Robert Fisk: If we accept these lies about 'bad apples', we accept war


So now it's snapshots of US Marines pissing on the Afghan dead. Better, I suppose, than the US soldiers pictured beside the innocent Afghan teenager they fragged back in March of last year. Or the female guard posing with the dead Iraqi prisoner at Abu Ghraib. Not to mention the murder videos taken by US troops in the field – the grenading of an old shepherd by an Iraqi highway comes to mind – or the massacre of refugees by US forces in Korea or the murder of Malayan villagers by British troops. Or the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry. And please note, I have not even mentioned the name of Baha Mousa.

The US Marines' response to the pictures was typical. These men were not abiding by the "core values" of the Marines, we were told. Same old story. A "rogue" unit, a few "bad apples". Maybe.

But if there is one game of pissing on the dead, how many others happened without pictures?

As laptop filmography gets better, it all comes slopping out, the rapes and slaughter – and yes, by the Taliban the stoning of young women for supposed sexual misconduct in Afghanistan; by al-Qa'ida, executions and throat-cuttings in Iraq.

And no – the Americans are not the Nazis, the Brits are not the French Paras of 1960 Algeria.

But let's play a little guessing game. The Sunday Times Insight Team reveals shocking revelations of torture and cigarette burning, of physical brutality where prisoners must be hospitalised for a week, of possible electric torture. The French in Algeria? Saddam's mukhabarat? Nope. It's a 7 May 1972 report; the victims, IRA suspects in Belfast. A "rogue" unit? A "few bad apples"? Doubt it.

When the Gloucestershire Regiment went on a rampage, smashing every window in the street the day before they were due to leave Belfast, the line was changed. They had been under "enormous strain".

And so we go on. Yes, British troops murdered SS prisoners after Normandy – just as the Red Army did in the Second World War and the Americans. And all this gets a bit dull, doesn't it?

Dresden was worse than the Blitz – but who started it? Hiroshima was worse than Pearl Harbour (ditto). The Canadians bayoneted German prisoners in the First World War – but the Germans really did commit atrocities in Belgium in 1914. And what about Waterloo? What did we do with the French dead? Why we shipped their corpses to Lincolnshire and used them as manure on the fields.

If war were not about the total failure of the human spirit, there would be something grotesquely funny about the American reaction to the pissing pictures.

For note, it was not the killing of these men that worried the Marine Corps in the US – it was the pissing. Nothing wrong in killing amid the "core values" of the Marine Corps; you just shouldn't urinate on the corpses. And more to the point: YOU MUSTN'T DO IT ON CAMERA! Too late. It comes to this. Armies are horrible creatures and soldiers do wicked things but when we accept these lies about "bad apples" and the exceptionalism of crime in war – "there may have been some excesses" is the usual dictator-speak – we are accepting war and going along with the dishonesty of it and making it more possible and easier, and the killings and rapes more excusable and more frequent.

And how should armies react? With one word: guilty.