Smearing Our Troops
The Left uses the killing of civilians in Afghanistan to attack the military and U.S.
Sergeant Robert Bales stands accused of murdering 16 Afghans, including 9 children. Many top American military officials, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, have intimated that even the death penalty “could be a consideration” should Bales be found guilty of the crime. On cue, the Left has used this tragic incident as an opportunity to impugn the entire military and the nation, claiming the killing is on par with My Lai and is representative of our servicemen and women generally.
CNN blogger Stephen Prothero exemplified this dementia perfectly in a recent piece titled “My Take: It takes a nation to make a massacre” in which he spells out who is really at fault. “It takes a country to make a man do these things, and we were his country,” writes Prothero. “We U.S. citizens voted for the presidents who sent him into combat and for the Congress that appropriated the money for our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” If Bales is found guilty? Prothero suggests that “each of the rest of us should spend a day sitting in front of our local jail. There we should confess to our respective gods ‘our sins, known and unknown, things done and left undone’ (as the Book of Common Prayer puts it). Then we should write a letter to the wife and children of Sgt. Bales asking for their forgiveness too.”
Prothero then reflexively descends into one of the prevailing themes that inevitably emerges when an American soldier is accused war crimes: comparisons to Lieutenant William Calley and the massacre at My Lai that occurred during the Vietnam War. Calley’s crimes were indeed horrific, but Counterpunch writer Jeff Sparrow uses them, along with Neil Shea writing for Democracy Now, not merely to condemn Bales, but soldiers in general, who need “a protective layer of hatred to perform what [is] asked of them.” He then takes on America itself, which has ostensibly normalized “torture against (mostly Muslim) detainees; the construction of secret prisons to detain Muslim prisoners indefinitely without charges or trial; the routinisation of assassinations and other extrajudicial killings of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen; and, most of all, deaths of (by the most conservative reckoning) hundreds of thousands of people, most of them Muslim, in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.”
His conclusion is that the war against Islamic terror has “created a new audience who wants to never leave the gun, an audience no longer shocked by atrocity but increasingly prepared to celebrate it.” Completely missing from Sparrow’s article, however, is a single word on the far greater – and continuing – atrocities committed by the Taliban and other jihadists across the world, which our military has sacrificed enormously to prevent.
Shea himself continues with another trope made popular during the Vietnam war: American soldiers straddle the border between sanity and psychosis. “I met up with a group of soldiers who were the first I had ever come across who made me feel pretty nervous about what I was going to see while I was with them,” he writes. “And I spent a few days with them and came to just really understand that they had gotten to the edge of violence, as we understand it, in Afghanistan, and they seemed ready and capable of doing some pretty bad things. I didn’t actually witness them do anything too terrible, but the way that they talked and the way that they acted toward Afghan civilians and animals and property in the country was sort of stunning to me…Many of these guys seemed like they had reached the end of their rope in terms of stability and controlling their aggression.” That’s a rather remarkable conclusion for a man who “didn’t actually witness” our troops doing anything wrong.
At least Shea was somewhat restrained. Benjamin Busch's Daily Beast article on the issue warns that the murders allegedly committed by Bales allow “for the possibility that any one of us could go insane at any time, and that every veteran poisoned by their combat experience could be on edge for life.” He too takes Americans as a whole to task, noting that our “national disinterest” in “distant events” is unsurprising because “we are a people known more and more for our selfish distractions than for our awareness.”
In the New York Times, psychiatrist and retired brigadier general Dr. Stephen Xenakis employs both themes, and asserts that Sgt. Bales is “emblematic” of bigger problems within the military. “This is equivalent to what My Lai did to reveal all the problems with the conduct of the Vietnam War,” contends Xenakis. “The Army will want to say that soldiers who commit crimes are rogues, that they are individual, isolated cases. But they are not." The Tucson Sentinel’s Charles M. Sennott echoes those thoughts. "Overnight, Bales has for many around the world become the face of what is wrong with America’s war in Afghanistan,” he contends. “Just as 44 years ago in the ides of March of 1968, the My Lai massacre and Lt. William Calley became synonymous with all that was wrong with the war in Vietnam.”
Much of what was “wrong” with the Vietnam war was the same kind of leftist campaign to smear American soldiers as barbarians, animals and baby killers in order to demoralize the nation and the military. This effort was led by people like Jane Fonda, who, in 1972, visited Hanoi and was photographed sitting atop a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) enemy anti-aircraft battery. She called American POWs “military careerists and professional killers” and claimed they were lying about their mistreatment. She also participated in ten radio broadcasts during which she denounced American political and military leaders as “war criminals.”
In 1971, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, who had joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), testified that his fellow American soldiers “raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war…” It was later revealed that the so-called Winter Soldier investigation was a lie based “eyewitness” testimony from people later revealed to be frauds.
As for the “widespread atrocities” committed by American troops, between 1965 and 1973, a grand total of 201 soldiers and 77 Marines were convicted of serious crimes against the Vietnamese. This was out of over two million military personnel, including 1.6 million who served in combat. How many people died at the hands of the “benevolent” Communists after Americans withdrew from the Southeast Asian Peninsula? A genocidal total of more than three million in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – one for which the American left steadfastly refuses to accept an iota of responsibility, despite their whole-hearted effort to turn Americans against the war.
Nothing has changed. LA Times writer David Horsey, in an article titled “Blame for killings in Afghanistan is shared by us all,” reiterates the psycho-soldier bit, claiming that “incidences of post traumatic stress disorder among returning soldiers are so common they seem almost the norm” before he takes the entire nation to task. “A volunteer Army lets us off the hook. Even worse, it makes it too easy for the politicians,” he writes. “They speak with bravado about standing up to tyrants and bearing any burden for the sake of liberty. And then, to make good on their bold words, they find another place to take the nation into war.”
The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald takes it one step further calling America an empire “subject to no laws or accountability other than its own, even when it comes to crimes committed on other nations' soil and against its people.”
Such odious characterizations of our nation and our soldiers are malicious nonsense. That so many detractors use William Calley as a basis of comparison to Robert Bales inadvertently reveals the overwhelming integrity of America’s fighting forces: one must reach 41 years into the past to find a soldier to whom Bales can be compared. As for the larger context, the “widespread” atrocities attributed to Vietnam troops by the left actually totaled slightly more than one-hundredth of one percent of the number of soldiers who served there.
Furthermore, the psycho-soldier meme, or the claim that virtually every American soldier suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), or simply teeters on the edge of psychosis, is also undone by the reality that out of the more than one-half million soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan only one has committed an alleged massacre in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
What about the idea that multiple tours caused Bales to commit the atrocity? While it is likely his defense lawyer may employ that reasoning in an effort to get Bales acquitted, there are 51,270 soldiers, active duty, reserve and retired, who, like Bales, have been on four or more deployments, and another 81,000 with three deployments. All of them have somehow managed to avoid committing mass murder, no doubt to the consternation of those so quick to paint an isolated incident with the broadest of broad brushes.
As long as threats to America’s national security exist, America’s fighting forces will be called upon to defend the nation. And as the American left’s long history of smearing American soldiers indicates, they will spare no effort to portray those fighting forces a horde of bloodthirsty barbarians, barely clinging to sanity, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority our troops have performed with courage and valor. Their current poster boy is Sergeant Robert Bales, one of the precious few bad apples among literally millions of men and women who have served our nation with honor. That the American left chooses to focus on the exception rather than the rule reveals far more about them and their pernicious agenda than it does the American military.