built upon the international declaration of human rights which grants and should protect every human being in their right to live in dignity and in peace. Only when we begin to consider another possibility can we unshackled the U.S. and the world from military depravity.
Kathleen Barry
Professor Emerita

About Kathleen Barry

I am a feminist activist, author of five books including Female Sexual Slavery which launched an international movement against trafficking in human beings and a sociologist and Professor Emerita. My latest book Unmaking War, Remaking Men has prompted this blog.
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  1. J says:

    There are several other incidents of Iraqi civilians being gunned down by battle fatigued soldiers. I know of one in particular that happened near Sadr City in 2004. A family of seven including a pregnant woman, a 3 year old boy, and an elderly man were machine gunned by a battle weary soldier. I was the medic that saved the lives of all 7. After getting them all to a U.S. hospital, I briefed a combat commander who thanked me for my time and then buried the incident. It never made the news, the soldier responsible was never treated for PTSD or TBI, the command continued to cover up casualties. I tried to blow the whistle to my congessman and was forced out of the Army as a result. I can provide details and witnesses but I never knew who to tell until now. Please help stop the killings by exposing all of these incidents.

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