Friday, January 13, 2012

When Did Corpse Desecration Become a Military Tactic?

By now, everyone has undoubtedly heard the news of the Marines urinating on the dead taliban.  What began on YouTube, has now hit all the news media.

What's prompted me to write a few words is the way in which many of my fellow conservatives have taken the position that this is acceptable behavior.  They make arguments which may make for a good soundbite, but their reasoning is spurious and misleading.  They say for instance that radical Islamic terrorists are killing people everyday in horrible and obscene ways--e.g. young suicide bombers or beheadings.
Yet, as I pointed out to Dana Loesch on Twitter yesterday, that argument is really irrelevant to this discussion.  Military is all about chain of command and order.  The only thing this action shows on the part of those Marines is a feeble attempt at male bravado and a willingness to break the rules and conduct expectations of military personnel.  
While I was considering a law enforcement career, I spent a lot of time with veterans as a young man, and they were some of the most wonderful people around--for the most part.  Every once in a while, though, I would observe an officer (usually a former military man) who was really more of a bully at heart.  In the late 1980s in Yakima, for instance, I remember an officer who especially liked to pull over Hispanics for any traffic offense he could find.  No matter the traffic contact, his hand always hovered over his sidearm in a nice, friendly way.  He's gone on now (to the great Lieutenant in the sky?), but that was a chilling shift indeed.  Another time while taking a civil service exam in the Seattle area, I remember a veteran remarking to a friend that he wanted to pursue law enforcement because he liked to push people around--not help them.
Those people are the exception to the rule, but they are out there nonetheless.  We need to do a better job screening our prospective soldiers to keep the ones like this out of the uniform.
Returning to the central issue, then, these particular Marines are simply bullies with exceedingly poor judgement.  To support their action is to be blind to the serious loss of the moral high ground it gives us in our dealings with the enemy.  Really, I'd also argue that failure to hold those Marines accountable also ignores fundamental lessons of western civilization and decency.  Maybe we should all read Sophocles' Antigone again.  As I tweeted yesterday, "Since when did corpse desecration become a favored tactic? Are we to become as they (Taliban) already are?"

As an aside here, there's been an idea put forward with regards to dealing with militant Islam which suggests that terrorists killed by US troops should be buried with parts of "unclean" animals--e.g. pigs--as a means to discourage further acts of terrorism.  It's an interesting suggestion, and one that may warrant serious consideration.  It is not, however, the place of the frontline soldier to take it upon himself to perform such an action.  If this were going to be undertaken, its purpose would be to discourage terrorists, a warning.  If you act before you warn, you lose any value from what's being proposed.  It changes it from a measured strategy to a soldier's foolish impulse.
For Christians, I thought I'd conclude my reflections today with a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy;92 it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.


  1. Pardon me ... first, to answer your title question, look up the suppression of the Huk (sic?) rebellion at the start of last century. Messing with the dead, among other things, were tactics.

    1) Your major concern is about the chain of command. I'd look at Allan West on the situation. Give them a disciplinary action, throw 'em in the brig a little, and let's move on. War sucks, this happens, let's not break out the 2x4s and nail them to a cross.

    2) How would you like to screen them? Get rid of anyone with overly aggressive behaviors? Which is kinda the point of an organization whose sole purpose is to kill people. The PC police will never serve in a war zone. But I suspect you know that.

    3) You did kinda sorta just give a blanket judgement on these guys. I don't know how young they are (teenagers? Shoot them on principle. They're teenagers). What did the recently diseased did to them or to their comrades? Sorry, I like context with my news story, and no one is giving it (I looked).

    Judge not, lest ....

    4) The moral high ground ...

    Them: Cutting off heads, stoning women, turning children into suicide bombers, using hospitals and mosques as shields, dragging the dead bodies of soldiers through the street, stoning people to death, cutting off body parts for theft, and rioting, raping and killing nuns, and burning down churches over Danish comics ....

    These marines: pissing on the recently dead.

    What, exactly, makes you think that this enemy would ever HAVE the moral high ground in the first place?

    And I wouldn't throw the catechism at them until I find out if any are Catholic.

    Yes, you can call me a bloody bastard ... and I've been called worse ... but between an enemy that gets off on the murder of innocents, and the marines who kill them, I think I'm on the side of the marines until I get a complete and total story. If we ever get it.

    And as for your tweet ... when marines rejoice over the deaths of innocents, use women and children as pawns, or make rape a military tactic (as in Serbia), then you can worry about them becoming like the Taliban. Until then, I wouldn't worry about it.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I won't call you anything, John. :) Appreciate the dialogue, but I'm still unpersuaded. I usually agree with you on this kind of thing, but this time I find myself on the other side. What you are espousing seems really along the lines of moral relativism. I don't believe that our military's conduct on issues like this should be unduly influenced by people who are essentially savages. We can and should do better. The action in question was simply an impulsive case of really poor judgement.

    This opinion, though, should not be taken to imply that the military's purpose is anything other than "to kill people and break things." I agree we need to kick butt and finish the job, I just don't agree that the Marines used sound judgement in this particular case. And, no, you're right...we're not ever going to lose the moral highground in any substantive way. I'll give you that one. Thanks for the feeback.