Ethics Alarms Presents With Sorrow: The Worst Ethics Conflict Of All

Dan Quinn's not a soldier any more because he disobeyed orders...and stopped a man from raping a kid in Afghanistan. War is hell.

Dan Quinn’s not a soldier any more because he disobeyed orders…and stopped a man from raping a kid in Afghanistan. War is hell.

An ethics conflict occurs when two unquestionable ethical values demand opposite results in the same situation.

An impossible ethics conflict is when the typical priorities of duty require the worst outcome.

This is an impossible ethics conflict.

Interviews and court records reveal that the American military command has ordered American soldiers and Marines not to intervene in Afghanistan when they observe Afghan military commanders and soldiers raping boys, even when the abuse occurs on military bases. The local practice is called bacha bazi, (“boy play”).  The  policy aims at avoiding conflict and maintaining good relations with the Afghan police and militia units that the United States has trained to fight the Taliban. It also embodies the theory that the U.S. should not  impose its cultural values on other nations. Pederasty is widely accepted in Afghanistan, and being surrounded by young teenagers, a.k.a. male rape victims, is mark of social status for powerful men.

Imagine how bad the Taliban must be if these are “the good guys.”

Asked via e-mail about this American military policy by the New York Times, the American command spokesman in Afghanistan, Col. Brian Tribus, replied, “Generally, allegations of child sexual abuse by Afghan military or police personnel would be a matter of domestic Afghan criminal law…there would be no express requirement that U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan report it,” with the exception of when rape is being used as a weapon of war.

Well, we certainly can’t have that. The response ducks the ethical issues entirely.

The Times report discloses that the late Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. told his father that at night, while in his bunk in southern Afghanistan, he was kept awake by the screaming of young boys being raped by Afghan police officers who had brought themto the base. The Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., Told the Times that he urged his son to tell his superiors, but his son “said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”

Some Marines couldn’t stand it, and defied the orders. Dan Quinn, a former Special Forces captain, beat up an American-backed militia commander for keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave.  He was punished, relived of his command and sent home. Quinn has left the military. He told the Times,“The reason we were here is because we heard the terrible things the Taliban were doing to people, how they were taking away human rights. But we were putting people into power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did — that was something village elders voiced to me.”

The Army is seeking to kick Sgt. First Class Charles Martland out of the service. He is a Special Forces member who helped Quinn beat up the commander. Representative Duncan Hunter (R-Cal) is trying to save Martland’s a career.“The Army contends that Martland and others should have looked the other way (a contention that I believe is nonsense),” he wrote  to the Pentagon’s inspector general.

Is it nonsense? I would have, before he died in 2009, asked my ex-military father about this kind of issue. I suspect that he would have echoed his biggest criticism against “Saving Private Ryan”: the mission comes first. You don’t diverge from the larger mission to take on lesser assignments, no matter how virtuous. You aren’t there to be a superhero, but to get a specific job done. Any action, even one that seems morally and ethically imperative in a vacuum, that slows, interferes with or distracts from the primary mission endangers it.

This would mean that my father, whom I saw witnessed young children and who, as a civilian, would have shown no mercy to a pederast, would agree with the current policy as the worst kind of necessary utilitarianism, the kind of trade-off that make what the military does incomprehensible to many citizens. Well, we have to accept the deaths of innocents in the course or warfare, so accepting their sexual abuse isn’t inconsistent, just horrifying.

Some final, random thoughts on an issue that I can still not quite come to terms with:

  • Quinn and Martlin give us examples of how men can be heroes and bad soldiers simultaneously.
  • All of the Presidential candidates should be asked about this.
  • This story reinforces for me the folly of seeking ethical ways to wage war. Gen. Sherman may have been right: ultimately it is more humane and ethical to fight total war and end combat as soon as possible. If Sherman is right, and war and ethics are incompatible, I have to reconsider my position on such issues as assassination and torture. But later, when my stomach settles.
  • The next person who tells me that all cultures are equally valid had better duck.


Facts: New York Times

76 thoughts on “Ethics Alarms Presents With Sorrow: The Worst Ethics Conflict Of All

  1. Yes the mission comes first and rightly so, but that presupposed the mission is to win. I don’t have any answers, but how ethical is it to tacitly accept such evil when we’re not there to win?

    • 1) cultural reform:

      Sure we want to reform their culture. But cultures SO savage and SO backwards CANNOT be healed in 15 years. Not in 30. I’d submit they take 3 or more generations to really turn around. And it requires full occupation as well, full administration for that period of time.

