I have a good friend, a Marine Corps Reserve Officer who most recently served in Iraq. His haircut is not quite in the style of NCIS’s Leroy Jethro Gibbs, but his bearing, dignity and pride in his service to God, country and family is always apparent, unmistakable and unshakable. He is recognizable from a distance. You know it’s a Marine approaching you!
I thought of him when I watched the film of four U.S. Marines who, after exacting justice from some Afghan Taliban fighters, unzipped their flies and urinated on the very dead, still warm, corpses of their enemy.
My friend and I haven’t had a chance to discuss this shameful behavior, but I am sure his stomach was turned. I remembered a conversation we had that his mission was not to make us safe; his mission was to defend the Constitution, and, in doing so, he made us safe.
Those Marines were supposed to protect the Constitution. They failed.
President Obama, our secretaries of state and defense and military commanders all condemned those Marines, referencing our “warrior ethos” and “high moral standards.”
Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said, “Regardless of the circumstances or who is in the video, this is egregious, disgusting behavior. It’s hideous. It turned my stomach.” Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai reacted, “This act by American soldiers is simply inhuman and condemnable in the strongest possible terms.”
I have no argument with those sentiments.
My argument is with those who express those sentiments but who don’t pause to consider what compelled those young men to engage in such a vulgar, disgusting manner, cheerfully posing their manhood for the world to see.
My argument is with a nation that widely believes our enemies are sub-human, that Muslims worship a God that is different than the Christian and Jewish God, that in confronting these enemies one is fighting a species that deserves being urinated upon.
Desecration of bodies is not new. Achilles dragged Hector around the walls of Troy from the back of a chariot. Antigone hanged herself after trying to give her brother, Polynices, a proper funeral after Creon had left his body outside the city to rot and be eaten by animals.
White Americans routinely scalped Native American fighters, and vice versa. Manifest Destiny-inspired settlers, embracing an ethos of exceptionalism and exclusivism, conquered and developed America in their own image. Place names like New London, New Canaan, Paris, Hebron and Versailles decorated the map of a new nation. While building a country on stolen land and African labor, slaves were routinely branded as property.
In 1993, a U.S. soldier was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu after the shooting down of a Black Hawk helicopter and the killing of 17 other Americans. In 2004, Iraqi insurgents hanged the brutalized bodies of four U.S. private contractors from a bridge in Fallujah. Closer to home, in 1998, both Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. were brutalized and murdered because of their identities.
Desecration is not new.
“We’re a peaceful nation,” President George W. Bush told us after 9/11, as we launched attacks on Afghanistan, a war of necessity, and Iraq, a war of choice. The spawn of these wars: Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, the Patriot Act, extraordinary renditions, the assassination of an American citizen, without trial, in Yemen, etc., create the context within which our troops now struggle to protect the Constitution while keeping themselves alive and, hopefully, sane.
We must all condemn the Marines who pissed on the Taliban bodies, After all, they know, or have been told, that the Taliban stone and rape women, throw acid, burn schools, hate Christians and Jews and live in the 14th century — or thereabouts. Someone, something blinded them from seeing the Afghans as human.
Who blinded these Marines? Is it by, as the Republican candidates do with their shameless and ignorant hypocrisy, proclaiming that life starts with a zygote while cheering on the state executions in Texas and advocating for the bombing of Iran? Is it from the Christian Exceptionalist messages that they hear from some of their commanders who believe America derives its legitimacy directly from God? Or from the neo-con cheerleading for torture and water-boarding, or from the questioning of the legitimacy of their commander in chief?
This culture of dehumanization of the “Other” is being nourished in this country by voices more interested in power than in justice. Those who encourage xenophobia and disregard the Constitution empower hubris and prejudice.
What about America’s own image? The world knows what these Marines did is not unique — except for the arrogance of thinking they could film it and get away with it. We have already shown them that Guantanamo will remain open, detention without recourse to the courts is now possible for Americans, and a new war of choice shimmers above the horizon. They know that for all the crimes that have been done in America’s name in recent years only the most insignificant offenders have been prosecuted. They know what we risk becoming.
My friend and I have discussed the need for America to enter the global community not as conqueror but as partner, to build trust based on shared interests and values. Although we embrace different faiths and disagree, amicably, on issues of theology, I know he embraces, with me, “Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.” – Qur’an 49:13
I would trust him with my back — anytime.
Together let’s remember Rumi, who guides us:
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.”