Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Scandalous Combat Photos From the 82nd Airborne: Context is Everything

Regarding those pictures in the Los Angeles Times, depicting members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division posing with the remains of a suicide bomber...

I understand that this is creating quite a stir. But in the grand scheme of in medias res combat behavior and, yes, downrange humor, I'm neither shocked nor outraged. I surely wouldn't hang the pictures on my wall, but I also wouldn't hang the subjects. This isn't a Boy Scout
encampment; it's war. And these are soldiers in the thick of it. Doing what soldiers sometimes do. I saw similar pictures in the National Archives, for example, of the World War II era Maquis and OSS confronting collaborators. 

Our good pal Tug, who hails from the 82nd, promises to weigh in later on the current brouhaha. Meanwhile, I leave you with another example of combat soldiers encountering enemy remains. This picture was taken in Korea. The photographer was my own father.

Photo by Norman Katz

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would hope that Americans who see these pictures, and read these stories, feel deeply that "we are better than this." But it is also useful to know that war is a gruesome business.

This story from WW II: http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2010/11/veterans_day_onondaga_hill_vet.html

Susan Katz Keating said...

Of course we are better than this. But in context, I understand how this happens.

If Achilles had owned a camera, what would he have done after dragging Hector's body around the walls of Troy... for 12 days?

MDR said...

While the puzzle palace admin crowd deigns derision they're the ones need keep in mind that the enemy has done much much worse to ISAF personnel.
The Russians were having a time of it with Chechyans' tactics of hanging Russian WIAs by their wrists and then using the WIAs as cover. The Russian response was to mutilate enemy KIAs and parcel post the limbs to the enemy leadership. Things came to a screeching halt.
So, fighting brutality with ever increasing brutality does, in fact, work. War is ugly and brutal, the more ugly and brutal it is the shorter it will last...to paraphrase Gen Grant.
The ROE has hamstrung our personnel. If posing with enemy KIAs has a positive PSYWAR effect on the enemies' willingness to fight on, then so be it. It is something that has gone on since time immemorial.
What we are better than, I suppose, is mutilating enemy KIAs for trophy purposes. That would most certainly inflame the fanatical factions and increase rather than lessen their willingness to continue armed insurrection. Everything else should be fair game.

BillT said...

While the puzzle palace admin crowd deigns derision they're the ones need keep in mind that the enemy has done much much worse to ISAF personnel.

And while Joe Biden says the Taliban isn't really our enemy and State moans that the Taliban won't sit down for tea at the negotiating table because of "insulting" photos like these, the Taliban continue to strap bombs to 12- and 13-year-old boys and shoot little girls because they're going to school.

Nick K said...

I've said it before, reporters need to distinguish between revealing the truth and learning how to be responsible with the stories they write. That being said, anyone who has deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq knows about the USCENTCOM General Order 1 and how we are not allowed to photograph/filming “human detainees or casualties.” Personally, I don’t think these soldiers did anything wrong but the reality is that an order was disobeyed. As a soldier and a veteran, I completely support my brothers in arms but I’m also trying to shed a light on the bigger picture. What we need to consider is that warfare has significantly changed. It is constantly evolving. This day and age, the US Army (and the rest of the military) cannot hold itself to the standard of the past and maintain “such is war” mentality. This archaic way of thinking, in addition to the “well the terrorists do it so why can’t we” idea, can no longer be tolerated. It does not matter how insurgents, terrorist, or other foreign militaries have conducted themselves in war; it matters how we conduct ourselves in war now.
The reason why we have to conduct ourselves in a more limiting matter is because these actions have been and will be used against US personnel. While the act seems trivial, this is just one more event in which terrorist and insurgent organizations will try to demonize the US forces, turn the populace support against us, and increase recruiting. These groups will use anything and everything to turn the local population against the United States. In any insurgency, the key to any organization’s power is the support of the population. The more the insurgents are able to garner local support; the greater their ability is to effectively fight. This one singular event could influence individuals, ranging from military age males to tribal elders/leaders, to pick a position in this conflict. Thus it has a greater impact than just making people upset. Also, we cannot positively affect the security of the country if we are not able to get the populace support. Just as in society back in the United States, we have to be careful in what we say and do. There are second and third world effects to any singular event. Remember, one single drop of water will cause ripples in any calm pond.

BillT said...

The reason why we have to conduct ourselves in a more limiting matter is because these actions have been and will be used against US personnel. While the act seems trivial, this is just one more event in which terrorist and insurgent organizations will try to demonize the US forces, turn the populace support against us, and increase recruiting.

