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.