I'm getting a bit tired of the "deranged" soldier story. It was predictable, of course. The 38-year-old staff sergeant who massacred 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, near Kandahar this week had no sooner returned to base than the defence experts and the think-tank boys and girls announced that he was "deranged". Not an evil, wicked, mindless terrorist – which he would be, of course, if he had been an Afghan, especially a Taliban – but merely a guy who went crazy.But as quick as our generals may be about getting misdirection and excuses out there when an incident like this occurs - and they've had a lot of practice at it these last 10 years! - they haven't been effective at keeping the Afghanistan War popular at home. They have been successful at keeping it going, working in partnership with both Democratic and Republican politicians on that. Fisk continues:
The Afghan narrative has been curiously lobotomised – censored, even – by those who have been trying to explain this appalling massacre in Kandahar. They remembered the Koran burnings – when American troops in Bagram chucked Korans on a bonfire – and the deaths of six Nato soldiers, two of them Americans, which followed. But blow me down if they didn't forget – and this applies to every single report on the latest killings – a remarkable and highly significant statement from the US army's top commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, exactly 22 days ago. Indeed, it was so unusual a statement that I clipped the report of Allen's words from my morning paper and placed it inside my briefcase for future reference.It's good that this general was trying to restrain revenge killings. But Fisk describes what this indicates, the reality behind the PR about American soldiers spending their time painting girls' schools and meeting respectfully with village elders and blah, blah:
Allen told his men that "now is not the time for revenge for the deaths of two US soldiers killed in Thursday's riots". They should, he said, "resist whatever urge they might have to strike back" after an Afghan soldier killed the two Americans. "There will be moments like this when you're searching for the meaning of this loss," Allen continued. "There will be moments like this, when your emotions are governed by anger and a desire to strike back. Now is not the time for revenge, now is the time to look deep inside your souls, remember your mission, remember your discipline, remember who you are."
Now this was an extraordinary plea to come from the US commander in Afghanistan. The top general had to tell his supposedly well-disciplined, elite, professional army not to "take vengeance" on the Afghans they are supposed to be helping/protecting/nurturing/training, etc. He had to tell his soldiers not to commit murder. I know that generals would say this kind of thing in Vietnam. But Afghanistan? Has it come to this? I rather fear it has. Because – however much I dislike generals – I've met quite a number of them and, by and large, they have a pretty good idea of what's going on in the ranks. And I suspect that Allen had already been warned by his junior officers that his soldiers had been enraged by the killings that followed the Koran burnings – and might decide to go on a revenge spree. Hence he tried desperately – in a statement that was as shocking as it was revealing – to pre-empt exactly the massacre which took place last Sunday. [my emphasis]Can you imagine words like the ones I bolded coming out of the mouths of one of our star American journalists, like, say, David Gregory of Meet the Press? "However much I dislike generals – I've met quite a number of them": no, even trying to fantasize about it, it feels completely impossible for pretty-boy anchor David Gregory to utter such words. And the same is true for virtually every other star pundit on American TV.
Fisk points out that the Western press was generally eager to grab onto an explanation that wouldn't require them to talk about a breakdown of military discipline: "As usual, the journos had got into bed with the military to create a madman rather than a murderous soldier".
And he closes on a war-weary note:
We've all had our little massacres. There was My Lai, and our very own little My Lai, at a Malayan village called Batang Kali where the Scots Guards – involved in a conflict against ruthless communist insurgents – murdered 24 unarmed rubber workers in 1948. Of course, one can say that the French in Algeria were worse than the Americans in Afghanistan – one French artillery unit is said to have "disappeared" 2,000 Algerians in six months – but that is like saying that we are better than Saddam Hussein. True, but what a baseline for morality. And that's what it's about. Discipline. Morality. Courage. The courage not to kill in revenge. But when you are losing a war that you are pretending to win – I am, of course, talking about Afghanistan – I guess that's too much to hope. General Allen seems to have been wasting his time.Tags: afghanistan war, kandahar massacre, robert fisk