The official Sebastian Junger community
I just read Sebastian's editorial piece published Jan. 13th in the Washington Post, 'We're all guilty of dehumanizaing the enemy', referencing the controversy and outcry in response to the soldiers in Afghanistan who were filmed urinating on Taliban soldier corpses.
Here are a few thoughts on the points made in the article:
The question might be: is a high-caliber round a humane bullet? Is it designed to kill clean, or shatter, or heal? With war being waged from greater distances and drones, there is less actual contact with the enemy - one of Junger's earlier accounts of being with those soldiers (in Vanity Fair?) starts with the fact that the distances traveled by bullets is so great that you can be hit and killed before you hear the actual shot - which may also be a point to consider regarding humane conditions: Were earlier wars with more direct combat more or less humane? And do notions of humane behavior really belong in war, if the object of war is to destroy and demolish?
It is an irony that the Geneva Convention, in the words of humanitarianism's godmother, Florence Nightingale, 'comes from a little state which can never see war'. She rejected the idea of the Red Cross because she believed that cleaner wars eased the burden on war ministries and made them more probable, less costly, more profitable, and therefore more attractive. History has yet to disprove her, and there is the sad irony that humane actions in and around war may actually be contributing to its perpetuation. (paraphrased from Philip Gourevitch's New Yorker article, 'Alms Dealers', October 11, 2010 on how humanitarian aid has been used by warlords to prolong conflict for their profit).
The soldiers' behavior, I believe, is little more than a PR stain. We assume dignity and honor and mercy on the battlefield, But I'm not sure if these are fair assumptions. Also not sure if the soldier's actions are, in a perverse way, more tellingly human than inhuman. the soldiers were absolutely confirming the enemy as (dead) human beings by detesting them with a detestable act. This is just as much a part of being human as dignity, honor and mercy. Inhuman would be to have none of these qualities left to exhibit: To be stones. Strange as it may seem, I don't see a huge disconnect, relatively speaking, between their actions, and telling a stranger to 'go fxck yourself' and flipping him off when he cuts you off in traffic.
Most developments in weaponry have increased the distance between soldier and target. Sword to longbow to pistol and then to the atom bomb, which turned the whole world into a potential killing field. As for whether humane notions belong in war? Probably not. I'm always surprised by news reports of outrage at Quran burnings and refusal to visually depict Mohammed. Look at the kind of war propaganda that was used during WW2. I'm not suggesting we ticker-tape the streets with stereotypical Muslim visages, but how are you supposed to defeat an enemy you're afraid to offend?
David Livingstone Smith wrote a book on dehumanization. It's worth a read.