The Darkness of the Right, Pissing Away American Values

Doesn't it make you proud to be an American?

I don’t know why I didn’t see this coming, but indeed I did not. After all, when photographs surfaced showed American servicemen and women abusing, tormenting and torturing helpless (and untried) Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the hard right, led by conservative radio talkshow hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, attempted to minimize America’s disgrace and the catastrophic failure of the military chain of command by wielding the worst of rationalizations.

“They do worse things to us!”

“We’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys!”

“They had it coming!”

“At least the soldiers didn’t saw their heads off, like the Arabs did to Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg!”

The fact that the atrocities in the prison violated the core values of the Declaration of Independence and the very foundation of America’s reason for existence—human dignity and inalienable human rights—never occurred to these warped culture warriors, who did not have the decency to be ashamed that the United States military would present itself to the world as bullies, thugs and sadists.

Now we, and the world, have seen a video taken by one U.S. Marine in Afghanistan of four of his colleagues gleefully urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban combatants. The Obama administration, hopefully having learned its lesson from the Bush Administration’s botching of its response to Abu Ghraib, immediately and unequivocally condemned the conduct of the marines and vowed that it will not go unpunished. (Whether there will be proper consequences for the brass responsible for such a catastrophic collapse of military discipline remains to be seen.) Of course this is the correct response, and the only responsible response,

Yet last night I heard talk show rant-master Mark Levin, dubbed “The Great One” by his talk show host colleagues (Jackie Gleason’s estate should sue for defamation), furiously denounce the Obama administration and praise the Marines. “The Taliban soldiers are animals!”, he shouted. “they don’t deserve respect—they deserve what they got!  At least we didn’t hang their bodies from bridges—-oh, right, that’s what they do to our soldiers! At least we don’t slice their heads off live on TV, like they did to Nick Berg!…These idiots say that these photos will cause our enemies to hate Americans; what, they’re going to want to kill us more?? I know–“Our soldiers don’t do that—well, I’ve got news for you: they do that and more, and I’m proud of them for doing it!”

On and on. American leadership looked weak and foolish for apologizing for the Marines; this is war, not fun and games; this is why America is losing its influence around the world. I tuned out before Levin said that we should give medals to the five Marines for pissing on the corpses, but I’m sure he must have said it at one point.

We should be proud that American soldiers piss on dead enemy casualties.

Levin is usually on the extreme side of any controversy; he routinely refers to President Obama as a Marxist, for example. But he was not alone in trying to minimize the Marines’ offense. Rep. Allan West, while agreeing that punishment was appropriate, sunk to the “they did it first” and “they did worse, so what we did isn’t so bad” rationalization, writing:

“I do not recall any self-righteous indignation when our Delta snipers Shugart and Gordon had their bodies dragged through Mogadishu. Neither do I recall media outrage and condemnation of our Blackwater security contractors being killed, their bodies burned, and hung from a bridge in Fallujah.”

Yes, Rep. West, that is because the horrible conduct of Somalis and Iraqis doesn’t represent and indict me or my country.

Breitbart Editor Dana Loesch adopted another of Levin’s themes—that the criticism of the Marines is just another example of  progressives showing how much they hate the military and, by extension, America. She wrote:

“This is nothing but an exercise in situational, exploitative outrage, and it completely proved the point I was making. The phrases “defile” and “desecration” popped up in my replies on Twitter every minute or so. If “desecration” is a concern for progressives, where was their outrage when the remains of over 200 Air Force members were dumped in a landfill? I’ve seen more outrage towards our troops over this incident than I have ever seen towards the Taliban themselves who’ve beheaded soldiers (American and Afghan), raped and tortured women, sent out suicide bombers, and carried out horrific attacks.”

You see, Dana, some of us believe in holding America and Americans to higher standards of conduct, not the inhuman and undemocratic standards followed by our adversaries.