      Meth addicts will straight up die if they are cut off cold turkey- weaning processes are long, drawn out, and whole lot of evil is tolerated while selected evils are targeted first.

      Of course, some may advocate for that kind of victory- kill every last corrupt one we find, and when, with 15% of their remaining people…what then? That’s not an option.

      2) geopolitical imperatives
      Purely from this angle, we, quite frankly don’t care about Afghanistan any more than we need to to ensure it isn’t training more jihadist force projection centers. We invest just enough to keep them from actively siding with our enemies

      • I feel that if I were in that position, either I’d be getting my dishonorable discharge & court martial or coming home with PTSD.

        I mean…so much effort has been put into propping up that country and if this was on every nightly news tonight, so many people would simultaneously say “Why the fuck did we ever use ground troops in Afghanistan?” Then we’d probably hear what is probably going through everyone’s head: “Why didn’t we just militarily isolate them from the world by destroying every point of ingress and egress and starve them.

        But I guess tolerating Pederasty is better than genocide?

        This whole post is borne of frustration to express my contempt. Sorry.

  2. “This story reinforces for me the folly of seeking ethical ways to wage war. Gen. Sherman may have been right: ultimately it is more humane and ethical to fight total war and end combat as soon as possible. If Sherman is right, and war and ethics are incompatible, I have to reconsider my position on such issues as assassination and torture. But later, when my stomach settles.”

    Yes, but what does this mean? Because of American success guilt trippers undermining confidence in own culture, we no longer have the stomach to WIN wars and do what is necessary to tear the hearts out of our enemies and destroy their core.

  3. But here, the mission was to bring peace and security to the Afghan people. The people we were propping up were committing human right violations. How does that further the mission? These rapists are better than the Taliban rapists?

    I would have done everything possible to rescue those boys — and maybe that would make me a bad soldier. But I’d rather be a bad soldier than a bad human being who allowed to children to be tortured in my presence.

    As a side note, I considered entering the military after high school as I come from a family with a long history of military service. But, even at 18, I knew enough about my own personality that I knew I would be a disaster. I’ve always questioned authority, and that is a horrible trait for a common soldier to possess.

    • “But here, the mission was to bring peace and security to the Afghan people.”

      I thought the mission was to destroy any government harboring and encouraging terrorists targeting the United States and to install one that wouldn’t?

      That’s the cold reality of geopolitics.

      Fixing cultures? Gonna take way more than 15 years and gonna take a lot more hands on administration and occupation. But we don’t have the stomach for that…

      • I think that mission shifted a long time ago. We’ve been focused on infrastructure for a long time in Afghanistan.

        I don’t think that the US can fix this. I don’t even know how long it would take. The Brits occupied Ireland for centuries with only mild success — and even now, the Irish have not forgotten. And there, the cultures were not diametrically different.

        • Were the Brits out to make Ireland into England to such an extent that they actually tried to do so? Or were they merely securing an additional revenue source? Because historically, the Brits have only created anger in lands they treated as additional revenue sources, just as any power would…

          • The original purpose of the English (and, later, the British) in Ireland was to control the Anglo-Normans who had set themselves up there, so as to ensure they couldn’t produce a threat via intervening in civil wars in England, and not to control Ireland or the Irish as such. This purpose succeeded, but it incidentally involved setting up the “Ascendancy” over the Irish. Then Ireland became a potential resource base that it was important to deny to outside enemies, France in Angevin times, then Scotland in the fourteenth century, Spain from about 1550 to 1650, and France again from the 1680s to 1815 or so – and Germany in the First World War, when Casement was running German guns to Ireland by submarine. Ireland was being governed with a view to that rather than for revenue clear until it looked thoroughly pacified, which happened when the Jacobite threat passed, around the time of the Seven Years War. After that, revenue was sought, but not by Britain as such but by the landlords that policy objectives had favoured. The effects of this were made worse by absentee landlordism.

        • Two points:-

          – Ireland was only occupied for a little over two centuries, the eighteenth and nineteenth. Before that, only strong points were occupied and the interfacing was done by other measures, notably deportation with resettlement and the “Ascendancy” (descended from infiltrating or invading Norman adventurers who were already in place before the English started in). These were much more mediaeval approaches.

          – There were vast cultural differences; it’s just that they have somewhat faded and somewhat been obscured by the continuing effects of the phase that can be more fittingly called occupation. (Going native mattered a lot, before that, when those that did were called Hiberniores Hibernis ipsis, more Irish than the “mere Irish” themselves. Here, “mere” doesn’t really have a modern English equivalent, but it is close to “echt” in German).

