Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Thing About Robert Bales.

Soldiers standing watch outside Alkozai village, where Staff Sergeant Robert Bales killed 16 Afghani civilians.
The recent, horrific mass-killing in the Afghani village of Alkozai has been a shocking reminder of the human tragedy of war on a number of levels.  There are the obvious and tragic deaths of 16 Afghani civilians, including 9 children and 3 women, the painful reminder that there are innocent victims even in the most carefully-controlled military actions, let alone in this horribly extreme case.  Then there is the less obvious but no less significant human tragedy that lead to this senseless killing spree, the extreme toll that constant warfare takes on the minds and bodies of the men who are tasked with fighting it.

Investigators examine the charred remnants where the burned body of one of Robert Bales' 16 victims was found.
Now, I'm not going to defend Robert Bales' actions, far from it.  Post-traumatic stress and brain injuries like Sgt. Bales is alleged to suffer from are unfortunately quite common in soldiers returning from duty in the middle east, and certainly the overwhelming majority of those men don't snap and go on a rampage.  There was clearly a lot more going on in Sgt. Bales' mind than just stress and diminished capacity.  However, there is no doubt that even the most sound and well-adjusted men and women can, and have suffered physically, mentally and emotionally from the effects of revolving tours of duty in a decade-long war.

Residents of Alkozai village gather outside the houses of the slain victims.
The American involvement in World War II lasted roughly 4 years.  Vietnam was only about a year long.  In fact, the total duration of all wars and military actions the U.S. has been a chief participant in since WWII still doesn't equal the length of time we've been involved in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our soldiers are being asked to do 3 or 4 or more tours of duty, back-to-back.  Asked to leave their families and friends, travel to a hostile country on the other side of the world and participate in a mission with a fuzzy objective and an even fuzzier enemy.  Even the strongest wills can be broken by 4 or 5 years of constant combat service, constant separation from ones family, constant fear for ones personal safety, constant stress and pressure.  War, as Sherman famously said, is hell.  It takes a severe toll on it's participants, both the active military ones and the innocent civilian ones.  Certainly, war took its toll on Robert Bales and then it took its toll on 16 innocent Afghanis and now it's taking its toll on the families of Bales and his victims, as well as everyone who has been made aware of this tragedy, regardless of their opinion of the war itself.

A man mourns over the burned bodies of children slain by SSgt. Robert Bales.
The time has long passed for the U.S. to leave Afghanistan.  Yes, there are many on the right who have characterized a departure from Afghanistan now as admitting defeat, but that's to be expected.  It's time to put away pride and partisan politics and do the right and intelligent thing and just get out of there.  It could be argued as to whether or not leaving Afghanistan now is really a "defeat", but there will be no arguing that staying in there indefinitely will result in our defeat.  Fighting in Afghanistan broke the Soviet Union, it is the epitome of arrogance to assume the same wouldn't happen to us.  A half-assed plan with no clear objective is a recipe for failure when it comes to military action in the middle east, history has shown that.  The longer we fight there, the longer we ask our brave men and women to continue to live a constant, repetitive life of fear, anxiety, tension, stress and hostility, the more we will have to deal with the unseen, but no less tragic human toll like that which gave us Robert Bales.

And elderly man and child, both shot to death by Robert Bales.
Our soldiers are only human and the human mind can only take so much death, killing, loss and stress before it snaps.  We are asking more of our military men and women today than we ever have in our nation's history.  Of all the costs that are being constantly calculated to determine the viability of continuing our military actions abroad, the human cost should always be the highest priority.  Unfortunately, that rarely seems to ever be the case.

No comments:

Post a Comment