This month’s Rolling Stone magazine features a controversial story by Mark Boal about a team of American soldiers known as “The Kill Team,” who killed innocent Afghan civilians last year. Not only is the article an extensive narrative of horrifying real-life accounts but it also includes graphic photographs of dead Afghan citizens and American soldiers posing alongside of them with big smiles on their faces.
Believe it or not, it’s worse than it sounds. There’s a reason the government didn’t want these pictures to get out. Is it possible that human beings could turn to such savage acts and celebrate in the barbaric manner in which they brought pain and misery to other innocent human beings? The answer seems obvious but it’s not simple. I could not help but feel a conflict growing within me. The gratitude and humbling sense of pride with which I admire the courageous men and women who protect our freedom was suddenly shaken by the disgust I felt at those who wear the same uniform but drag those ideals through the mud.
However, just as parents are equally guilty for the acts of their miseducated children who commit inexcusable acts against others, these “black sheep” soldiers are not solely responsible for their actions. In order to point the finger at all who are culpable, we must look higher on the chain of command. We must look higher than the officers who let this happen. We must look at the mentality that is possibly being taught in the army, whether overtly or implicitly, that “the Afghan people are savages.” We must look at the messages being fed to us in the media, or from our government, about our “enemies.” We must look inside ourselves as well and ask, where we stand? Who do we believe is our enemy? And, ultimately, what is right and wrong?
The lines are often blurry. Black and white becomes a blemish, just a hazy blot of gray. It is possible that some of these soldiers and officers felt an immense amount of confusion and uncertainty about what was happening. In one passage, Boal said many soldiers were “bored and shell-shocked and angry.” They were often in hostile territories where the enemy could have been anywhere. However, it is undeniably clear that the murders they committed were staged by soldiers to make it look like they were being attacked, though they were not, just so they could kill an innocent farmer, a mentally disabled man or a peaceful cleric. None of these murdered Afghan people were threats.
Most of the frustration that I feel, however, comes from the belief that our good fight overseas is a ticking time bomb to our idealistic implosion. Why do we continue to throw our soldiers into this place and make them linger there until they are so far gone that a simple universal law, like not harming innocent people, becomes as easy to break as the speed limit? What good is war? What good are our attempts to help others if we lose ourselves along the way? Have we not learned from our mistakes (Vietnam)?
Despite this growing frustration, one thing remains clear: a few bad apples must not ruin the barrel. Men, women, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters — kids, merely teenagers — serving in the armed forces are heroes to who each and every one of us is eternally indebted. Their courage, bravery, love and sacrifice ensure that we remain free. Let’s just hope that we can bring them back home, return the favor, and save them from themselves in an environment where wrong sometimes becomes right.