“This is how these soldiers were trained to act”


April 13, 2010 by The Mormon Worker

This is an interview from Democracy Now! with Josh Stieber, a former member of Bravo Company 2-16, the company involved in the 2007 US helicopter shooting in Baghdad, the video of which was leaked recently by Wikileaks. He left the military as a conscientious objector last year and is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

He does a good job of putting the shooting into context, indicating that the soldiers did exactly what they had been trained/taught to do. So while these soldiers bear responsibility for what they did, more importantly, they are merely products of the military system and the mind set that they are essentially forced to adopt while in the military.

He discourages labeling these few soldiers as bad guys or murderers or worse, and rather encourages looking at them as regular people whose actions are the natural consequence of the military system on the one hand, and of the fact that they were put into that position by those civilians and high military officials who planned the invasion and occupation of Iraq. So the military system and those who planned the war should be the main target of criticism.

It is important to treat soldiers with respect and with dignity, rather than vilify them, while showing moral support and solidarity for those that quit the military and/or refuse orders to commit the atrocities their superiors encourage/condition them to commit.


5 thoughts on ““This is how these soldiers were trained to act”

  1. Tariq says:

    A few years back, when the Abu Ghraib torture photos were still fresh in the public’s mind, all of these officials were trying to dodge responsibility, and point the blame as far down the chain of command as possible, while the lower ranking individuals being blamed were saying that it wasn’t their fault, they were just following orders. Some “experts” were saying that the problem is that soldiers aren’t trained well enough. I gave a talk at a conference during those times, and I said that the problem isn’t that soldiers aren’t trained, the problem is that they ARE trained, and that when they committ some horrible act like that, more often than not it is precisely because they are doing exactly what they were trained to do. Josh Steiber of IVAW is saying the same thing; that the soldiers who committed these cold-hearted murders did so precisely because they were doing exactly what they were supposed to do within the context of the military system.

    While yes, there are a few soldiers who are just plain scumbags (for example, someone who laughes about running a body over with a tank doesn’t seem like a decent human being), the majority of soldiers are just ordinary people, but they commit very evil acts because they are operating within an evil system. I don’t see the system changing in any meaningful way anytime soon; that’s why, in the meantime, it’s important for at least these three things to happen more:
    1. Young people considering military service need to be encouraged to stay out of the military, because once they are in the system, it’s more likely that the system will change them than it is that they will change the system (that’s something that the Christian anarchist Leo Tolstoy spent alot of time writing about).
    2. People who are in the military need to have people who will support them when they decide that “this isn’t what I signed up for”, and they try to get out of the military. They need friends,moral support, and legal support.
    3. Veterans and active duty soldiers who speak out and tell the truth about their experiences, like Josh Steiber, and thousands of others, need support, not condemnation. There are people on the right who call these veterans “cowards” and “traitors”, etc… But, even worse are the people on the left who villify veterans who speak out, like the people Josh Steiber said called him a “baby killer” and things like that. Leftists who truly are interested in ending war would do well to support veteran resistance to war. It is very difficult for alot of veterans to tell the truth about their experiences, and to follow the dictates of their own conciences, and they often risk alot and sacrifice alot to be able to do it. Veterans can be a credible, powerful force against militarism, but when people who should be their allies act as their enemies, it only decreases the chance of more veterans speaking out. It’s only expected that right-wing nuts are going to be jerks to veterans who oppose war, but leftists should know better.

    I had this conversation a few years ago with a couple of young, inexperienced anarchists who showed up at an anti-war event I was doing a presentation at. I was making a case for people to support veteran resistance to war. These two young anarchists argued that we shouldn’t support IVAW because those guys were oppressors in Iraq and they need to be punished for their crimes, not hailed as heroes in the anti-war movement. I told them that those veterans were doing much more to end the war than they were, and that, while it might make them feel good to villify IVAW, it will only hurt anti-war efforts. It’s not about feeling “pure” and patting ourselves on the back for being good anarchists. It’s about doing what will be effective. And vilifying veterans who speak out against war is not an effective way to end war. You would be surprised if you found out how many of the most dedicated anti-war activists in this country are veterans. In fact, you would be surprised to find out how many anarchists are veterans. The outspoken anti-authoritarian Ward Churchill once gave a talk, and in the Q&A some young, inexperienced radical commented that veterans should be shunned by the radical left, to which Ward Churchill replied something like, “Well, then you’d better shun me, because I’m a veteran”. (sorry, I don’t remember the exact words, it was a couple of years ago).

  2. SUNNofaB.C.Rich says:

    good observations Mormon Worker…

    Ward Churchill… didn’t he lie about being a paratrooper and on a LRRP team in vietnam? Oh yeah and he’s like 3/16th native american… sleazy.

  3. Joseph says:

    I agree with this post. My biggest concern is that I thought we were past condemning soldiers for being victims of wars. “Baby-Killers” was something Vietnam war protesters yelled out, usually while ingesting drugs that made them incapable of effecting any significant change. I thought the only people who called that out now were right-wing pro-life fanatics who think that medical reform forcing insurance companies to treat sick children regardless of any “preexisting” conditions is somehow godless communism. Persecuting those damaged by war was yet another “baby boomer” mistake I thought we had learned from.

    Condemning soldiers for getting caught up in war is self-righteous, arrogant, and ignorant. Of course this is what they were trained to do. And they are under extraordinary amounts of stress. Tim O’Brien’s “How to Tell a True War Story”, though about Vietnam, applies to this situation (http://us.history.wisc.edu/hist102/pdocs/obrien_story.pdf).

    This situation is terrible. The soldiers just shouldn’t be there. I’m not saying these soldiers bear none of the responsibility for getting out of hand like this (I’ll admit, I haven’t had the stomach to watch it, just read enough accounts to know the main details), but it is best to not judge from a distance.

    SUNN #2

    I appreciate what you are saying, and agree that Mormon Worker’s observations are good. I don’t feel, however, that Ward Churchill’s recent loss of credibility (brought on primarily by being put under a microscope for exercising his right to free speech, and under that kind of microscope, none of us hold up) affects the validity of what Tariq is saying. I think Tariq’s main point is just that it’s wrong to condemn veterans of wars, and he’s using a famous example to demonstrate that you don’t necessarily know who was or who wasn’t caught up in a war, so don’t judge. I’m personally not fond of Churchill either, but Tariq’s argument isn’t weakened by that.

  4. SUNNofaB.C.Rich says:

    Oh, i’m not arguing with his point, although I would expand the statement about vilifying veterans who are against the war being counter-productive to vilifying veterans in general being productive. I just saw the name of that dirtbag Ward Churchill and had to comment.

    I had a lady in Park City call me a baby killer back in 2005. My buddy flicked his cigarette at her and hit her right in the face. Great shot, like it was meant to be.

  5. SUNNofaB.C.Rich says:

    “vilifying veterans in general being counter-productive” I mean

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