Inside the War on Terror

Sorry that it has been awhile since my last post. With the whole Covid thing and working from home, plus writing my first peer-reviewed journal article and getting that ready for publication, my posting level kind of dropped off. I should be back in a regular cadence here now that work has leveled off again.

Today, I’m writing about a NY Times opinion piece “My Friend Lives Inside the War on Terror: Listen to Him.” I am generally skeptical of NY Times op eds when it comes to the military as their editorial board, at least over the last 20 years, has become so anti-military and decidedly one-sided politically, I feel myself getting angry. However, this opinion piece is different: it is balanced and unflinching. It looks at both the positive and negative side of patriotism and military service. Perhaps the most important thing it does is highlight, in a very human way, the ambiguities and moral outrages that can occur in a war zone. Writes the author, about his friend:

A moment of moral reckoning came when Specialist Murphy had to conduct a body cavity search of a college professor who could barely walk without a cane, during his prison intake for some unknown crime.

“And here I was in my United States Army uniform and here was this very sensitive looking grandfather-type guy, and just the … I don’t know. It kind of was one of those moments where I was just taken aback and I just was affected.”

The author goes on, invoking moral injury:

But moral injury — the damage to the soul caused by participating in something unjust — has a wide blast radius for anyone with a conscience. The ambiguity of military operations since 9/11 are fertile ground for moral injury. Average Americans may feel guilt or shame for the conduct of the war on terrorism — the pardoning of war criminals or the indefinite jailing, without trial, of men at Guantánamo or the civilian casualties caused by drone strikes — but it can be devastating for those who are a part of it.

And it is these moral dilemmas (I would say that the above situation is not ‘morally ambiguous,’ rather it is just downright wrong) that cause someone to question there own nature. Strip searching Grandma at the airport because “those are the rules” is no different than conducting a cavity search on an old man who is at a prison for, unknown to the searcher, God knows what ‘crime.’ In my time in Iraq, it could have been simply a blood feud between families…one tribe member will tell the military “that man is bad, he’s a [fill in the blank]” and the US Military goes out and grabs the guy until they figure out they’ve been played. Or, the man could have simply been at a cafe where a truly bad guy was at the next table, so got rolled up with everyone else until it could “get sorted out.” Regardless, it is these simplistic rules that sound great back in D.C. to some staff officer who’s never had to deal with the reality of the ambiguity of a war zone that sets up these moral dilemmas. For the soldier/sailor/Marine just trying to survive and get home, it is even worse.. shoot now and deal with the moral consequences later.

The article is a good read and it lays out the very real aspects of war. It’s worth reading and reflecting on.

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