            • That the differences were vast, you can see from Edmund Spenser’s A View of the present State of Ireland, which gives an Elizabethan perspective (Spenser seems to have been biassed, but only in leaving stuff out rather than by making any up). As to whether Afghan soldiers’ practices were worse than those of Irish ones, I leave you to judge from such excerpts as this:-

              Marry, these be the most loathlie and barbarous condicons of any people, I thincke, under heaven; for, from the tyme that they enter into that coorse, they doe use all the beastlie behavior that may bee to oppresse all men: they spoile aswell the subjecte as the enemye; they steale, they are cruell and bloodye, full of revenge, and delighte in deadly execucon, licensious, swearers, and blasphemers, comon ravishers of weomen, and murtherers of children.

              Those Afghans rape boys, while their Irish equivalents raped women but “only” murdered boys and girls. See also:-

              There is amongest the Irishe, a certen kinde of people called the bardes, which are to them insteade of Poetts, whose profession is to sett forth the prayses and disprayese of men in theire Poems or rymes; the which are had in soe high regarde and estimacon amongest them, that none dare displease them for feare to runne into reproach through theire offence, and to be made infamous in the mouthes of all men. For theire verses are taken up with a generall applause, and usuallye sonnge att all feaste meetings, by certen other persons whose proper function that is, which also receave for this same, great rewardes, and reputacon besides.


              It is most true that such Poettes, as in theire wrytinge doe labor to better the Manners of men, and through the sweete bayte of theire nombers, to steale into the younge spirittes a desire of honor and vertue, are worthy to be had in greate respecte. But these Irish bardes are for the most parte of another mynde, and soe far from instructinge younge men in Morrall discipline, that they themselves doe more deserve to be sharplie decyplined; for they seldome use to chuse unto themselves the doinges of good men, for the ornamentes of theire poems, but whomesoever they finde to bee most lycentious of lief, most bolde and lawles in his doinges, most daungerous and desperate in all partes of disobedience and rebellious disposicon, him they sett up and glorifie in their rymes, him they prayse to the people, and to younge men make an example to followe.


              … As of a most notorius theife and wicked outlawe, which had lyved all his tyme of spoiles and robberies, one of theire Bardes in his praise findes, That he was none of those idle mylkesoppes that was brought up by the fyer side, but that most of his dayes he spent in armes and valiant enterprises; that he never did eate his meate before he had wonne yt with his sworde; that he laye not slugginge all night in a cabben under his mantle, but used commonly to kepe others wakinge to defend theire lyves, and did light his Candle at the flame of their howses to leade him in the darknes; that the day was his night, and the night his daye; that he loved not to lye woinge of wenches to yealde to him, but where he came he toke by force the spoile of other mens love, and left but lamentacon to theire lovers; that his musicke was not the harpe, nor layes of love, but the Cryes of people, and clashinge of armor …

              For later examples of such a one (in Scotland), look up the notorious cateran Gilderoy MacGregor, or the accounts of Sawney Bean (though those last are known to be semi-mythical, they were loosely based on fact).

    • The reason for the invasion was to retaliate for 9-11. Afghanistan was given the chance to turn over bib Laden, refused, and Bush properly invaded to turn out the Taliban. If the Taliban had not harbored and aided bin Laden, then we wouldn’t be in Afghanistan. So we can’t say that to bring peace and security to the Afghan people was the mission. It was a likely and desirable side effect, but that’s all.

      • I’m glad you replied to her about that. I think like your Dad did. More soldiers should think like that. Especially soldiers.

    • “I’ve always questioned authority, and that is a horrible trait for a common soldier to possess.”

      Only in combat* or when a decision is clear and innocuous. Any other time? Soldiers passing gripes, recommendations, and respectfully worded disagreements IS part of this military. There is a fine line however, between that and unjustifiable insubordination. A leadership being honed from all directions can ONLY ensure better leadership. I think you see an increase in “protectionist” leadership because the military’s current system of advancement (especially in the Officer ranks) has become less about merit and more about having done one’s time with no serious infractions. When I was in, at 1.5 years, you were GOING to become a First Lieutenant; at 3 years, you were GOING to become a Captain. At 7-8 years, though merit may advance your promotion by one year, you were GOING to become a Major… Merit started kicking in for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. But that culture of “advancement anyway” led to a lot of leaders who weren’t confident but still expected one hundred percent compliance…which is a formula for suppressing disagreement from below.

      It’s a perennial problem in all militaries at all times, re-surging here and there, but I think the American military has been relatively good about allowing subordinates to voice disagreement or recommendation. But naturally it won’t allow it to the extent that some would think healthy, and that is fine.

