11 March 2012
Amoklauf in uniform
It's a cynical commonplace to say that killing one or two people makes someone a criminal, while killing hundreds or thousands makes one a hero. The moral is that war legitimizes murder, while the deeper moral is that war is really no better than murder. Now we have cause to split hairs. It appears that an American soldier in Afghanistan, allegedly acting on his own initiative, has murdered at least 16 civilians, including nine children, before turning himself in. Inevitably, Afghan survivors claim that more soldiers were involved in the attack, but they don't know Americans like we do. We know all too well that one individual is quite capable on his own of this kind of carnage. But we probably don't expect it of a trained soldier, except if he's a Muslim and thus an enemy within. However, some observers suggest that today's atrocity is nothing new, but more likely the sort of revenge attack that supposedly happened often in Vietnam. The suspect soldier's identity isn't known yet so it's impossible to say whether he lost a buddy to motivate him. Then as now, however, this is clearly a disciplinary problem, unless, as some cynics will certainly suggest, the soldier acted with the connivance of his superiors. Actually, that's still a disciplinary problem -- it only rises higher in that case. I expect little sympathy for the Afghan victims from Americans, many of whom will most likely condemn congenital Afghan savagery should reprisal attacks occur. But there seems to be little to choose from between Afghans and Americans as far as savagery is concerned. Is any crime more savage than an amoklauf, when the motivation is only to take victims with you while watching them die, with no hope (I assume) of afterlife reward? Yet Americans, for whom the amoklauf is something like a national sport, have assumed for themselves a civilizing mission, not only in Afghanistan, but in Iraq as well. Americans like to accuse each other of hypocrisy, yet here is an obvious case, but what do we hear?