Tragedy in Afghanistan Not a Surprise

By Jay Holmes

Five members of the United States Army are facing Court Martial for the alleged murder of innocent civilians in Afghanistan.

The facts of the case are not completely known to the Army itself, and I know even less about it. From the information thus far available, it appears that this group of soldiers had been involved in heavy drug use, and had been noticeably unhealthy for months before allegations of murder surfaced. The local command may have some explaining to do as to the condition of their soldiers.

Whatever occurred should not be ignored. I am in no position to judge the facts since I am, for the most part, unaware of what they actually are. What I can see clearly so far is that these soldiers were living in an abnormal situation and under tremendous stress, and that the general orders that every American service person lives by were disregarded. But by whom, why and when? Did officers ignore clear signals that their subordinates were acting outside of standing orders? I don’t know.

The Court Martial members will have the responsibility to determine the facts of the case and to assign responsibility in the form of “guilty” or “innocent.” For the sake of the dead, the accused, and all of us, I hope that the Army does so justly. I do not envy the accused, and I do not envy the members of the court. But the US Army, the Department of Defense, and we as a nation have a deeper responsibility to these men, to the people of Afghanistan, and to ourselves as a nation.

War is an ugly business. It is inevitably a tale of misery, sacrifice, and human suffering in the pursuit of triumph. We, as a nation, are at times willing to enter into that realm of misery with the hope of preventing a tragedy greater than the war itself. In our decision to make war, we should never assume or pretend that the young soldiers that we send to fight our wars are capable of remaining unaffected by the hell that we send them to.

It is in the best interest of the US Army and it’s soldiers to examine this case deeply, not just to determine guilt or innocence, but to better understand the causes of whatever occurred.

As the war in Afghanistan continues on in it’s current form, the military members that are fighting it will continue to face very demoralizing and frustrating conditions. They are exposed to attacks by civilians that are not clearly distinguishable from the innocents, and many of the innocents often are not. They see endemic corruption by an incompetent and seemingly unconcerned Afghan government. Afghanistan is a well-seeded fertile field for cultivating precisely the horrible type of incident that may have occurred.

The question that we have a deep moral obligation to answer is simple. What can and should we do to prevent this type of incident from occurring? The Army might be tempted to answer that the Uniform Code of Military Justice is in place precisely to prevent this sort of misconduct. That UCMJ has been in place a long time, and perhaps has helped to make such incidents rare, but, clearly, our troops need more help than what they are getting from us or the UCMJ.

We owe ourselves a complete investigation to obtain the facts and a thorough, dispassionate analysis of the conditions and causes of the incident.

11 comments on “Tragedy in Afghanistan Not a Surprise

  1. kadja1 says:

    My son fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I cannot stress how right you are here. My son was hurt in an IED explosion while riding in a vehicle. He survived but the others didn’t. He didn’t let the military notify us either. He may be home now, but a part of the boy I raised is still not back yet. I wonder if he ever will be.

    I can be riding in a vehicle with him and at times he will suddenly speed up and get in the middle of the road. I’ll say, “Brian what are you doing?” and he’ll “come back to Earth”. He’ll then explain that this is how they were taught to drive over there to avoid the roadside bombs.

    My son is now waiting for his disability, and I can only hope that when my sons become fathers, that their children never have to live through this. It is one thing to deal with a parent that went through this. My dad was in Viet Nam and Korea. It is totally different when it is your child, or more accurately, what is left of him or her.

    People have no clue about the enemy they have to fight over there–and often they cannot tell the enemies from their allies. Did they expect something such as described in your post to NOT happen? As you said, we don’t know much about this case, but I promise you that from what I hear from my son, there are times people get shot because they refused to stop at checkpoints or moved in such a way that a soldier had felt threatened, and investigations follow every time. I think it happens more than we know. As for the drug use, someone should have noticed that somewhere along the way. My son got drug tested (as did his unit) every time they turned around.

    This was a great post. Thank you!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Thank you for your response. It could not have been easy to write that. Let me start with what is most important to me. Please thank your son for his sacrifice and the sacrifice of his friends in their endeavor to keep my wife, my children, and my country alive in a very dangerous world. I have done my best to serve that same cause since I was seventeen years old, in one capacity or another. I have given less than his friends in that vehicle have, and I have given less than some of my friends have, and I have never lived a day without knowing what they have given. Though I have not always succeeded, I endeavor in spite of my human weaknesses to not squander what has been given to me and to us.

      Please tell your son that he is not alone. He never will be or could be. I make no assumptions about what any other veteran might feel, but I feel that any man or woman that has served honorably in any capacity, in defense of the oath that we share, is my brother or sister. I will never meet or know the vast majority of them. There have been a few that I have not liked, and some that have not cared a bit for me, but I respect them all, and I feel a deep sense of debt to all of them, and a great pride in what they have achieved.

      I understand that as his mother you have sacrificed as well. My children are not quite yet of age to serve in the military, but I know that the family pays a huge price for the service of their children and loved ones. A world where no military was needed would match my dreams and my fondest hopes, but not my reality. Perhaps someday, when I am long gone, mankind will have achieved that world. We are not there yet.