The incidents are used to stage demonstrations for the benefit of the Western media -- the propaganda isn't aimed at the local populace, it's aimed at *us*.

The local populace in the ME and in SWA are equal opportunity voyeurs -- they'll happily view photos of bodies from either side of a conflict so long as the bodies aren't those of family members...

Susan Katz Keating said...

the propaganda isn't aimed at the local populace, it's aimed at *us*.

There is excellent precedent for this. Look how beautifully it worked during the Vietnam War, when the biggest target for hearts & minds propaganda was the American public.

Nick Krueger said...

While, I will agree that terrorist and insurgent groups will create propaganda aimed at the Western media but I disagree with you when you said it is not aimed at the local populace. Are you trying to say that these groups never exploit these incidents for recruitment?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/abdulhadi-hairan/a-profile-of-the-talibans_b_442857.html

BillT said...

Are you trying to say that these groups never exploit these incidents for recruitment?

Yup. The Salafists (a handy catchall term to describe *all* radical Muslim organizations) don't hate us because we kill them and pose with their bodies -- their imams tell them a martyr's body is so sacred that nothing that happens to it after death matters -- they hate us because we're not *them* and we resist becoming them. Any outrage about "atrocities" from their side is feigned for media benefit -- they play games in this part of the world, and we have a long-standing tradition of fair play, which makes us the perfect patsies in their eyes.

They recruit in three ways, just like the VC (and pretty much any other terrorist group you care to mention) did:

1. Appeal to ego and being part of something greater than oneself. The Salafist recruiter picks a prospect and befriends him, always keeping the conversation focused on the point that a good Muslim lives in a constant state of jihad until he is killed in battle, and they'll use all the sophistry they can muster to bring the recruit around. The VC used nationalism as the bait and downplayed their socialist aspect.

2. Threats against family and honor. This is the most common tactic when the Salafists need recruits in a hurry -- in this part of the world, a man's honor is literally the only thing he can truly call his own. The VC didn't usually bother with threats, they'd just pick out a few people in a village, kill them very brutally, then say "Join or die" to the rest.

3. Kidnapping children under the age of sixteen. Young teenagers are impressionable and very susceptible to the Stockholm Syndrome. On the practical side, if a child can't regurgitate his propaganda lessons flawlessly (the first step in becoming a footsoldier in jihad), he can be turned into a bomber with very little additional investment in time or training. The VC kidnapped older children because they could be used as porters while they were being indoctrinated.

BillT said...

BTW, Nick, that HuffPo article was a pretty good overview of the Taliban's propaganda machine. All their focus is on the message -- "Our side has better fighters and the other side does not."

Right after the Koran burning in Baghram (the prison inmates had already "defiled" them, so technically, they were no longer Korans), the demonstrations only happened in areas where there were Western journalists -- the majority of the banners were in *English* and the demonstrators were typically illiterate even in Dari or Pashto, let alone English. They were also the hard-core unemployed -- they got paid for turning out for the demonstrations.

Justthisguy said...

I have the misfortune to live in southern Flarduh. My dark fantasies about what I would like to do to golfers, were I to expose them, would shock the sensibilities of the most cynical, jaded, calloused, hardened old sojers. May God forgive me.

Susan Katz Keating said...

Young teenagers are impressionable and very susceptible to the Stockholm Syndrome.

Quite, Oh, how very quite.

May God forgive me.

Actually, JTG, you may be pleasantly surprised to one day find yourself at the Pearly Gates and singled out by the Big Fella for praise for your temperance in the face of extreme circumstance! In ther words... *high five!*

BillT said...

...you may be pleasantly surprised to one day find yourself at the Pearly Gates and singled out by the Big Fella for praise for your temperance in the face of extreme circumstance!

And as an added incentive, there are no golf courses in Heaven; consequently, there are no golfers there, either...

Susan Katz Keating said...

I actually knew that!

Justthisguy said...

Remember that old joke about God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost playing golf together? "C'mon, Dad! Quit screwing around! We're playing for money!"

Susan Katz Keating said...

Yes, but I forget what the Holy Ghost was doing in that story.

BillT said...

Caddying.





*sooooooo going to the Bad Place for that...*

Susan Katz Keating said...

*Mmmmffff.....*

*running from room, laughing*

Redash Rajal said...

Hey My dad was in the 82nd Airborne around when this picture was taken, If he would of saw it, he would of laugh, those guys was there for a reason, have any of you been in the 82nd? Back then not so fun, so the guys had to do something for fun.. I know, I remember story's my father told me. Now I know their story's but why would a dying man lie to his son?