Feature

Afghanistan: Desecrating the dead

A video that went viral over the Internet showed four uniformed Marines urinating on the corpses of three Taliban fighters.

A 39-second video just made the Afghan war even tougher, said the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in an editorial. The video, which went viral on the Internet last week, shows four uniformed Marines urinating on the corpses of three Taliban fighters—a display that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta rightly condemned as “utterly deplorable.” The scandal “couldn’t come at a worse time for U.S. foreign policy.” President Obama is finally making progress in starting negotiations with the Taliban, ahead of the planned pullout of most U.S. troops in 2014. This barbaric act can only complicate those crucial talks. For U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, meanwhile, the consequences could be deadly, said Marine Capt. Timothy Kudo in The Washington Post. With just a basic cellphone, the Taliban will now be able to “show villagers at every shura in the district what Marines do to Muslims when they’re dead.”

Obviously, the four Marines “should be appropriately disciplined,” said William Kristol in The Weekly Standard. But let’s put this incident into context. These Marines’ unit was involved in some of the fiercest fighting of the Afghan war, and last year they saw seven of their comrades killed and many more wounded. Under such circumstances, the way these soldiers celebrated their enemies’ death is understandable, if regrettable. Sadly, the desecration of the enemy’s dead has always been a part of war, said Sebastian Junger in The Washington Post. Achilles dragged Hector around the walls of Troy “because he was so enraged by Hector’s killing of his best friend.” Three millennia later, Somali militants pulled the corpse of a U.S. soldier through the streets of Mogadishu. The U.S. military should, of course, be held to higher standards. But the urge to dehumanize the enemy resides in “a very dark and primal place in the human psyche. Once in a while, those impulses are going to break through.”

Quite right, said Saree Makdisi in Salon.com, which is why it’s odd that this video sparked so much moral indignation. For nearly a decade now, U.S. soldiers and drones have slaughtered a seemingly endless supply of “militants” on foreign soil—along with thousands of civilians who got in the way. Why, then, blame four Marines for peeing on dead Afghans, when so few Americans question the killing that turned those human beings into “splayed-out corpses in the first place?” Here at home, we evidently attach no more “value to a human life than they do.”

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