      I respectfully disagree with you on one point. He is all there. That boy that sat innocently in your lap when he was two years old is still there inside of him. But that boy has been places that most cannot imagine, and even fewer would dare to. Most people say that he will never be that boy again. I say that he will always be that boy, and that he is now other things as well. You need not “let go of” that boy, there is just more boy there to love now.

      Please allow me to tell your son what I have told many veterans. He is not done. The boy that had the courage to do those things is not a common boy and is not easily replaced. If the world is ever to become something better, it will become that because of people like him. His journey is not over, and he is not lost. The compass that others present to him is not his compass. He stands precisely where he needs to stand today. In basic training he memorized the following general order: “I will stand my watch until properly relieved.”

      Coming home is not the end of the watch. It is the beginning, and this time he is supreme commander. Neither he nor I can return to life those that have completed their watch before us. We will join them soon enough. It is our sacred duty and our privilege to bring meaning to their sacrifice by living honorably, and by allowing ourselves to become and do all that we can. His oath is not an encumbrance from which he must escape. It is rather a privilege that he has earned, and that nobody else could have earned for him, and now his time has come to seek it’s deeper meaning. In it he will find his peace. He will never look like the boy you once saw, but he can now be more than that.

      Though it might be little to have, he has my admiration.


      J H

      • kadja1 says:

        Well, I have to admit, he has started playing piano again and hasn’t lost that ability and he can still sing. He is now composing again, which I am glad to see. I guess it is hard because before he went, he used to love being hugged and such, he doesn’t now. He doesn’t laugh and joke around like he used to either. I think you’re right…He’s here–just buried in there somewhere. To say he is not back takes a bit away doesn’t it? Thank you for pointing that out to me. There are days I am totally lost as to what to do for him, but at least he knows that I am here for him. I’ll let him know what you said, as well. Again, thank you! 😉

      • ellieswords says:

        Kadja1’s comment and Holme’s response has made me tear up. I’m just so sorry for what people have to go through to preserve justice and freedom. All I know is that people will get rewarded for such self-sacrifice, either in this life or the next.

  2. I believe that it’s traumatizing to be on the war zone. People are doing their best ways to cope. Though the five members of the army should be held 100% accountable, the government should be, too. They’re the ones that sent the soldiers to Afghanistan in the first place.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Hi Marylag,

      “Though the five members of the army should be held 100% accountable, the government should be, too. They’re the ones that sent the soldiers to Afghanistan in the first place.” I agree. It leads to the question, “Who or what is the government?” In a democracy, that would be us. You and I.

      In any war, there will likely be more blame than can ever be properly calculated and assigned. Nonetheless, an opportunity exists to re-evaluate and further minimize the chances of similar disasters occurring. Let’s hope that it happens, and that lessons gained be listened to by decision makers. Hanging these soldiers will do nothing to prevent future tragedies.

      William Tecumseh Sherman was surely right. War is hell.



  3. Chaz says:

    Interestingly, I watched, “The Good German” last night… a recent production with George Clooney and Kate Blanchette.

    A line and scene in it have been bouncing disturbingly in my head all day. The setting was the tail end of WW2 in surrendered Berlin. The city had just been divided into US, British, Russian, etc sectors. Kate Blanchette’s character, a German woman, said, “When the Russians came, they raped every woman and child”, or something to that effect. It was shocking to hear. Then it was supported by a depiction of a rape, again disturbing to say the least.

    It left me pondering, (and I do not mean to pick on the Russians, this was just the line from the movie), but it left me pondering if this was not more the norm in military invasions throughout history? Are atrocities not part of what war has been for as long as there has been war? And are we only now, with the availability of communication technology, beginning to resist it, speak out against it, and hold those responsible on a wholesale basis?

    It saddens me to think of how much rape and murder of the innocent has gone in and around war throughout history. I am not so naive to presume it will come to a screeching halt. But I am glad to see some measure of accountability and repercussions for the offenders. I hope these forms of atrocities will continue to be fought against.



    • Piper Bayard says:

      Bayard: Hi Chaz. It is so sad about the atrocities of war, and I think it’s difficult for Western civilians to grasp. I remember a law school professor telling me he was in Costa Rica at a cocktail party when Nixon resigned. The people there asked him quite seriously when Nixon would be executed. I realize there are atrocities perpetuated in Western societies, but they are not condoned by our government or our laws. It makes for a different mindset, I think. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  4. such a wickey sticket is it not; and a shame that the lads went overboard. some of them, like millions of soldiers before them come from farms, and towns and burgs and cities and have never had the power of weaponry, sovereignty over the ground they walk on, the ability and duty to take life when fired upon, to swear oaths to a higher duty and responsibility much more than their school grades and high school prom dates.

    then they get caught up in the trauma, and the action, and the adrenalin rush, and things go wrong, very very wrong, and they cover up and don’t want to get caught. it’s so sad. i cannot condone, nor judge them, but can pray for them, and the civilian families that were harmed, and the judges and prosecutors and attorneys and families back home that have to go thru this part of war……

    it’s an ugly, sad affair, and we can only seek serenity for ourselves, pray for everyone else, and hope the lads stay strong and do not lose hope or life facing their own ordeal, and the families who lost loved ones do not suffer alone or in silence.

    God Bless us all, God Bless America, and God Bless Those who have gone before us to keep us free. And God Bless the families who’ve been hurt. Please God, Please Bless us All.


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