Trophy Hunters – A Cruel Mentality Carried Too Far

 

If the image above is unsettling for some, imagine what your reactions would be if that were a human on the ground instead of a massive Lion and the men above it were still smiling.  Hard to imagine?  Not for those of us who served in combat areas while in the military.  This “trophy” mentality of wild game hunters is pervasive among some men who when put into a position where killing of humans has some legitimacy, like wars, will fulfill this dark urge as if they were on a deer hunt back home.

The latest and saddest news out of the war in Afghanistan shows where this extreme behavior has displayed itself with several veterans from a US Stryker tank unit that operated in the southern province of Kandahar and who are now on trial for their crimes.  An investigation by Der Spiegel has unearthed approximately 4,000 photos and videos taken by 12 men who deliberately sought out and murdered innocent Afghan civilians.  “Five of the soldiers are on trial for pre-meditated murder, after they staged killings to make it look like they were defending themselves from Taliban attacks.”

“The lengthy Spiegel article that accompanies the photographs contains new details about the sadistic behaviour of the men. In one incident in May last year, the article says, during a patrol, the team apprehended a mullah who was standing by the road and took him into a ditch where they made him kneel down.

The group’s leader, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, then allegedly threw a grenade at the man while an order was given for him to be shot.  Afterwards, Gibbs is described cutting off one of the man’s little fingers and removing a tooth. The patrol team later claimed to their superiors that the mullah had tried to threaten them with a grenade and that they had no choice but to shoot.” (US Army ‘kill team’ in Afghanistan posed for photos of murdered civilians, by Jon Boone, gaurdian.co.uk, 3/21/11)

The three pictures that Der Spiegel has released show these men posing, holding body parts of dead civilians they deliberately killed as if posing for the next issue of Hunting or Outdoor LIfe magazines.  One of them shows the head of a dead Afghan civilian being held up by their murderer, as he looked into the camera smiling.

This horrible behavior aroused a very unpleasant experience for me while I served in Vietnam.  It occurred following the first night of the massive Tet offensive in 1967.  My missile battalion that had been stationed on a high hill overlooking the Da-Nang harbor was attacked with a barrage of mortars.  During this mortar attack a handful of NVA (North Vietnamese Army regulars) approached several bunkers that shielded light anti-aircraft missiles and radar units, hoisting satchel charges into them in an attempt to destroy the equipment and kill who ever was standing guard duty at that post.

There was little significant damage and only a few minor injuries but the next morning a sweep of the area found a dead NVA officer just the other side of our perimeter wire.  His own death was either the result of a premature detonation of the explosive he was sent to deliver or was hit with shrapnel from incoming rounds we called for from the USS New Jersey sitting in the Da-Nang harbor after the initial mortar barrage began.

His dead corpse was a symbol of the near death many of us faced the night before.  But rather than doing the militarily honorable thing and sending the body to our graves registration division to be processed and offered to the Vietnamese government for identification and allowing possible family members to claim the remains, some of my comrades instead decided to “have a little fun” with the corpse.

The Viet Cong soldier was in his early twenties.  A fragment from an explosive had cleanly opened his front torso where the intestines lay out in as clean and neatly a manner as if it were done by a surgeon on a cadaver for instructional purposes at a medical school.  Two of my fellow Marines picked the “gook” up (an insensitive and pejorative term we commonly used for the Vietnamese) by each ear and stuck a cigarette in his mouth while another Marine took the picture.  Later the CO of the combat security unit that was assigned to our missile battalion authorized his men to take the body to the side of the mountain and roll it down the slope to allow his comrades to claim it later, if they so chose.

I post these graphic details reluctantly and only to expose the awful things men can do in combat situations.  Clearly not all of those who wear the uniform are guilty of such actions and many like myself find it repulsive.  But like myself, fail to report such behavior when they see it.  Thankfully, some do.

I was 19 years-old at the time and was overwhelmed by the spectacle and the near death experience the night before.  Besides, I honestly cannot recall receiving any training on what was considered illegal under Geneva Convention rules about such behavior.  But I often question my failure to see this indecent human display by fellow Marines as that which we typically reserve only for those we declare to be our enemies.  What transpired in my training and my combat experiences that led me to think that this was somehow par for the course?

Such behavior is steeped in our culture. David, after he killed Goliath, ran over and pulled the Philistine’s sword from its sheath and used it to cut off his head?  He then held the head up to the Philistine army to instill fear in them. Similar practices have been noted in many land battles by military warriors until recent times.  As we became more civilized and such “lower” forms of behavior were seen as the acts of “unholy” men, this ritual slowly disappeared from our conscious psyche and declared inhumane by the conventions written in Geneva, Switzerland following the first world war.

But the acts of these 12 men were far short of noble. Some brutally murdered innocent civilians then took pictures of their kill as game hunters do today.  This trophy mentality with game hunters has always seemed a perversion to me.

