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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ordinary Men

In the mid-1990's two books were published about Germans and the Holocaust, Hitler's Willing Executioners, by Daniel Goldhagen and Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning.

Goldhagen felt that most Germans were at best indifferent to the Holocaust, and many were willing participants. Many felt he overstated his case.

However, Browning's book, Ordinary Men, was far better recieved. It showed how ordinarymen, policemen, could become murderers. One of his conclusions, and it was stunning, even in the mid-1990's, was that the burden of killing fell to relavtively few people. No one was punished for not killing. People who would rather hunt partisans or face the Russians in these units transfered out without punishment, but most neither killed nor stopped killing. They watched. A few men, with the power of life and death, were eager to kill, reveled in it, but most did nothing. They didn't kill, they didn't stop the killing. In essence, they were mute. Neither killers nor resisters.

A lotof people on the left who don't have experience with the military even on a historical level, tend to see the military as a monolith. But that is far from true.

The first thing to understand is that the infantry, the actual patrolling,killing 11B's are a minority in the army, a caste apart. Even other soldiers are wary of them. They live in a world apart. Most soldiers handle supplies and file papers, they never seeor handle a gun in their work day.

There are others who share the battlefield with them, but when infantrymen walk into a room with other soldiers, they are apart.

The men in Browning's book were policemen, in the rear. The only shots they heard were the ones they fired.

When Omer Bartov edited a book of pictures of Wehrmacht atroicities,Germans were none too happy to see the pictures. It had been easy to blame the fanatics of the SS for the crimes in the east, the wanton murders. These pictures showed ordinary men at murder.

The idea that ordinary men kill is an unacceptable one. When General Dyer massacred peaceful protesters ar Amritsar, people made him into a hero.

When we talk about Haditha, people need to understand something: there were a few killers and a lot of coconspirators. There were killers, eager, but few in number, and many willing to cover up their acts. Why? Sympathy for the killers, fear, loyalty, embarassment. Yet, there were people who would not accept this, who fought for it to come to light, despite the instutitional pressures.

The American military has killed civilians in Iraq in many ways, traffic stops, stray fire, aerial attack. But as wrong as that is, it is the byproduct of war. Cold blooded murder is not. Which is to say,when you send soldiers to solve problems, they do so violently.

But to walk into a home, and fire a round into a crying, begging woman and her child? That is murder.

People will either try to tar the Marines as a whole by this, or claim that they were driven to it.
And both will be wrong. These men, if they did as they are accused of, decided to seek revenge, it was a conscious, purposeful act, one of deliberation. Others watched them murder in cold blood and refused to speak out. All active choices. All deliberate choices.

Other Marines, in the same position, in the same town,chose to do otherwise. The thought of blind revenge lingers in many minds. But to cross that line, to become a murderer, takes something.

Then, when faced with these facts, to cover them up? That is the most loathesome act of all. People will want to place the blame on the sergeant and his men, and they will deserve much of it. But not all. Those who hid this are culpable as well. Maybe even more so. Because they were given evidence of the murder of children and hid it. People who would never hide a child killer at home, did so in Iraq.

But before we get sanctimonious here, let's remember, these are oridnary men. They could be our neighbors, our friends, even us. It is easy to make them into monsters. But they are not. They chose to kill, and others chose to protect them. Monsters? No. Ordinary men. But the problem is that we are required to be more than ordinary to keep our souls.

posted by Steve @ 12:34:00 PM

12:34:00 PM

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