Pissing on the Dead

Pissing on the Dead

David R. Weiss, January 13, 2012

I have mixed feelings about the outcry over the YouTube video showing four U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters.

I’ve heard military spokespersons suggest these actions reflect anything from an act of symbolic vengeance to a tasteless prank, from an inappropriate coping mechanism in the midst of war to an expression of PTSD. And I’ve heard both veterans and non-veterans alternately defend their actions as the harsh reality of war or call them isolated incidents of abuse that tarnish the military’s reputation and make its mission more difficult.

But I don’t hear anybody condemning war itself.

Modern warfare is madness. In some ways today, between the distance of our general public from combat, the absence of a draft, the presence of drones, and the always rhetorical (and, at times, real) omnipresence of combatants with and without uniforms, we live in an era of “post-modern” warfare. Where neither categories nor rules remain neatly in place.

War has always been an ugly business. But in the twentieth and now twenty-first century things have shifted. Today powerful corporations would suffer—bottom lines would go red—if our war-making ebbed. And the psychology of making soldiers (and making propaganda) has reached a new zenith. We manage and market war to individuals and whole nations more relentlessly and more effectively than ever before.

We inhabit a world where the tensions between the haves and have-nots refuse to remain purely political because the technology of violence tends to “leak” from the haves to the have-nots—whether as IEDs or black-market arms. (And where sometimes the “have-nots” are those who actually have the oil or other resources we want, even if they have little else.)

And we people a planet that is doing everything but collapse in an effort to tell us that we cannot keep escalating the conflicts between ourselves or the endless claims we make on its finite capacities and fragile ecosystems. And who knows but that it may collapse altogether in one final attempt to catch our attention.

So when we send our young men and women into an arena of organized brutality and systematic madness—an arena marked out by the tragedy of 9/11, but just as surely by a legacy of economic injustice, political indifference (whenever such indifference was in our national interests), flouted international accords, fabricated intelligence, and discarded notions of minimal humanity—when we send them into an arena that so thoroughly reeks of urine, why do we act so surprised and disappointed if they are undone by the smell?

I am not “excusing” the actions in the video. I suppose I’m lamenting the level of “normalcy” granted to all the other actions that put those men there in the first place.

Haven’t all of us—Democrat and Republican, military and civilian, religious and secular—been pissing on the dead every day that our indifference to the insanity of modern warfare as a whole allows us to carry on “business as usual” in a society that sees war as an unfortunate necessity rather than for what it is: the systemic suicide of our humanity, as individuals and as communities?

Truthfully, what I fear most is that our shared condemnation of their actions simply reveals the extent to which we are determined to convince ourselves that there is a noble way to pursue madness. And we resent that their actions suggest otherwise.

The problem is not that they were peeing on dead people. The problem is that we continue to think it okay—even in our “national interests”—that there should be piles of dead people laying around to get peed on in the first place. As long as we believe that, the aberrant ones are us.

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5 thoughts on “Pissing on the Dead

  1. David, Thanks for your well-thought commentary. I am revolted by the behavior of these troops but why does that get outrage but not the killing of the people? why is warfare and all its harm permissable?
    However, I do believe this video is getting attention because it endangers talks with The Taliban. there are subtlities at work here, and some pretty insane thinking, but possibly giving this incident of peeing on the dead so much attention makes sense in that context. Nonetheless, I agree that warfare itself breeds such atrocities because warfare is an atrocity.

  2. I absolutely agree with you. We are determined to “convince ourselves that there is a noble way to pursue madness.” And we never seem to question it. It is our holy and unquestionable god now, even more than the Mammon Jesus talked about.

    Why is North Korea and Iran crazy for wanting to declare war, but we are eerily sane?

    Thanks for the post, David. Thanks for contributing your voice to these all-important conversations.

  3. You’re right. Warfare is madness. But what’s the answer to the current predicament? Leave Afghanistan now, and leave the afghan innocents to the ravenous taliban? Or finish what we started, ending a reign of tyranny that would eventually seek to destroy our way of life?

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