Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual, the arrangement withn the syndicator means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)

       CUSTOMER SERVICE: (800) 708-7311 EXT. 236
       FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, JAN. 20, 2012
       I don’t know if the same signs are in every Whole Foods, but there are several that adorn the walls of my neighborhood store. Probably the most cloying one extols the corporation’s support of The Animal Compassion Foundation for “raising animals naturally and humanely.” “In short, we believe,” it goes on, “that through the work of the foundation, we can improve the lives of farm animals.”
       Now, ain’t that nice? Of course, they did leave off a line: “THEN WE SLAUGHTER THEM!!!”
       It brings to mind all the moralistic hand-wringing over those U.S. Marines who made the mistake of being photographed as they urinated on the bodies of apparent Taliban fighters the Marines seem to have killed before they were killed.
       Inevitably, the pictures hit the Internet, and just as inevitably, U.S. officials of the highest rank, the secretaries of state and defense among them, expressed their outrage: “Utterly deplorable,” said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta; “inconsistent with American values,” added Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Panetta promised appropriate punishment for this violation of the international laws of war prohibiting “abuse of corpses.” Tellingly, military officials also were pondering charges against those who took the pictures. It’s not nice to embarrass the United States.
       Nobody seemed to state the obvious, which was that the worst mistreatment of the dead was making them dead in the first place. Nobody spoke up for the Marines who were cast in that role. Nobody, that is, but that noted wise man Rick Perry.
       Yes, that may have been a tad sarcastic, considering that Perry has since decided to pack it in and go lick his own wounds, but he was one of the few voices when he went on a Sunday gabfest to bemoan the “over-the-top rhetoric” about the Marines’ actions, saying they should be reprimanded and not punished since, “Obviously, 18- and 19-year-old kids make stupid mistakes all too often. And that’s what’s occurred here.”
       What occurred there in Afghanistan was depraved and ghoulish, but also understandable when you remember that these young men have been fighting for their lives for however many months and were probably in a rage about the friends they have lost in hostilities that are hard to understand.

       This is not a discussion about when or whether war is justified. Or whether the invasion of Afghanistan was more valid than the invasion of Iraq. Instead, it is about the inevitable dehumanization of any battlefield.
       I’ve covered a few wars and have marveled at the usual dignity of the American combatants, kids who keep their equilibrium and sense of mission when all hell is breaking loose. But I’ve also witnessed those who have been gripped by panic, including one or two who turned their weapons on those of us who were reporting on the conflicts and were suddenly unwelcome.
       None of these incidents turned into anything, but it wouldn’t have taken much for the intensity of the moment to have flashed into tragedy (mine). The lesson anyone out there learns is that the unrelenting pressure of danger can explode into violence or foolish debasement, in just a flash.
       Before we are too harsh on the warriors, we need to hold those who run their wars accountable for their decisions. Their motivations — political, as well as national security — need to be closely scrutinized. Always.
       Setting aside those who pay the ultimate price for those calculations, many of the men and women who make it home suffer from postwar trauma, physical and mental. They have been emotionally ripped apart by the chaos around them, to say nothing of living with a constant, all-consuming fear. Instead of second-guessing, they need understanding and help adjusting to a world where the biggest danger is getting ripped off at the grocery store. Their moment of cruelty doesn’t merit cruel treatment by those who sent them into this hell.
       © 2012 Bob Franken
       Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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