      *Even certain situations in combat when a leader’s command will clearly get men killed with no obvious military payoff, I’d expect a subordinate to say “uh sir, no”

      • The one place where I didn’t see that sort of thing was the submarine service. There was a series of qualifications that accompanied each advancement, including filling department head billets. By the time you were a LCDR, you were either a fully-qualified engineer, navigator, or the XO (after serving as ‘gator or ENG), then you were preparing to hopefully make the cut for a shot at command via the Royal Navy’s “Perisher” course.(SMCC). If you failed this course, bye-bye, at least for submarines. I think most fails are either pushed out or become desk jockeys on their way out. An ignoble end to such a grueling career, if you ask me.

        • I don’t disagree… The same cursus honorum is followed in the army too, you are supposed to run through a series of jobs and schoolwork to “qualify”, but it seems because promotion was a matter of course, a lot of times those billets were so brief or also matters of course that it seems almost “check mark the block”.

  4. You know…. I have the feeling that if the MP’s wanted to ritually decapitate prisoners, American soldiers might stop them. I accept that soldiers need to follow orders, I believe that stopping child rapists is imperative,,, Is the answer that these were bad orders? That the general should be removed and replaced with someone a little less stunted?

    I’m struggling not to write a novel… (again, I’ve written two and deleted them.). How does this happen? That how asks a lot of questions…. What fucked up cultural forces are at work to encourage homosexual pedophilia? And are we really OK supporting it? Is the mission worth it?

    • Two options:

      1) kill ALL the corrupt ones and that means ALL of them (which will be way more than we realize)

      2) fully occupy and administer (all the way down to the level of school teacher) their country for 3 or more generations until they are a miniature version of us.

      The #3 option (leaving) doesn’t count, as the first mission was getting rid of a government that would harbor terrorists seeking and realistically able to project attacks to America.

      • Baloney – the British apparently put a stop to the practice of burning widows on their husband’s funeral pyre with only a few scaffolds to hang the perpetrators.

        A few of these rapists getting a hot one through the “apricot” as they leave on patrol would put a stop to it as long as the right back channel info made the rounds.

        Let us not forget that this is taking place on OUR bases behind OUR wire. They want to engage in their cultural practices, let them do so outside the protection of the small piece of OUR culture that is represented by the base. If it is allowed to take place on our bases, then aren’t we saying that this is a legitimate part of our culture.

        • It’s not baloney, your tactic falls directly underneath my #2 option above. If the conduct in question is as perniciously endemic as it seems, it would follow we would be scourging their military and police ranks. In effect requiring us to handle that aspect of administration for them until their savage behavior is beaten out of their culture.

  5. The strong horse analogy might be appropriate here. Maybe we can’t change their culture, and frankly I don’t think any foreign invader can win in Afghanistan, but we can by hell be the strong horse on our own military bases. And if we can’t then we should leave and control, to the greatest extent possible from outside, their influence in the world. But that would require a strong and united effort and I don’t think the US is up to it anymore. Afghanistan is no place to behave like one of those little boys.

    • Well said. The U.S. has lost its will to fight to win. There is still a remnant of us “old school” Americans, though, and we’re not going down without a fight our enemies will never recover from.

  6. “1) kill ALL the corrupt ones and that means ALL of them (which will be way more than we realize)

    It is a cultural norm, it occurs throughout the country. Afghanistan is a shit hole with virtually no resources or redeeming qualities. No one wants it and vacating it will just leave a vacuum for even worse to fill.

    My solution would be to move all the Syrians refugees there, there is plenty of land, counties are already absorbing the cost so just shift the location. Change the demographics of the country, it is the most efficient way to shift the culture and traditions of the place. There are bad actors within the Syrian refugees, better they go there than to America or Europe. I know, never going to happen.

  7. If the Army Rangers had held back and not beat up the Afghan commander, they would have been subject to prosecution. “We were only following orders” defense didn’t work out so well for the German officers at Nuremberg in 1945.

  8. As has been stated well by others, we have lost the will to win. We want to “fight” wars where no one is hurt. I remember when I was in the Army in the late 70s we had many training sessions on how to handle orders that were illegal and/or unethical. We were taught how to question those giving orders. This included refusing an unlawful order. We’ve lost site of a commitment to a higher conduct and purpose. This hurts my head and my heart.

  9. I seem to remember back in the W administration that the chairman of the joint chiefs was asked about a similar ethical/ethnics conflict and his reply was that an American serviceman is expected to intervene to protect the victim. Don Rumsfeld, who was standing nearby, tried to put a different spin on it, but the chairman repeated, “You intervene.”
    Is my memory cloudy on this? If I’m correct, then what the hell has happened here?