There are many more defenders of the piss-squad, like:

  • Dr. Michael Ledeen, who blogs, “I wonder if they know there’s a war on, and what sorts of things routinely happen in wartime.  It may well be that they are so involved in trying to extend yet another outstretched hand to our enemies, that they are really shocked at the very idea that men on the battlefield aren’t devotees of Emily Post’s rules of etiquette, and even violate the Geneva Convention’s strictures against desecrating dead bodies…If Karzai delivers more moral lectures, have the president of the United States give a speech about Afghan sexual culture, including the treatment of young boys by older men, and the treatment of women by all Afghan men. And then suggest, ever so sweetly, that Karzais not really in a strong position to lecture us…”

Ah yes, Doctor: “Everybody does it” and “It’s done all the time”—the classics. Just what I would expect from a PhD.

  • The New York Post, which wrote in an editorial: “Still, as wartime atrocities go, this is pretty mild stuff. My Lai, for sure, it ain’t. And, again, the Taliban sure ain’t — excuse the metaphor — choirboys. Maybe somebody should ask Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl about it. Oh, wait: The Islamists beheaded him — on videotape. Perspective, folks. Perspective.”

There we go, the bottom of the barrel, as rationalizations go: “They deserved it” and the absolute dregs, “There are worse things.”

Yes, there are worse things, and if we laugh off pissing on enemy corpses, we are sure to get them. This isn’t a slippery slope, this is an abandonment of core values. Desecrating the bodies of fallen soldiers is a war crime, and it is a war crime because it is barbaric, a part of the same tradition as torturing, raping enemy women, killing male children and using prisoners as slaves. No, it isn’t My Lai, but a culture that believes, as Mark Levin thinks it should, that pissing on the enemy is something to be proud of will not sufficiently discourage soldiers from slaughtering those soldiers’ families.

The United States Marines are pledged to embody the highest standards of military conduct, as representatives of this great nation and the values it fights for. Its core values are “Honor, Courage, and Commitment,” but for this incident we need look no farther than honor:

“Honor requires each Marine to exemplify the ultimate standard in ethical and moral conduct.  Honor is many things; honor requires many things.  A U.S. Marine must never lie, never cheat, never steal, but that is not enough.  Much more is required.  Each Marine must cling to an uncompromising code of personal integrity, accountable for his actions and holding others accountable for theirs.  And, above all, honor mandates that a Marine never sully the reputation of his Corps.”

Go ahead, Mark, explain to me how the five Marines met this requirement. And explain to me how a nation that justifies its armed incursions on foreign soil by its historic commitments to human rights and dignity can be proud of soldiers who defile a mother’s dead son, treating the body of a human being as a latrine for no purpose other than to show hate and contempt. America should be proud of acts motivated by hate and contempt, perpetrated by professionals who carry it flag? This is the way conservatives view the soul and mission of the United States, as fueled by hatred?

Incidents like the desecration of the Taliban corpses and the extreme right’s repulsive reaction to them show the weakness of conservatives, who too often extol ethical values in the abstract but abandon them when called upon to hold its leaders, allies and icons to the same standards. The United States was founded on a glorious recipe containing the Golden Rule, an acceptance of utilitarian realities, and a few absolute principles, prime among then being that every human being has a right to freedom and dignity, and that this nation must never oppose that ideal. Yes, the nation has opposed that ideal many times—in slavery… in its treatment of Native Americans, minorities, immigrants, women and gays…in wartime adventures and atrocities… with inhuman medical experiments…at My Lai and Abu Ghraib, and the deplorable adoption of torture in the fight against terrorism. Always, however, we have found our way back to those ideals, because we had the sense, decency and integrity as a people to declare those acts wrong, to be ashamed, and to make our nation accountable.

Levin and his ethically blind colleagues and supporters do incalculable harm to our culture and corrupt our values by defending and even cheering the indefensible.

I am as ashamed of them and their words as I am of those Marines, who desecrated the United States and its people when they defiled the Taliban bodies.

