Heroes and Villains

I was going to defend Chris Hayes, the MSNBC host whose pre-Memorial Day comments provoked the wingnut-osphere into one of its frequent paroxysms of hate. You can go here to hear his remarks, but the gist of it is he said he hesitated to call each and every one of our soldiers “heroes” because:

“It seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. I don’t want to – obviously – desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic.”

As I said, I was going to defend him, but he apologized so quickly after the chickenhawk brigade started squawking that he’s taken the fun out of the whole project. I’ll note he gave himself an out, in advance, by adding: “But maybe I’m wrong about that.”

This kind of “thoughtful” uncertainty invites attack, and Hayes was certainly the recipient of the typical viciousness that animates such creatures as Ann Coulter, who made some weird comment about “menstruation” – no wonder she’s the mascot of GOP Proud, the gay Republican group. Who else but Ann and/or a drag queen would say something like that?

I’ll defend Hayes anyway, in spite of himself: no doubt his corporate masters at MSNBC forced him to issue his (unconvincing) retraction. And I’ll go him one better: it isn’t just that our troops aren’t heroes, it’s that a good number of them are monsters. Yes, you heard me: monsters. At a time when the US government is rampaging over half the earth, killing thousands and laying waste to what passes for civilization in the Middle East and Central Asia, these guys (and gals) volunteered for military duty. They willingly, and in most cases eagerly, chose to engage in what amounts to mass murder.

Let’s take an emblematic example: Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who killed 17 Afghan civilians, most of them women and children, in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province. In the early morning hours of March 11, 14-year-old Rafiullah – a mere slip of a boy – woke to the sound of gunfire. He looked outside and saw an American soldier walking to a shed that housed the family’s prized cow: the soldier opened fire, killing the animal, and then approached the house. Rafiullah did not hesitate. According to the only eyewitness account published in the Western media to date:

“’I told the women inside our room: ‘Let’s run! Let’s get out of here,’” recalled Rafiullah …. In the next compound, a short distance away, Haji Mohammad Naim awoke to the sound of dogs barking wildly in the street.

Then there was shooting, and the dogs stopped barking,” said Naim, who’s in his 50s.

Shortly afterward, there was pandemonium at Naim’s front door as Rafiullah and a handful of terrified women and children poured into his yard, seeking shelter. Minutes later, another woman and a young girl emerged from the darkness.

“…Before the shooting ended in Alkozai, Rafiullah’s grandmother was dead, his sister was critically wounded, three other people had been killed, and five others were wounded in three adjacent houses. Most of the victims were related by blood or marriage.

Naim said he felt rooted to the ground as the shooter bore down on him. Bullets whizzed through the night. The gunfire seemed to come at him in bursts, perhaps as many as 10 shots altogether, Naim recalled, some fired from just feet away. Two struck him in the upper left side of his chest and one ripped skin from the left side of his jaw. Then everything went black.

The shooter stepped past Naim’s unconscious body and entered his home, confronting Rafiullah and his relatives who’d taken refuge in the main room. With them were around a dozen of Naim’s family members, roused by the gunfire but still half asleep.

Terror unfolded in the crowded space, the frightened faces of women and children illuminated only by a light that Rafiullah said appeared to be affixed to an assault rifle. The shooter drove everyone before him, herding and hunting his victims like animals.”

Imagine Ann Coulter being woken up at two in the morning by some crazed “hero”! Not that I would wish that on anyone, but humor me here, for a moment, and just imagine: would she go into one of her trademarked rants? Perhaps a smart remark would issue forth from those sneery lips in the moment before she got her head blown off. Or maybe she would simply cry out “My hero!” After all, she is nuts.

I have a question for the wingnut-osphere, however, one they will no doubt neglect to answer: is Bales a hero in their book? And spare me the cries of “isolated incident” – Bales’ rampage is just the latest in a long series of atrocities carried out by our “heroic” centurions. Remember the “Stryker” gang that went around shooting helpless civilians and collecting fragments of bones as “souvenirs”? Should we give those “heroes” a medal?

From the response of the US media to Bales’ arrest, one would think he deserved the congressional Medal of Honor: endless stories about PTSD, his wonderful family, the difficulties of military life, his exemplary record. This barrage of BS has since been replaced by endless stories about his lawyer. As one reporter on Bales’ hometown paper put it: “If I never read another news article about lawyer John Henry Browne or about his diversion strategy in defense of accused Afghan war criminal Robert Bales, it will be too soon.” Browne started out his campaign to exonerate Bales by giving interviews about all the “stress” the poor baby was under after multiple deployments, but as one might expect from such a high-flying legal eagle, he has taken to the media. Bales’ wife went out on the media hustings, giving interviews about what a great father he is and how much he loves children. Which may seem odd, considering the number of children he murdered in cold blood, but in Bizarro World what child-killer doesn’t love children to death?

