Desecrating the Dead (Warning: Serious and Graphic)

The technology that developed the rifle barrel, the machine gun and high explosive shells has turned war into prolonged, subhuman slaughter.” – Eugene B. Sledge, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, World War II Marine and author

 *this photo is from LIFE magazine and the Picture of the Week, May 22, 1944. “Arizona war worker writes her Navy boyfriend a thank-you-note for the Jap skull he sent her.”

It has been argued that “all concerns of men go wrong when they wish to cure evil with evil.”1 Additionally, “whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”2

I am not going to pass judgement on this video of U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban bodies. I am not going to condone it. I can comprehend it though. These Marines have looked into the abyss, and the abyss has looked back.3 Very few combat veterans return from war without sensing some change as a result of this abyss.

The video lasts approximately 1 minute and 25 seconds. There is very little dialogue and there is no explanation of who the dead bodies are. We assume they are Taliban casualties and that they were killed during combat. I am not, however, going to assume I know what happened before or after this video. I do not know the men nor their unit. I do not know the location, other than it is in Afghanistan. I do not know how long they have been deployed or what number of deployments they are on. I do not know how many casualties these Marines have taken, nor do I know if any of them had seen friends and comrades killed. Me passing judgement in my comfortable and civilized world is hypocritical. These men’s leadership are the ones who will have to investigate and pass judgement. The unit’s morale and discipline will also be investigated. Snap judgements following the viewing of a minute and a half is nothing more than a uninformed visceral response.

I do know that desecrating the war dead is neither new nor novel to modern war. I also know that urination is one of the least offensive things young men can do to their enemies’ dead bodies. Removal of ears, heads, penises, fingers, hands, and feet has been a common war practice throughout the ages. During World War II, some Marines and Soldiers took war trophies that included skulls and teeth.

These photos were taken when the “Greatest Generation” went to war. I do not think the brutality of war, nor its effects on its participants has lessened in the last 65 years. If our grandfathers were capable of doing this in war, why are we astonished by what our children are doing in war? Better yet, are we aware of what we ask them to do in war? 

I would prefer conflict to be decided by a pissing match instead of a shooting war.

1. Sophocles, The Sons of Aleus.

2. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil.

3. Ibid., “And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

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