Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How do you turn Off the Killer Part of America’s Warriors

By Horatio Green

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales 
pictured at the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, California, 
On Sunday, March 11, 2012, Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales walked out of his operating base in Afghanistan, entered three homes in the villages of Alkozai and Balandi, and killed 16 villagers. Of the 16, he killed nine children, some as young as two years old. He returned to his base, laid down his weapon and voluntarily surrendered.

Bales negotiated a plea agreement and avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty. On August 23, 2013, he was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.

Neighbors say Robert Bales was good-natured, warm, and a very nice person. A father they saw playing with his children outside their home. He participated in his and his neighbor’s kid’s birthday parties. Friends, who grew up with Bales spoke highly of him.

However, as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, while in Afghanistan on his fourth combat tour (three in Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan) became a much different man. The warriors he led called him “bipolar,” “crazy,” “paranoid,” a “control freak,” and didn’t trust him; they saw him pummel an Afghan because the man accidentally bumps into him with a box of supplies. His superiors thought of him as an “even keeled” combat veteran who they could trust.

A military official told the New York Times that the reason “When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol, and domestic issues -- he just snapped.”

However, the essential reason for this tragedy does not lie in some complex psychological issue. It lies in the culture of war itself.

Following boot camp, soldiers are selected for combat roles based on their physical condition, aptitude, and their suitability for training in the specialty of killing another human being. That is the military mission; everything else is secondary to that primary task.

Sergeant Bales did nothing more that early morning in March than what he was trained to do: kill, maim, or incapacitate another human being With his certification as a sniper, and four combat tours, he most likely had killed many times, but then he was under military orders to kill. As a sniper, it makes me wonder how many innocent civilians he may have killed. The only difference this time was Bales’ actions were not authorized and condoned.

In his review of the documentary The Good Soldier, Robert W. Butler of the Kansas City Star wrote, “At heart, it’s a rueful acknowledgement that when you put young men in stressful, violent situations, they’re not always going to behave according to the Geneva Convention.”

Butler asks the question, “When you turn somebody into a well-trained killer, how do you turn off the killer part of their personality?”

The answer is not to turn them into killers in the first place. But the United States will never learn. For here we go again, bombing in Iraq and now Syria. But it won’t be long before we have boots on the ground again and breed more Sergeant Bales in the process.

Copyright © 2014 Horatio Green
(A previous version of this article was published on the Yahoo Contributors Network)