A blog of general comment by one of L.A.'s best known commentator/essayists. Humor, drama, pathos, satire and, well, everything else.
Somebody get the smelling salts. I have passed out on the floor from the shock of hearing the news: war is cruel and inhuman and disgusting.
It came to me in the form of a video that revealed four United States Marines urinating on the dead bodies of enemy soldiers in Afghanistan.
There was an immediate outcry against the desecration of our military adversaries even after we had shot the life out of them. It was OK to kill them but not to piss on them afterward.
As a result, we are demanding severe punishment for the warriors who for reasons of their own had no respect for those who had been trying to kill them and had chosen a crude but effective method of demonstrating their disrespect. But that’s not allowed anymore in the more genteel requirements of human conflict, and they must pay the price of their indiscretion.
So what am I missing here?
As a former Marine during the Korean War, it was always my understanding that war was dirty, and ugly and painful and essentially quite discourteous. We were not trained in boot camp and at Camp Pendleton to be friends with our enemy but rather to blow them into confetti by whatever means available. Shoot them, bomb them or burn them, but by any method subdue them.
Pissing on them afterwards was never offered as an option but one understood that they were bad guys out to kill you and well might manifest their antipathies in many different ways, including those utilized by the Marines in Afghanistan.
My best memory of war is of a fellow infantryman who, when there seemed an odd occurrence in the heat of battle, would shake his head and says “This is unreal.” He would amplify the phrase by concluding later that what had happened must have occurred in some kind of parallel universe.
It could not have happened to him. Not really.
He had a point. Where life and death intersect, there is no reality. The very idea of members of the same species confronting one another on a field of battle and killing each other according to very specific rules is surreal. It flashes into the head with the peculiarity of a new idea: I could die here.
Try as we might, we cannot gentrify war. We do not have referees wandering the battlegrounds to make sure that everyone is performing his duties in the best interest of the Geneva Accord. Neither do those with guns and bombs have the inclination to carry a condensed version of the rules stuffed in a pocket of their ammo belts and little time to implement those rules if they had them.
Complicating the problem of ungentlemanly conduct by our soldiers is that the newer wars are not “traditional.” We do not see great armies clashing head-on with tanks rolling and bayonets fixed. In Afghanistan and in Iraq before that, we are engaged in combat with shadows and whispers that dart in and out of reality like subliminal thoughts, targets that merge and melt before one’s very eyes.
The unreality of war has taken a quantum leap.
Does that justify desecrating the bodies of those we have killed? Never. But in their way, the Marines were playing by a set of rules that exposed what war is really all about. It is full of mindless rage, thoughtless acts of violence and a consuming desire for vengeance.
By its inherent disrespect for life, war pisses on the whole human race.
Al Martinez is a Pulitzer Prize winning essayist, former columnist for the Los Angeles Times, author of a dozen books, an Emmy-nominated creator of prime time television shows, a travel writer, humorist and general hell-raiser. Try him. He's addictive.
Joanne Cinelli Martinez is composed of artist, poet, gourmet chef, interior decorator, photographer, volunteer, and all around intelligent person; also the life long partner and care taker of the simple but happy little man who runs the blog. She views him with suspicion and uncertainty. It is a cautionary love story.