Atrocities happen in “good” wars as well as bad ones
The photographs of American soldiers showing off the dismembered body parts of their enemies in Afghanistan are shocking. Andrew Sullivan seems to believe that this is “what empire does“:
“At what point will we recognise that inserting ourselves into places like Afghanistan and Iraq will change us, has changed us, and will change us. Mercifully, this latest inhuman excrescence is not government policy, as at Abu Ghraib. But it exposes even more deeply the inherent failure and moral corruption of occupying Afghanistan and the need to withdraw sooner rather than later.”
I happen not to think that the war in Afghanistan is an imperial war, but more to the point I suspect that the soldiers’ behaviour in this case had nothing to do with whether it is imperial or not. Almost every war has its atrocities.
In a related case, Ken Livingstone, campaigning to be mayor of London, says he was “appalled” to see Osama bin Laden shot dead in his pyjamas in front of his kid instead of being put on trial. Upholding the principles of justice and democracy had been critical to the Western response after the second world war, he said.
To which Normblog provides a rejoinder apropos of the second world war that both Sullivan and Livingstone should heed:
“I’d be happy to agree that it was the goodest of all good wars, seeing that had it been lost it is hard to know what the extent would have been of the further horrors of National Socialist barbarism. But still, what a phony contrast Livingstone makes. Does he not know of the various badnesses perpetrated on the Allied side in pursuit of victory against Germany and Japan? Think of the bombing of Dresden and other German cities, killing and injuring hundreds of thousands of civilians; the incineration of so many of the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the fact that the war was fought in alliance with Stalinist Russia, its record of human rights depravity at the time second only to Hitler’s; the summary execution of German guards and soldiers by US forces liberating Dachau concentration camp; and so on.
Livingstone can lament the killing of Osama bin Laden all he wants, if he wants. But the suggestion that that act somehow damns those who ordered it relative to the record of his parents’ generation is a historical joke. Whatever one might think about the justification or otherwise for the Allied actions I’ve listed above, by today’s standards they were certainly war crimes.
The real point of Livingstone’s comparison, of course, is not historical accuracy about the past; it’s embellishing that past in order to imply a slippage of standards on ‘our’ side, as compared with 1939-45. And that is – to speak frankly – bullshit.”
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