Civilian slaughter in Afghanistan: further developments

Perhaps you read this horrifying piece detailing the extent to which human morality can become warped and twisted during times of war. It seems barely credible that representatives of a supposedly civilised nation — and one with a mandate to protect the civilian population of the country in which they were serving — could unravel to the extent that they became capable of committing such gruesome atrocities. The testimony of the first of the soldiers to be court-martialled, however, suggests that allegations against the ‘kill team’ are entirely justified.

Spc. Jeremy Morlock, who pleaded guilty to three counts of murder, one count of conspiracy, one of obstructing justice, and one of illegal drug use, has been sentenced to a total of 24 years in prison — a sentence shortened by his willingness to testify against his former partners-in-crime. He could be eligible for parole in seven years. And yet, we find it difficult to condemn him entirely. In the dock, he spoke of “how I could become so insensitive and how I lost my moral compass,” adding that he believes he “wasn’t fully prepared for the reality of war as it was being fought in Afghanistan.”

All of which reinforces our contention that war itself is the true culprit here. Of course, each man involved in the killings of innocent civilians needs to take responsibility for their own behaviour, and to experience the deep and lasting remorse that accompanies such an acknowledgement. At the same time, if we are to make sense of what otherwise appear to be senseless killings, we can only do so by understanding the tremendous power of war to pervert the minds of human beings, and to destroy the boundaries which prevent us from acting upon our darkest impulses.

With this recognition comes a realisation that waging war, for whatever purposes, is an act of violence. Even if we believe ourselves to be the ‘good guys’, even if we believe our cause to be just, war perpetuates a paradigm of destruction and can never be used to achieve peace. Peace springs from acting peacefully, even in the face of intense temptation to do otherwise. If we imagine otherwise, we delude ourselves.

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