Thought for the Day - Brian Draper

I wonder how many of us were really shocked when we saw the pixelated images yesterday of US marines apparently urinating on the bodies of dead Afghan soldiers?

The politicians looked shocked, enough, and the establishment has screamed, “Foul!” Such awful behaviour wasn’t in line, we were told, with the “core values” of the Marines. And it’s been made clear that part of the seriousness of the impact of this video lies in the fact that it could jeopardise the prospects for US/Afghan peace talks.

But haven’t we seen it all before? I mean, we haven’t seen that, I suppose - but now that most people have a camera on their phone, and access to YouTube, we’ve grown more used to glimpsing grotesquery from Abu Ghraib through to Gaddafi’s terrifying last gasps, and realising that - whether we like it or not - this is war.

And while you can’t, of course, condone for a second someone urinating on a dead body, can you blame ordinary soldiers, in a way, who are caught in combat, for trying to dehumanise the opposition in thought or action? For demeaning the enemy, even though it goes against the ethics of conflict?

For the alternative is to contemplate the human face of war: to look into the whites of its eyes, as you pull the trigger. And that really must be hell.

In the trenches in the Great War, my great-grandpa was sent into hand-to-hand combat, and killed a young German with his bayonet.

Almost every night for the rest of his life, I’m told by my dad, who grew up with him, Archie would wake the house with tormented screams, from his dread that the soldier he killed would be waiting to welcome him at the gates of hell when it was his turn to die.

In the Independent yesterday, Robert Fisk wrote that ‘IF war were not about the total failure of the human spirit’ then there would be something ‘grotesquely funny’ about the fact that it wasn’t the killing of the Afghan men that worried the Marine Corps - it was the urinating.

But it’s not funny, I agree. This is war; and war is hell on Earth, if you like.

As a Christian, I’d love to believe Archie wasn’t sent, for a second time, to hell, when he’d been sent there once already.

I’d love to believe that his cries rose as repentance to heaven from the depths of a living nightmare and were met with forgiveness.

And I’d also love to believe that he reminds us, lest we forget (or even feel discomfited by the sight of grown men supposedly urinating) that it’s the killing in the first place that is worthy of the scream.

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