What some sportsman view as a natural act of “conquest” I suppose is that genetic holdover of our past when we were hunter/gatherers.  What separates the contemporary hunter however from our earlier species was that earlier man relied upon such kills for survival, not mere sport.  And the reverence earlier man had for the animals they tracked and killed often forbid them to display their body parts as trophies but were used only for practical purposes.  Such trophy displays are not only wrong but demonstrate a cruelty of mind that, as we are witness to again, can be taken too far when carried into combat.

Lest we think such cruel mentalities exist with only that element of society we relegate to less sophisticated, immoral types which find themselves in life-threatening situations,  let’s not forget those extremist within religious and political clans amongst us who demonize their perceived enemies in vicious ways.  Had some of these same people found themselves in combat situations would they be equal to the murderous cruelty that these 12 American soldiers are accused of?

 

UPDATE

Soldier gets 24 years for murders of 3 Afghans


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14 responses to “Trophy Hunters – A Cruel Mentality Carried Too Far

  1. Such a scary thought that men and women in a different environment would never think about doing what they do in war. My cousin was in VietNam. He finally got the last bullet out of him five years ago, but he was your age when he was there, and he said once “what men become is not nice to think about.” Great post.

  2. After seeing the lion, it was hard to read. 😦 I love those animals.

    What is happening is sickening. I wonder if these people are generally sadistic with no conscience, or is it a result of being on multiple tours of duty? Either way, the trophy thing is horrendous.

  3. Profound post. I might quibble with whatever political direction you wish to take your recounting of experience and connection of it to today’s events. But bottom line: it is not for me or anyone who has not experienced the kind of formative emotional hammering you recount, and so honestly, to do other than respect your experience, and respect your willingness to discuss it.

    I wonder, what is truly the role of human suffering in our political calculus? I ask open-endedly. War is always human suffering, on both sides, and in every sense of the word “suffering,” as your post so poignantly underscores. It is not possible, again as your post underscores, to do war fully virtuously. So how are we to think of the clinical “military option” with respect to human suffering that might be mitigated by exercise of it? When is there “enough” human suffering that might be averted to justify a war that we know will cause some measure of additional human suffering, because that is the nature of war?

    I’d welcome your thoughts.

  4. I have no “political direction” with this Kendrick. I’m anti-war. I know this is usually a position attributed to liberals but that would be inferring that conservatives are pro-war and I’m sure that’s not the case, is it? 😉

    Thanks for your insightful inquiries.

    ” It is not possible, again as your post underscores, to do war fully virtuously.”

    You might be surprised to find how many people are naive about this. Especially young, undeveloped minds that have been raised on video war games.

    You’ve made the very point why wars should never be waged cavalierly or to extend some noble cause such as freedom – human suffering.

    Of course we should defend ourselves with all of our military capabilities when necessary but beginning with Vietnam (with perhaps an exception to the initial invasion of Afghanistan) we have started wars for our own national interests rather than responding to aggression from others.

    We’ve also used conventional means to deal with guerrilla style tactics which exposes us too easily to the enemy while they can assimilate into the general population, resulting in the kind of tragic deaths to civilians occurring too frequently in Afghanistan, as they did when we were fully active in Iraq.

    “When is there “enough” human suffering that might be averted to justify a war that we know will cause some measure of additional human suffering, because that is the nature of war?”

    The U.S.has had the good fortune to remove themselves from the devastation of war since the Civil War. When we are always removed from the ugly constancy of war in our daily lives as those people whose lands we find ourselves in, we will never know when there is enough suffering to justify waging war or not.

    There really are no noble wars except in the imagination of those who create such an image for their own justifications. The grunt on the ground that deals with the terror of war and sends his buddies home in a body bag or comes home himself minus a body part never quite seems to impress upon those who have no common experience that going to war should always be a measure of last resort under the most threatening of conditions.

    Also, man’s inability to deal with what and who they hate but don’t fully understand leads to the irrational choices that lead to wars. So until that factor is removed there will always be conflicts and as a result, those men and women who step over the line that violate the decent human behavior we expect of ourselves.

  5. You had me in agreement until the last paragraph. To compare political rhetoric – which stems from both sides, woodgate – to the cruel, sadistic behavior of some men in combat is, in my view, ludicrous.

    “It’s time to get a little bloody.” ~ Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA).

    • You misinterpreted my intent. I wasn’t comparing the two. I was indicating that hate at one level could lead to a more vicious form in different circumstances. There is a difference here.

      • So you’re suggesting that if some of those who advance hateful rhetoric were at war, they would – what? Beat and kill their opponents?

        I’m sorry, but I think you fail to take sanity into consideration. And what is hateful rhetoric by your standards? Do you think MIke Capuano, if at war, would kill Gov. Walker? I don’t.

      • So you’re suggesting that if some of those who advance hateful rhetoric were at war, they would – what? Beat and kill their opponents?”

        Uh, yes Terrance. That possibility does exist. Why would you think it didn’t? Give a Muslim-hating redneck a gun and tell him he can kill with it in a land of Muslims under certain conditions and some will find a way to stretch those conditions.

