You’d think U.S. armed forces would have learned, especially at a time when most every phone has a camera in it and explosive images quickly go viral online. Clearly, they haven’t.
The German newspaper Der Spiegel released a few graphic images this week of “rogue U.S. soldiers” who allegedly killed innocent civilians in Afghanistan and then posed with the bodies. The Army is now bracing for a backlash.
Why photograph atrocities? And why pass them around to buddies back home or fellow soldiers in other units? How could the soldiers’ sense of what is unacceptable be so lost? No outsider can have a complete answer to such a question. As someone who has been writing about war crimes since My Lai, though, I have come to have a personal belief: these soldiers had come to accept the killing of civilians—recklessly, as payback, or just at random—as a facet of modern unconventional warfare. In other words, killing itself, whether in a firefight with the Taliban or in sport with innocent bystanders in a strange land with a strange language and strange customs, has become ordinary. ...
The Der Spiegel photographs also help to explain why the American war in Afghanistan can probably never be “won,” in my view, just as we did not win in Vietnam. Terrible things happen in war, and terrible things are happening every day in Afghanistan, as Americans continue to conduct nightly assassination raids and have escalated the number of bombing sorties. There are also reports of suspected Taliban sympathizers we turn over to Afghan police and soldiers being tortured or worse. This will be a long haul; revenge in Afghan society does not have to come immediately. We could end up not knowing who hit us, or why, a decade or two from now.
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