  10. The Times report discloses that the late Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. told his father that at night, while in his bunk in southern Afghanistan, he was kept awake by the screaming of young boys being raped by Afghan police officers who had brought themto the base. The Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., Told the Times that he urged his son to tell his superiors, but his son “said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”

    We can not expect the U.S. military to stomp out sexual abuse all over Afghanistan, let alone all over the whole world.

    But we can certainly expect them to not tolerate it on their own bases.

    Some Marines couldn’t stand it, and defied the orders. Dan Quinn, a former Special Forces captain, beat up an American-backed militia commander for keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave. He was punished, relived of his command and sent home.

    The servicemen are only to obey lawful orders. To look the other way at sexual abuse on base is clearly an unlawful order.

    • It’s an unethical order, but not an unlawful order. There isn’t even a legal duty to stop child rape in this country, much less Afghanistan. The soldiers there are permitted to kill people…this isn’t what any armed service would call a LEGAL duty. We went over this during the Penn State debacle. Mike McQueery had no legal obligation to intervene when he found Sandusky molesting a boy, and he wasn’t even under orders.

    • That was the aspect that caught me. They bring it onto US base, they get prosecuted by US child rape laws. Make sure that is clear.

      Yeah, we can’t change their view of that, it goes back many centuries in the eastern Mediterranean, read about Nero’s little fishies sometime, though it was also a step up in ancient Greece too. But that is not accepted here, and being lax on our own moral and standards is the root of many problems here now, and will that imply blessing on the more foolish of our young soldiers? Forcing another country to change to fit our moral code is fraught with risk, after all, we here in the US reject moral strictures that other countries believe better than our own on environment, health care, etc. Forcing unwanted change ferments opposition, and there military pragmatism admits we can’t force it on their soil. No matter how much we want it, it’ll be hard and expensive and slow. But, like we can’t force them to stop it in their own city, they also should NOT be able to force it within our base. At best, our example and protection of children on OUR base may spread outward. If they don’t know otherwise, the kids just endure because they think that’s the way it is everywhere, Hope can be very contagious.

    • This is an interesting article. As I read it, I first thought perhaps the NYT story was a huge trolling operation. But then as I read further, it made me wonder whether in today’s enlightened, inclusive military and civilian administrations, pederasty is finally being given its due an ancient and admirable way of initiating young boys into a satisfying and meaningful life.

  11. I discussed this with my father, a career Marine with two combat tours in Korea and three in Vietnam, and his opinion was that if he was in this position he’d make sure that the commanders doing the rape never came back from patrols.

    • Mr. Schweder should tightly wrap a plastic bag around his head, in an effort to better understand the anaerobic organisms that we share Mother Earth with.

  12. Semper Fi. Honor. Courage. Commitment.
    …. right? Well, more like “at the commanders discretion”. Little boys getting raped? Then it’s Semper Gumby all day. Yut. How can you claim that and allow this to happen? How? In what world would an organization that sells itself as the pinnacle of warrior professionalism and righteous American might create a culture that allows shit like this to fester? And then the give the great shaft of the green weenie to two of our best when they do something about it? And the signature significance kicker: nobody up the chain of fuckery (command, I mean command) put a stop to it.

    Thats one punchline of a paper motto. Apparently it only matters when it’s on two kinds of paper: recruiting posters and NJPs.

    War and ethics may be incompatible but I promise you the damage done to your force’s credibility and morale by allowing the rape of children is far worse than the harm inflicted by finding a new Afghani to helm your host nation forces.

  13. I somewhere read “if these are the good guys imagine how Taliban was” Well the author of this article needs to go back in history. It was the same thing that brought Taliban into power. Their first fight was to save and bring back two children fro a warlord who had been raping them continuously. They brought the children and killed the warlord thus gaining support from locals. Charles and Dan are heroes. Military or not, home country or not, if a human sees torture on another human its out of the humanity that he acts to save other humans. These two did the same.

    • How is that germane? Nobody is disputing that in the abstract, stopping the rape is the ethical thing to do. But general ethics and professional ethics are often very different. This is an example. Military ethics says that the mission takes precedence over individuals. These men are soldiers.

        • Wrong. Doctors can’t allow the worst murderer in history die on the operating table; lawyers have to make the prosecution prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and soldiers are required to make the mission their sole priority. If a professional wants to abandon the professional ethics hierarchy believing that general ethics must take precedence, that a legitimate choice, but they must accept the fact that they are no longer qualified for that profession.

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