Robert Fisk: This is not about 'bad apples'. This is the horror of war

How many other abuses took place off camera? How many Hadithas? How many My Lais?

Share
Related Topics

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 Haditha or the murder videos taken by US troops in the field – the grenading of an old shepherd by an Iraqi highway comes to mind – or My Lai or the massacre of refugees by US forces in Korea or the murder of Malayan villagers by British troops. Or the Bloody Sunday massacre of 14 Catholics by British troops in Derry in 1972. And please note, I have not even mentioned the name of Baha Mousa.

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

But if there is one game of pissing on the dead, how many others happened without pictures? How many other shepherds got fragged in Iraq? How many other Hadithas have there been? There were plenty of other My Lais.

As laptop filmography gets better, so 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 surely we're not comparing the French paras to the Nazis). The Canadians handed prisoners over to Afghan thugs for brutal questioning but the Canadians are not like Saddam's secret police – and, I suppose, the Taliban are not Stalin's NKVD or Putin's KGB (before he became a statesman). And you can't compare – surely – the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan in 1979 with Genghis Khan.

So let's take a little guessing game. A British Sunday paper 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 The Sunday Times Insight Team's report of 7 May 1972; the victims, of course, IRA suspects in Belfast. A "rogue" unit? A "few bad apples"? I doubt it.

When the Gloucestershire Regiment went on a rampage near Divis flats, 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" – but weren't these the "Glorious Gloucesters" of Imjin River fame? And the killer Paras of Derry – weren't these the same Paras of Arnhem Bridge?

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 committed atrocities in Belgium in 1914. And what about Waterloo? What did we do with the heaps of French dead? Why, we honoured them by shipping their corpses off to Lincolnshire and using them as manure on the fields of East Anglia.

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 even 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 all 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 we are 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.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Why black cats make amazing pets, and take good selfies too

Felicity Morse
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star