26 thoughts on “The Darkness of the Right, Pissing Away American Values

  1. Should they have pissed on them? No. Should they be punished? Yes. But it should be under an article 15 hearing and not under a Court Martial. Also I’d like to ask people to remember that their is a reason the Marine Corps is one of the most feared fighting units in the history of this planet and its not about slogans like Duty Honor Country or Semper Fidelis. Its because they are the most ferocious tenacious light infantry anyone will ever face. They will take casualties that would cause other forces to retreat from the field of battle and they don’t surrender or give up. When you have troops who are trained to be such fighters its hard to keep them from crossing a line like this. So while I may not like what they did I’m not surprised by it nor do I think they should relieve anything other then administrative punishment.

    • I respect your opinion on this more than anyone’s on this topic, Bill, although I think the commanding officer failed miserably, and needs to be investigated and held accountable, AND that administrative punishment would have been adequate without the viral photo. Those Marines disgraced the Corps world wide. That’s in addition to the act itself.

      Understanding it is so differently from excusing it, condoning it, or minimizing it. My Dad often talked about how easy it was to give in to the emotions of battle and abuse prisoners, but also maintained that command had a crucial duty to make sure it didn’t happen, especially since the danger was always there.

      Saying that one is proud of corpse desecration, however, is beneath contempt.

      • Why should the existence of the video change how they are prosecuted? Public opinion and especially the wants and desires of the military officers above them in the chain of command should have no influence on whether they are prosecuted or how. That’s from the UCMJ.

        • The act itself is one thing…recording it is another. One is desecration and a war crime. Publicizing it makes it wanton, pre-meditated, and harms the nation and the Corps. If an officer caught them doing it, and that was all, THEN administrative punishment would be appropriate. Can you really argue that the video doesn’t change the seriousness of what happened?

          • Then hold the person who recorded it and posted it without bringing it to the attention of his command. If the guys doing the pissing didn’t tell him to record it then they shouldn’t be held accountable for it. I also want to know it was recorded . Was by a cell phone or some other non military device or was it recorded by a body mounted military cam? I think that the recording of the act raises the amount of embarrassment but doesn’t make the actual act a felony offense.

              • I’m with Bill on this one, Jack. It was a breach of military discipline and decorum, certainly., But this is a Marine Corps matter that should be handled through proper channels instead of being turned into a political witch hunt. That, BTW, was the point those commentators were trying to make. As with the Abu Graib affair, this isn’t an action representative of the U.S. military as a whole. But breaches of discipline DO occur in combat zones and among the best of troops when leadership is lacking. All this has done is make a stupid action by a few troops into a propaganda coup for the anti-American cause; both at home and abroad. As Levin, Limbaugh, etc. alluded, we need to look at the big picture in the conduct of our troops vs. those they fight before concentrating on this one event. That places it in the necessary perspective.

                • No, it doesn’t. Mark Levin says he’s proud our soldiers defiled enemy corpses. You are rationalizing too. The big picture is that this disgraces the US, you, me, and the military. There is no witch hunt—witches didn’t exist. Undisciplined soldiers who violate international law do exist, we are responsible for them, and making excuses is wrong.

                  • Hey, what happened to my rather lengthy comment? Let’s try again.

                    Jack: As a retired NCO, I understand the necessity for discipline and good order in any military establshment. But I also understand the need for perspective and for insuring that troops not be subject to trial by the media and politicians with an axe to grind, but through their chain of command. While distasteful on the face of it and a breach of discipline, it must still be pointed out that this is a far cry from the nature of the murderous savages that these Marines have been fighting. Our troops are rightfully held to much higher standards, but this incident is regrettable more for the propaganda value that America’s enemies- both foreign and domestic- will attempt to place on it. If unpublicized, it would have likely warranted an Article 15 and extra duty. As it is, some probably good Marines are going to get a permanent black mark for expressing (in this less than appropriate manner) their scorn for an enemy who likely had the blood of innocents on his hands.

                  • You are right in both cases.

                    Levin was wrong. What happened was wrong. There is no justifying it.