Browne’s latest stunt: denying the massacre ever took place:

The lawyer representing a US soldier accused of killing 17 Afghan villagers says ‘he hasn’t seen any proof’ that the massacre took place. John Henry Browne, the civilian attorney representing Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 38, told Q13-TV in an interview released Wednesday that the military has not shared any evidence with his defense team. ‘There’s no crime scene. There’s no DNA. I’m told that one of the villages where this supposedly happened doesn’t even exist anymore,’ he said.”

Maybe Browne should pay a visit to little Zardana, Rafiullah’s younger sister, who was shot in the head by his client and is now is a US military hospital, partially paralyzed and in urgent need of specialized care. According to Bales’ hometown paper, the News Tribune, her uncle, Juma Khan, said:

U.S. officials had yet to follow through on a pledge to get her more sophisticated care in the United States. ‘If the Americans can’t organize these simple things, they should return Zardana to us so the world can see her condition,’ he said. ‘If America can’t help us, we will ask the international community for help.’”

The US government doesn’t want the world to see Zardana’s condition, nor does the US media, which has ignored this story except to “report” on what a great guy Bales is. And surely Senor Browne doesn’t want to look into Zardana’s eyes and ask for “proof” the massacre happened. That’s one cross examination I’d love to see.

There is growing evidence the massacre wasn’t just an isolated incident, but part of a larger pattern of “no knock” retaliatory raids conducted by US troops in Afghanistan. Those who are now coming up with exculpatory rationales for Bales’ murderous rampage – and even those who think Bales is monster – take refuge in the argument that his behavior is the exception, and that most of our soldiers are upstanding examples of All That is Good and True. Yet what Bales did is what is occurring on a nationwide scale in Afghanistan: a “special operations” campaign to sow terror among the Afghan populace so that fear outweighs their natural hatred of an occupying army. As our army of “heroes” finds itself bogged down in a war that is neither just nor winnable, the old “COIN” theory of “clear, hold, and build” has given way to a new methodology: subdue, terrorize, and conquer. Bales’ sin was that he went freelance instead of letting his buddies in on the fun.

Chris Hayes is one of the more intelligent cable hosts, and his retraction is unfortunate, albeit involuntary. He was right the first time: the recruits to this Imperial Army are no more “heroes” than Darth Vader’s 501st Legion. Those who think otherwise are either neocons or else are confusing today’s American military with the army of our old republic, which served a strictly defensive function. The military can and should be an honorable profession, and earlier in our storied history it was: that is no longer true.

Instead of defending the United States from attack, military recruits in the 21st century are joining a global Praetorian Guard whose mission is to fight wars of conquest. Rather than standing guard at the border, as they should be, they are busy pushing back the frontiers of the Empire. While not each and every one of them is a war criminal, the conduct of US foreign policy has now reached the point where they are all willing aggressors to some degree or other.

Yes, there are plenty of career officers who disagree with this policy, and resent – even despise – being instruments of Washington’s warlords. However, they can’t speak out in the context of the military, and, short of a military coup, there’s no effective action they can take as long as they’re employed by Uncle Sam.

So they’re faced with a choice: get out, or get with the program. Getting with the program means killing for the glory of the American empire and really loving it. Just like a certain Staff Sergeant we know. In this context, Bales is a hero, and so are all the other Sgt. Bales waiting to happen, straining to be unleashed on a little girl and her brother in the wilds of Afghanistan.

The Bales case is in legal limbo, where the US government and the media (or do I repeat myself?) would like it to stay as long as possible: Browne is challenging the “sanity hearing” process, during which military psychiatrists get to invent reasons why Bales supposedly went off the rails. Browne claims it’s a “fishing expedition.” He’s also challenging the security check civilian lawyers must undergo before appearing in a military court, and so there are more delays.

By the time Bales stands trial the world outside Afghanistan will have forgotten all about his crime. At that point we can safely declare him insane and put him away in an army hospital, where he can live off the proceeds of his defense fund – quite substantial, no doubt – until he’s called to meet his Maker. Which is the only time we’ll see justice served in this case.

Ah, but what a final justice it will be!

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].