Sunday, August 12, 2007

When Another America Went to War

There was a time when the United States perceived its position in the world not as the be all and end all of civilization and the entity that determines how other countries should live out their cultures. There was a humbleness and a degree of tolerance borne out of the knowledge of being a ‘new’ country, which made Americans treat people abroad with a certain level of respect and which resulted in the world accepting, liking and even loving America and what it stood for.

Increasingly, the attitude of the US military and its soldiers is that they do not owe anyone anything, let alone respect. This started in Vietnam and has increased precipitously with every year that the United States has become stronger militarily. More recently, through the collapse of the Soviet Union maybe and the ensuing perception at being the only super-power left, we witness a growing degradation of the local population by members of the United States forces. It is part of the machinery which is causing a growing distaste for America and its ways especially in those countries but also elsewhere.

This is compounded by the fact that also since the Vietnam war, the disrespect by American forces for the lives of others, whilst being so sentimentally attached to the lives of their own troops gives the distinct impression that Americans believe themselves to be intrinsically more valuable as human beings. Of note recently were comments made by a senior British Commander in Afghanistan’s Helmland, in which he requested that America withdraw its Special Forces due to the unarguably high number of civilian casualties they were causing which in turn was making it impossible to win over the civilian population to the ISAF cause of fighting the Taliban.

One father, who reported losing six members of his family killed in a bombing raid by US Forces, in which another five members of his family were wounded including his wife who lost an arm, confirmed this point as reported by
Carlotta Gall of the New York Times:

He said that he opposed the Taliban, but that after the bombing raid the villagers were so angered that most of the men who survived went off to join the insurgents. Whether people would support the foreign troops “depends on the behavior of ISAF,” Mohammadullah said, referring to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. “If they treat the civilians well, they will win.”

The most important line is the last one: “If they treat civilians well, they will win.” But this runs counter to the ways that soldiers, specifically American soldiers have been treating civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. A recent article quoted Marines as saying that they would generally not report the mistreatment of civilians by their fellow marines. Moreover, references to headdress attire and derogatory names like “haji” are counterproductive.

There was a time when things were different. US troops were in Iraq during the Second World War and at that time, there was a booklet entitled “A Short Guide to Iraq” which outlined how to behave towards Iraqis, included pointers as to how to respect the Islamic traditions and also a small guide on how to speak Arabic. A new version of this book has finally been published, perhaps four years too late with an introduction by Lt. Col. John Nagl, in which he wishes he had had such a booklet when he was first stationed in Iraq in 2003:

“As the month of fasting called Ramadan approached in November 2003, I would have appreciated knowing that ‘Moslem tempers are very short during this month as yours would be under similar circumstances’—and perhaps I would have been better prepared for the surge of violence that marked this celebration in our sector.”

The Newsweek article by Malcolm Jones ends with this remarkable insight:

The chief value of “Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq During World War II” is that it reminds us that there was a time, not so long ago, when America expected its troops abroad to be not only brave and resourceful fighters but also upstanding citizens who were expected to be generous, kind and respectful of other people and other cultures—model Americans, in other words. No wonder they called it “the good war.”

1 comment:

Winter Patriot said...

Good post! Thanks very much.