For the last week, the news headlines have focused on the atrocities perpetrated by an American soldier in Afghanistan. On Sunday, March 11, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales entered two Afghan villages and opened fire on the villagers there, killing 16 people in cold blood. The dead included nine children. After killing the villagers, Bales set some of their bodies on fire. As of this week, Robert Bales is in custody, awaiting trial for these atrocities.
The media and politicians ask how this could have happened. Bales was a so-called decorated soldier – a war hero. He received medals for his actions. But what do those things really mean? Let’s be honest. they mean that Bales killed people and saw people die around him. He is a product of war.
Robert Bales was part of a unit that shipped out from Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Tacoma Washington. This isn’t the first time atrocities were committed by soldiers from this base. In 2010, three soldiers from Lewis-McChord were discovered to have formed a club called the “Kill Team”. They plotted and carried out the murder of Afghan civilians including a 15 year-old boy. These soldiers kept trophies from their murders, snapping photographs and posing with the dead bodies.
In fact, the military, with all its training and conditioning, is designed to create people like this. In order to brutalize people every day, soldiers must become cold-blooded and numb to atrocities. Robert Bales himself had seen eleven of his fellow soldiers die in front of him in Iraq, including his best friend. He had lost a leg in a gun battle. He received a traumatic brain injury, and believes he has an untreated piece of shrapnel in his head. And to add insult to injury he just received notice that his family was about to lose their home in foreclosure. How many soldiers have stories like these? Lewis-McChord base is notorious for atrocities committed by its soldiers, but it also has one of the highest suicide rates in the military. Are we surprised?
The only difference between what goes on every day in Afghanistan and what Robert Bales did is that most of the murders of Afghans by U.S. troops are planned and carried out under orders. They are not just individual outbursts of rage and violence.
What do you call it when the U.S. military fires a rocket into a wedding party in Kandahar killing 37 civilians including 23 children and ten women? Isn’t this murder? The military calls it “collateral damage.” And this is no isolated incident. U.S. unmanned drones have killed as many as 780 civilians including 160 children. Often the bodies of these civilians have been burned. And the strikes have not been limited to Afghanistan. Attacks have been carried out, in Pakistan as well. What is the difference between these murders and those committed by Robert Bales or the Kill Team? Certainly for the family and loved ones of the victims there is no difference.
An estimated 100,000 Afghans have been killed due to the U.S. war and occupation. The country has been wrecked and people suffer from lack of water and sanitation. One in five children born in Afghanistan dies before the age of five. Let’s call this what it is – mass murder perpetrated by the United States military. And for what? Afghanistan just happens to be crucial to the distribution of natural gas and oil in the world. The motive couldn’t be clearer. This war is nothing but cold blooded murder for profit on the part of the U.S. corporations and the government that serves them.
Robert Bales is probably guilty of the atrocities he is accused of. But to focus on these atrocities alone is to fail to see that they were caused by the war and occupation. And the truth is that the biggest mass murderers are the architects of the war and those who profit from it. Ordinary people have no interest in supporting a war which only serves the profits of the wealthy corporations. There is nothing which can justify this mass murder. And every day U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan it will continue. We should demand an immediate and complete end to this murderous war and occupation.