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The Kill Team and the Culture of Militarism

There is something deeply troubling about the lack of outrage shown when photos of those we’ve entrusted with great responsibility, certainly with much naivete and self-induced delusion, emerge as testament to their complete abuse of power and disregard for human life. There is something deeply troubling about these men, given great ideological responsibility, being able to abuse their power without¬† any discretion or without any regret. There is something deeply troubling about the lack of accountability and surveillance that fostered and allowed for these crimes to occur. There is something deeply troubling about being able to look at pictures of severed heads and mutilated children laying next to smiling faces and not feel the same sort of shock felt earlier during the decade when images and testimonies from the region, and nearby, emerged.

It is all deeply troubling, but is it really surprising?

Recently, photos and reports emerged showing and highlighting “the aftermath of the deliberate murders of Afghan civilians by a rogue US Stryker tank unit that operated in the southern province of Kandahar last year.” The group has been labeled the “Kill Team,” and five are already on trial for pre-meditated murder for having staged killings, facing the death penalty or life in prison.
Reports show that not only did the men kill innocent Afghans, stage their deaths as though done in self-defense, mutilate their bodies further and take photographs – they also took so-called “trophies” from the bodies as reminders of their kills.

“He wanted to keep the finger forever and wanted to dry it out,” one of his friends would later report. “He was proud of his finger.”

There are also reports that the soldiers discussed throwing candy to children while in their vehicle and shooting those who would come to grab some or running over them with their vehicle.

While shock and disgust has been expressed, internationally, at these allegations and photos – one thing is striking: the continued use of terminology, such as ‘rogue’, to abnormalize the actions of these, at minimum, 12 soldiers.

While their behaviour certainly isn’t the overwhelming norm, it is not completely outside of being a re-occurrance we have repeatedly witnessed, particularly since the invasion of Afghanistan: from the many massacres in Iraq and Afghanistan to the stories and photos from Abu Ghraib; the torture and unjust detention at Guantanamo; Collateral Murder and to the documents of the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan papers, still being sifted through, highlighting various American atrocities and disregard for proper process, international law and self-professed liberal axioms. And certainly such a maschismo disregard, disrespect for and trivialization of human life has not been limited to those who have been put into the by-default dehumanized category of the “other” and the “enemy” but also to fellow soldiers, particularly women who have been victims of “rampant rape” within the military institution.

The Kill Team isn’t a group of rogue young men who happened to engage in murderous endeavours because they were left unchecked and were bored or just lacked mercy by virtue of their own individual character. They are a group of young men, few of many, who have been fed an increasingly deadly culture that encourages precisely that which they are accused of doing.¬† And they are fed this through not only the institution in which they are working but the deadly and ignorant rhetoric that sets them up for action. A discourse that has already, and very easily, rendered an entire group sub-human and disposable without consequence. This isn’t a phenomena exclusive to the United States and its own military. We find such instances through militaries across the world, from Israel to India. Rather it is something deeply entrenched in the character of modern warfare and the modern institution of the military, particularly following WWII which saw the overnight evolution of military conflict which made indiscriminate violence from a state institution legitimate, making use of weaponry made to match.¬†

These aren’t rogue acts, these are the norm within an institution built on obtaining the legitimacy of the monopoly on violence by inflicting it at a whole scale, indiscriminate level based on, ironically, a discriminate militarized and violent discourse.

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5 Responses to “The Kill Team and the Culture of Militarism”

  1. "he was proud of his finger."

    truly disgusting…killing, mutilating, and torturing people for sport is slowly becoming the trademark of the US army.

    important piece, sana. nicely done.

    Posted by Andrew | March 29, 2011, 3:53 pm
  2. Thanks for this Sana. Like you said, the most important point raised here isn't the culture within the military, but the militarized culture within society as a whole that's made the average man numb to these horrors.

    Posted by MohammadKF | March 29, 2011, 11:46 pm
  3. I liked the ending: //Rather it is something deeply entrenched in the character of modern warfare and the modern institution of the military, particularly following WWII which saw the overnight evolution of military conflict which made indiscriminate violence from a state institution legitimate, making use of weaponry made to match. //

    It was precisely during the European Wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, that the barbarity of the secular mind reached its apex. It showed that any period deemed too desperate (which is a relative idea) for the survival of secularists, justified the dissolution of any sense of morality on their part. That is why modern Europe feels no shame in its reflections of the barbarity perpetrated wholesale on civilians in its name during the Wars, except for the Holocaust.
    Dresden comes to mind.
    So does Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
    amongst others.

    It was the first time in human history, since Gengis Khan, where murdering civilians became a legitimate military strategy.

    Posted by OooKhalid | March 30, 2011, 9:50 am
    • John Ralston Saul explores this idea – amongst a myriad of other ideas – in his book Voltaire's Bastards: Dictatorship of Reason in the West, looking at the sort of militarism and technocracy created in, and following, the era of rationalism ..as a result of the evolution of rationalism. Here's a great summary of his argument I found online:

      "Voltaire and his contemporaries believed that reason was the best defense against the arbitrary power of monarchs and the superstitions of religious dogma. It was the key not only to challenging the powers of kings and aristocracies but also to creating a more just and humane civilization. While the emphasis on reason has become one of the hallmarks of modern thought, today's rational society bears little resemblance to the visions of the great 17th and 18th century humanist thinkers, according to Saul. Our ruling elites justify themselves in the name of reason, but all too often their power and their methodology is based on specialized knowledge and the manipulation of rational "structures" rather than reason. Today the link between reason and justice has been severed and our decision-makers, bereft of a viable ethical framework, have turned rational calculation into something short-sighed and self-serving. The result, Saul observes, is that we live in a society fixated on rational solutions, management, expertise, and professionalism in almost all areas, from politics and economics to education and cultural affairs."

      This book was published in 92. I'd like to see hear his perspectives now.

      Posted by SanaKF | March 30, 2011, 2:19 pm
  4. Of course every culture has its own peculiarities! It was curious to know these

    Posted by essayeditingservice | June 27, 2014, 6:00 am

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