Via Matt Aitkins, who says it’s “bound to be controversial”, here’s an account by journalist Neil Shea of his time with a platoon in Afghanistan that is more than relevant to any discussion of Sgt. Robert Bales and any other discussion of atrocities in Afghanistan.
I felt I was watching some of the men unravel toward serious crimes, if, in fact, they had not already committed them elsewhere in Afghanistan or Iraq. Evil or atrocity often explodes from a furnace built by the steady accretion of small, unchallenged wrongs. Some men in Destroyer platoon had been drifting that way for a long time.
One soldier in particular – the platoon sergeant – set the tone for the rest. Even officers deferred to him, perhaps afraid of his obvious sociopathy. As was the case at Abu Graib and My Lai, where one strong-willed but hating man leads, others will follow.
We sat on the patio in the late, hot afternoon, airing our foul, boot-pruned feet. The soldiers of Destroyer talked about how their house searches had become demolition parties. They shattered windows and china, broke furniture, hurled civilians to the ground. Earlier that day, they had blown up a building. They tornadoed through Afghan houses and left such destruction that their ANA allies at first tried to stop them, then grew angry, sullen.
”œThey were so pissed they wouldn’t hang out with us anymore,” Givens remembered. ”œThey kept saying ”˜No good, mistah. No, mistah.’ And I was like, ”˜Yes, fucking good. Plate? Smash. Is this a drum? Smash.’”‰” He laughed. ”œ”‰”˜Oh, mistah, no.’”‰”
I imagined the Afghan soldiers standing by, helpless, while Destroyer destroyed. I thought of attacks over the past several years in which Afghan policemen or soldiers had suddenly turned on their NATO allies and opened fire. Such betrayals have been increasing. Sometimes the Taliban claim responsibility for them, but often it seems the assailants have been taking revenge on foreign soldiers for some perceived insult to their honor. It was not hard to envision the seeds of such an attack sown in the ruts of Destroyer’s visit.
Slowly, the soldiers began adding more stories, and tales of the past week blended with memories of killing and destruction during other missions and battles, in Afghanistan and Iraq, during many tours of duty. The men’s voices fell over each other in a clatter of brutality and homoerotic jokes.
So I grabbed the chain and dragged it out and shot it again with the shotgun and, uhhhh, brains all over me …
Shut up, faggot. You never did that …
Man, even if you actually got to see some Afghan chick and she was hot, I still wouldn’t fuck her cause she’d still be from here, which means she’d still be covered with shit.
My last deployment, my platoon sergeant, he’d say, ”œMake sure nothing lives. Cows: Taliban food. Sheep: Taliban food. Donkeys: Taliban transportation. Kill everything.”
You know what? Fuck these people.
Spend time around soldiers and you realize a lot of this is part of the game, part of being a young man in war. Still, I sensed more anger and hatred than I had encountered before. Givens spun at its center like a black hole. He was in his mid-20s, charismatic and quick, a combat veteran. He threw down declarations like a hip-hop star””respect yourself and no one else; fuck bitches, get money””and the younger infantrymen revered him. Even officers appeared to defer to his humor, efficiency, and rage.
Platoons are often structured like high school cliques, and Givens stood at the apex of his, setting the tone and example. A list of characteristics scrolled through my mind as I listened to the men, traits I probably learned from episodes of Law & Order, or Lord of the Flies. Pop-culture sociopathy. Sexualized aggression. The displays of wolves.
”œThis is where I come to do fucked-up things,” Givens said. ”œSo I don’t do them at home.”
Another sergeant in the platoon gave Shea his quiet opinion on Givens:
”œHe’s bad. He’s real bad. He sees someone having fun with something, he just wants to kill it. I don’t want to have nothing to do with that…I don’t want to get none of that shit on me.”
The military can talk about “rogue” soldiers “acting alone” in as many cases as it wants, but too often there are people like ‘Givens’, empowered by the system instead of purged from it, who are the catalysts for atrocities. Not all soldiers are like that or even fall into one’s influence, but it doesn’t take more than one in every thousand to create an Abu Graib or a Kandahar Massacre.
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