. . . It shouldn’t be hard to see the bright line between war fatigue, or P.T.S.D., or whatever name you give it, and hunting down, shooting, and stabbing little children in their homes, and women and men, burning their bodies, and then returning to base and demanding a lawyer. If there was alcohol, it doesn’t matter; if there were marital strains (how could there not be), it doesn’t matter. That Bales assaulted a woman ten years ago is irrelevant. None of these facts begin to explain why he stands accused of monstrous crimes. The idea that no non-combatant is fit to judge a man in uniform is ridiculous—an insult to all the combatants who, in the same extreme circumstances, don’t lose all sense of the humanity of the other and descend into criminality. Worse than ridiculous is the ugly praise Bales has received on some right-wing Web sites, as if war crimes were a blow against political correctness. The smugness of the I-told-you-so anti-war crowd isn’t much better. Pundits and commenters of all stripes find that the Panjwai episode proves what they were saying all along. How satisfying.
No: shame is the only response the rest of us are allowed.
Part of the shame goes beyond the massacre. Just as it should be possible to stare at this nightmare without medicalizing or psychologizing it away with a few biographical details, it should also be possible to see its singularity and its context: a decade of war with no clear, measurable goals and no end in sight, fought by the tiny number of Americans who belong to our all-volunteer military. President Obama has recently been eloquent on the subject of war, its seriousness, its costs. But it has been in the interest of neither his Administration nor his predecessor’s for the electorate to think too much about the fighting on the other side of the planet. Politically, both Presidents have downplayed it—Bush by creating a false image of a clear moral cause demanding relatively little sacrifice, Obama by talking about it as little as possible.
So the fighting goes on and on without a national discussion, or a national investment. It’s easy for most Americans to go days without giving the war a thought. That’s a quieter, longer source of shame. It’s wrong to put the whole burden of a protracted war on so few people while the rest of us get a pass . . .
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