the Disillusioned kid: I support the troops. Up to a point.
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Monday, February 13, 2006

I support the troops. Up to a point.

Obviously nobody wants to end up fighting in an unpopular war, thousands of miles from home in a country where everybody hates you. I feel sorry for those in that situation. Genuinely. Particularly when they've ended up they're having been spat out by the system. This much ought to be fairly uncontroversial. I'm less sympathetic, however, when those selfsame soliders are beating six shades of shit out of Iraqi civillians.

Don't worry though, Tim Collins assures us that the army will sort it out. He should know. He's a colonel. In any case beating the crap out of a few recalcitrant Iraqis isn't so bad. The Iraqi police would just have shot them. As would any other Arab security force. Not to mention the Israelis. And the French. And the Americans. Yes, even the Americans! I bet those Iraqis were counting their lucky stars everytime a well aimed fist connected with their aching torso.

There are many on the anti-war left (naming no names) who think we shouldn't criticise the soldiers because their actions are mere products of the system. I don't accept this. To do so is tantamount to throwing the concept of moral agency out of the window. I do not doubt that all our actions are influenced by various systemic factors and the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but that doesn't mean people don't have a choice. Nobody held a gun to these soldiers heads and told them to go beat up a few kids. They could have chosen not to.

The moral agency of those fighting the war should be of particular concern to those opposed to the ongoing occupation because it may hold the key to bringing the whole imperial misadventure to an end. One of the biggest problems faced by the military hierachy in Vietnam was a de facto mutiny which took hold amongst thousands of soldiers. Many even came to the conclusion that their officers were much more dangerous to their own self-interest than "the enemy" and dealt with this realisation by killing the former, often using fragmentary grenades whence the term "fragging" originates. There have been inklings of this in Iraq, but nothing more. The key difference between the two being that whereas the Vietnam was fought by a drafted army, soldiers in Iraq are "volunteers" (part of what Noam Chomsky has called "a mercenary army of the poor"). An anti-officer insurgency amongst the armed forces in Iraq today could well mark the death knell for the occupation. At the very least it'd put the wind up the "support the troops" crowd.

The next steps with regard to the case at hand are obvious. There should be a full and proper independent investigation (i.e. not one conducted by the military police) which holds people accountable for their actions. That review should not limit itself to the soldiers directly involved and should reach up the chain of command, right the way to the top if neccesary. As ever, it's up to us to make sure that happens.

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