                    Punishment should be in accordance with the crime, which means it should probably be administrative. But if I were a Marine, and I brought dishonor upon my unit, I would offer myself for dishonorable discharge, and live with my failure.

                    But even if those involved do not, they must, at minimum, offer a sincere apology to their fellow servicemembers, and the public they serve. They have brought dishonor upon both.

                    As a former member of the armed forces, I am ashamed at what they did. At the same time, I acknowledge that war often forces human beings to dehumanize the enemy, and that should be taken into consideration. It is a mitigating factor, but it does not excuse, nor condone their actions.

                    And those who are willing to excuse them have no understanding of what the word “honor” means. That is my opinion, and your mileage may vary.

                    • I am ashamed of you man. Obviously in the rear with the gear. You are the very kind that would walk off and leave your fellow soldier behind. Explain away HONOR in killing someone. Oil and water man, when it comes to WAR. You are ashamed. No, you are “a shame”.

    • Are you kidding me? They should be punished?????? We train these guys and gals to be heart breakers and life takers, but “oh no don’t piss on the enemy? I say we put all the bodies of our enemies in a giant blender and dump their remains on the cities where they lived and let’s see how long they screw with us. Desecrating bodies……….What does a bullet or a bomb do, man? War is being insane, doing insane things. Sane folks don’t KILL other folks. So, we teach em to be insane but with rules? THERE ARE NO STINKING RULES. KILL, KILL, KILL come the crys of our military men and women while in training. “WHAT MAKES THE GRASS GROW”???? “We don’t go to war to die for our country, we make the other poor bas2rd die for his country.”
      The very idea that our fighting men and women shouldn’t take whatever revenge of what our enemies do to us is to ignor that we have asked these people to do everything that is abnormal in life, that being to kill another human being. How stupid is Hillary Clinton for saying we are not going to condone pissing on a person trying to kill us and will lock away anyone that does. I guess it’s okay that they kill us. We are not over there to MAKE NICE!!!! Any person saying anything bad or threatening to throw one of our military in jail for such trivial BS would and probably could suck a golf ball through a garden hose.
      What is our “Duty”? Kill the enemy, “Honor” went out the door for our enemy when we set foot on their soil whether it be foreign or domestic. Our “COUNTRY” sent us over there, now let us fight and strike fear in the hearts of our enemy or bring them the hell home and make em play with dolls. NO MARINE will be found doing that BS, they will be doing whatever necesary to Kill the no good sorry SOB that wishes to kill us our ours. If just one of those boys ends up in jail over this, we should OCUPY WASHINGTON and call for this administration to be banished from the office of which they swore to uphold. OOORAH!!!!

  2. I am ashamed of the photo for many reasons. I know how the soul can become disillusioned by the unimaginable anxiety of battle. There is no amount of training to prepare the JEEPS (Just Enough Education to Pass) for the trials of combat. However Marines are bred to be tenacious. They also adhere to a code of conduct. This event obviously indicates a disconnect between the two. The act desecrates the code. It is a total disregard of professionalism that is engrained in the entire U.S. military especially the Marines. I don’t care if they are Recon, SEALS, Special Forces, or regular infantry. They were to kill or capture, identify, collect intel and press on. Marines don’t have time pulling it out and wizzing on any dead corpse. The process must be expeditious. It shows a lack of shows discipline! Then the video! Wow! Really?! Taking pictures of it? How in the hell did it get this far? The co missed it? The guys are still active? George Washinton is rollin’ again. So much for LOAC briefings. They should have known it would go viral. It could have been a simple reprimand, but now all bets are off. The IGMC will be a little busy. It was a complete Homer!

    • I’d hang the picture on my living room wall……….Code of conduct? Seems we are the only ones who go into WAR with rules. NO MORE!!!! You tell me what’s worse than killing someone? Then you come along and try to cover that sh-t with moralistic rules of conduct. You can’t so don’t even try it. I’m proud of my military and ALL that they do.

