Yesterday, Amy Goodman interviewed Congressional candidate Paul Hackett on the radio show Democracy Now. In the midst of the interview, Hackett who unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a Democrat, but with an amazingly strong showing based on his resume as a returned combat soldier from the invasion/occupation of Iraq, stated that he would willingly return to Iraq to fight despite misgivings about the handling of the war by the Bush Administration. A major reason for Hackett’s willingness to return to war was his bond with his "brothers and sisters" in the Marines in Iraq.
Last night, I happened to turn on the television and catch the last few minutes of the movie "Black Hawk Down", a true story about another American military intervention in a different Muslim nation. After a disastrous intercept of an American convoy, with loss of a number of American military lives, a Special Forces soldier just returned from harrowing combat was willing to grab a quick meal and return immediately to the scene of the carnage in order to rescue his fellow solders, still stricken and exposed to great danger. In the movie, the solder commented to another soldier that he would never even bother to try to explain to the folks back home why he did what he was doing, but he plainly revealed that his bond with his military brothers was a primal force in his motivations.
Yes, there is no doubt that combat soldiers forge extremely close bonds with their military comrades. Common endurance of pain, lethal threats, sustained privation, and viewing of each other’s deaths creates an intense bond that makes the bond of a football team or a rugby team seems like nothing at all. Combat soldiers literally live and die for one another. They develop a powerful synergistic relationship that is often correlated with other assumed qualities such as honor. It is considered honorable to retrieve the dead body of a fallen comrade, even at mortal risk of your own life. It is considered dishonorable to fail to give all, including your life, for the goals and the protection of your comrades. This is among the most powerful bonds among any of humanity, and often is known to break up marriage bonds in favor of military bonds of brotherhood.
However, it is important to ask if this bond of brotherhood is an intrinsic justifier for war. What if we could do away with human conflict altogether for all time? What if war itself was viewed as dishonorable — then would the bonds created by war have a place of honor within human society?
Moreover, even in the context of human conflicts, there may be justifiable wars and unjustifiable ones.
One possible way of defining justifiable versus unjustifiable wars would be whether the governments starting and facilitating wars are willing and able to do so using truthful means of communicating their reasons for going to war to their populations. This theory would state that wars based on lies are intrinsically dishonorable, and wars based on truth with acquiescence of the supporting populations would be justifiable.
So, we come to Iraq. This is a war and occupation based on repeated, sustained lies. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There was no imminent threat to American security to Iraq. There was no real desire to free Iraq and promote real democracy. This was a war of empire. This was a war for oil. This was a war of deception by its instigators.
Under these circumstances, even though the soldiers may have had more of a sense of honor than their government, and may have been willing to give their lives for their buddies and even for an assumed (but false) benefit to some Iraqis, there is no honor in this war. The bonds of brotherhood among American soldiers have to be placed in an immoral context. Brotherhood among invaders, crusaders, and occupiers is part of the problem — and it exacerbates the problem. Wars of empire are only possible with the expenditure of cannon fodder.
If the band of brotherhood of solders resulted in moral decisions on which wars to support and which ones to resist from inside the military itself, the military could be a force for honor in international relations. If soldiers took a stand for honor in the sense of willingness to be deployed based on justification of their deployment, then that band of brotherhood could be intrinsically honorable.
But if soldiers are nothing more than pit bulls unleashed against innocent victims, then their bond is a problematic one. It would be compared to a bond between Mafioso or a bond among professional assassins.
There is no intrinsic honor or justification for war based solely on the bond of brotherhood for soldiers. It would be preferable if the bond of brotherhood among soldiers were itself a force against unjust wars. Unfortunately, military leadership is often skewed in favor of the deceptions and lies and immorality of empire and empire building. The soldiers who live and die under that leadership may have good personal motives, but if those motives are misused for the purpose of harming citizens of other nations needlessly or unjustly, then that bond is misused, misapplied, and is harmful.
A good movie from the past was called "Breaker Morant", set in the Boer Wars of South Africa. In that movie, some colonial British soldiers were convicted of war crimes as a political measure, and they maintained their bond of brotherhood right up to their executions, which were unjust because the convicted soldiers were actually following orders, set by their military leadership. As he marched to his execution, one soldier exclaimed to his buddy, "Well, (so and so), this is what comes with empire building."