        As for Capuano’s killing Governor Walker, you again miss the point of my premise. Capuano’s rhetoric fits the hateful speech pattern I’m referring to but would it carry over to a combat zone where there are no “governor walker” personas to kill? I don’t think so.

        My argument was connected to people fulfilling fantasies under certain conditions where they were in combat and handed a gun which legalized some killing. You take what I have said and twisted it to mean something totally different. Take a bit more time to read what I’ve written Terrance before you put your own interpretation on it.

      • Lbwoodgate,

        Once I had a teacher who explained that if I write or say something and it is not understood by others, the fault rests with me, because I was not clear enough. I am merely seeking clarification.

        What groups – specifically – are you referring to? Pro-Life protestors who scream abortion is murder, or Tea Party protestors? Who? And what specific actions?

        I believe your statement could mean almost anything.

        Lest we think such cruel mentalities exist with only that element of society we relegate to less sophisticated, immoral types which find themselves in life-threatening situations, let’s not forget those extremist within religious and political clans amongst us who demonize their perceived enemies in vicious ways. Had some of these same people found themselves in combat situations would they be equal to the murderous cruelty that these 12 American soldiers are accused of?

        Who are the lest sophisticated, immoral groups? Right To Life? The Tea Party? The GOP? MADD? Who are you talking about, precisely? And what type of behavior do these people exhibit which gives you pause regarding their sanity? Not everyone who vehemently fights for something they believe in would kill and torture other people, woodgate.

        I would just like a little clarification so I can understand your point. I would like to know of the mentalities [sic] you speak of.

      • Terrance,

        some things are to be left to the imagination too. You do have an imagination no?

        I did use pictures parenthetically with my comments to aid people who have weak imaginations to suggest such groups. Perhaps you are too narrowly focused.

        Perhaps too, your teacher was referring to writings that were about green space doggies when the topic she assigned was “What’s your favorite farm animal and why?”

      • Lbwoodgate,

        The only picture relevant to your statement depicted people draped in the American flag whilst holding up a sign which says the “ICNA supports HAMAS terrorism.”

        Gee, that explains everything! A legitimate statement chanted by those draped in the American flag. Now I understand. Those people, of course, would maim, torture, and take gory pictures of themselves and dead bodies. Of course!

        And why? Because they’re probably Right-wing and Christian, which means they aren’t particularly sophisticated, which means they have no working moral compass. And for sanity? Well, gone, of course, because they’re Right-wing and Christian.

        Do you ever actually read the horse shit that trickles down to the ends of your fingertips? You are the most elitist, far-Left blogger I have ever come across. And believe me, I’ve had the displeasure of knowing more than a few.

      • Now, now Terry (and it has once again become Terry the child with your immature response here) don’t have a melt down here. You’ve accused me of what you suspected I was saying and are having your tirade now because I didn’t concede in your wish to be more specific and clear in the manner you suspected me of.

        Let’s break your silly rants down.

        “The only picture relevant to your statement depicted people draped in the American flag whilst holding up a sign which says the “ICNA supports HAMAS terrorism.” Gee, that explains everything! A legitimate statement chanted by those draped in the American flag. Now I understand. Those people, of course, would maim, torture, and take gory pictures of themselves and dead bodies. Of course!

        Those “people draped in the American flag” are christians in Orange County” who stood outside a fund raiser for a woman’s shelter by the Muslim people in their community and shouted epithets about Islam and a few obscenities at these people, NOT because they themselves did anything particularly wrong but because they represented Islam to these sanctimonious christians who have it in their head that all Muslims are terrorists, beat their wives and rape young women. A local elected official who attended a rally by these “Christians” even made a death threat towards these particular Muslims. I wrote a piece on it here if you are REALLY interested in who these people are

        “And why? Because they’re probably Right-wing and Christian, which means they aren’t particularly sophisticated, which means they have no working moral compass. And for sanity? Well, gone, of course, because they’re Right-wing and Christian.”

        Your words, NOT MINE. This is what you think I think and are always too eager to extrapolate your biases on me. The fact that I have been known to point out that some ultra conservative white christians are intolerant is not the same as what you are projecting here.

        “Do you ever actually read the horse shit that trickles down to the ends of your fingertips?”

        Why yes I do, quite a bit. Do you? Or do you just skim over it in an emotional frenzy and pick out what you think fits your extremist take on the world, as you did here?

        “You are the most elitist, far-Left blogger I have ever come across. And believe me, I’ve had the displeasure of knowing more than a few.

        You don’t know me at all Terry and I suspect that applies to anyone who you view as liberal. Your an anal retentive little right wing zealot that pretends he is willing to be tolerant with people of different political stripe but only if they play by his rules and use speech in a fashion that can be tolerated within the limited style that you find acceptable.

        You need a few more years under your belt before you’ll be ready to interact with the adults.

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