The societal tension of war is this: we glorify our soldiers and demonize theirs. But soldiers are soldiers. They live and train under conditions meant to break down individuality and make their group more important than their selfs. They become heroes, often, for acts that in any other context would land them in jail, or a mental institution.
Nothing is fair about war, we know, but society expresses shock when lines of decency are crossed. Those lines vary by side. The flattening of Dresden in World War II goes largely unremarked by the Allied countries, but still rankles Germans. “Collateral damage” is what we say to shrug off the killing of innocents, but is mocked by some segments of the population here and outrages countries suffering said damage. Then there are moments that bother the military itself. Photographing the torture of prisoners. Urinating on dead bodies. Slaughtering civilians. Posing with body parts of enemy corpses.
That last came out in the Los Angeles Times Wednesday, when it published some photos taken in Afghanistan two years ago, by a soldier (granted anonymity) who felt such acts showed a breakdown in discipline (see the link below in Straight to the Source). The U.S. Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, apologized for the actions depicted. it won’t stop with the apologies. As the journalist and author Joshua E.S. Phillips wrote in Latitude News, such events stay with the soldiers that commit them. “My book delves into the damage torture did to military operations during the war on terror, the traumatic impact committing torture had on soldiers, and how many carried the guilt and shame home with them,” he said.