  3. I am also squarely in Bill’s camp on this issue, but I am unwilling to declare whether these are administrative (Art. 15) or Courts Martial offenses. We just don’t know enough. As outsiders, the urinating misconduct (although mis- doesn’t seem a harsh enough prefix; mal-conduct?) and the video taping look totally connected, but all we know is that they happened at the same place at the same time. The public will want to group intent-wise the cameraman with the urinators and that’s a poor assumption. I’m well into my second decade of Army life. If Soldiers have taught me one thing, it’s that there are multiple sides to every story–some individuals even have multiple stories for themselves–and the truth is rarely as clean as we’d like it to be. Marines are no different is this respect. The uglier the story, the more sides you’re going to hear.

    What I really want to add, though, is a reminder that civilian laws sometimes make poor substitutes for societal ethics and the UCMJ is an equally poor surrogate for the military ethic. It’s naive to think that those Marines considered the UCMJ (or ethical) implications of their actions beforehand. It’s also naive to think that just because some fools did something stupid, their chain of command is ethically rotten from top to bottom. I promise you there is a very uncomfortable (and rightly so) company and battalion chain of command right now. The CoC may be complicit in this, and maybe not. As of this moment, we can indict the urinators’ actions and ethics but no one else’s.

    This scenario is plenty ugly. Rush, Levin, et. al. should probably wait for the next version of this story to surface. And, other than condemning the clearly wrong act of peeing on the dead, so should we.

  4. Jack’s comments along with those of four or five others here so far have enabled my personal ethics-check (and correction) for the week. I appreciate that more than I can express.

    I confess: my first reaction (and only reaction, until I read here) to the incident was literally nothing more than a shrug. I realize now that I was not even allowing myself to think about something that I needed to think about much more. Ever since the 9-11 attacks, I have realized repeatedly that I am terribly jaded in matters of acts of war. Sometimes I wonder if I could be correctly diagnosed as having a (former career military but never in harm’s way) civilian’s case of “post-traumatic stress disorder.” I am not at the Levin level of blind rage and/or denial-by-aggression (well, that’s what I think some of that is, and not entirely conscious, calculated, unethical showmanship). I knew, within moments after I started reading Jack’s comment, that I was at a place where I could get some needed help, if I would just read and think.

    Would the Marines have any defense, any case for more carefully measured punishment, from a PTSD angle, I wonder? But I don’t wonder much, because there were four Marines in the act. My intuition tells me that number is too large for making any excuse. If there had been, say, only two, reported on in writing by a non-participating third, it’s just my intuition that perhaps a relatively minor, nonjudicial punishment could be considered. But with four peeing plus one recording for the whole world to know…egregious.

  5. I’m sorry, but those Marines are out there fighting the Enemy. They are not on the SAFETY of American soil. They cannot run to their shrink for Help, and their wives for comfort.

    LEAVE THEM BE!!, or YOU go fight the Enemy.

    • I suppose, in some parallel Bizarro universe, this qualifies as reasoning. Because professional soldiers are in harm’s way and we’re not, they can do whatever they choose without standards or criticism. Of course, in this universe, that’s entirely bats. If people can’t or won’t think, this is the kind of garbage they come up with. Makes no sense at all, but sounds authoritative.

      Yechh.

      • Jack: The loss of that post was probably the fault of my laptop, which sometimes falls off the broadband without warning!

        Again, these (and far worse!) breaches of conduct in a combat zone can and do occur. But for discipline’s sake, they must be addressed. Just not by politicians who have no understanding of fighting men or their environment. That’s why military justice is distinct from the civilian version. What these Marines will be likely charged with is “conduct unbecoming…” and “conduct bringing disrepute on the Armed Forces”.

        The only question now is whether Hillary and Karzai will try to enhance their own disreputable careers by trying to brand these men as war criminals. That’s where the proper perspective needs to be maintained. This was a breach of discipline and decorum only. The war criminal was the one they relieved themselves on.

  6. These marines should first have covered the bodies with a flag, and then urinated on them. Because urinating on the American flag is EXACTLY what they did.

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