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.