Laws of war and the so-called rules of engagement have always been confusing to me. We live in a society where killing people is morally wrong, yet we have a framework through which we can justifiably engage in killing on a national level? Granted, many of these laws are easy to support — don’t kill civilians, finish war as quickly as possible, don’t kill medics — but something about an instruction booklet for war just doesn’t sit right.
The oxymoronic nature of such liturgy really became apparent to me after three American Marines urinated on the corpses of Afghani soldiers . The world was outraged that such an act could occur, and rightly so, but no one questioned the obvious: Why is it acceptable that these men were killed in the first place? It’s likely that each of the dead Afghani combatants had multiple bullet wounds inflicted by automatic weapons that shoot several hundred bullets per minute. Why is that acceptable? Why do we allow ourselves to forget that the dead Afghanis and the dead Americans are not merely statistics, but people. The outrage should be directed at the institutions that have sent our countrymen to war and forced them into a struggle for survival. For me, the issue isn’t that a corpse was desecrated, but that a human being was.
Unfortunately, the laws of war are necessary. Since the dawn of man, we’ve been killing each other at breakneck speed. The age of technology has only expedited things, affording us the ability to kill each other faster, in larger numbers, and with more horrific side effects. If global institutions didn’t at least make an attempt to get a handle on bloodlust, it’s possible that Viking-style “rape and pillage” warfare could become commonplace.
War is impossible to control, though. The media has made us callous to war reports, and we don’t wince in pain nearly enough. Bombs miss their targets and kill children. Overworked soldiers fly off the handle and murder innocent people. Men and women with everything ahead of them lose arms, legs, and sanity.
Collateral damage goes even more unnoticed. A Huffington Post article describes the findings of a forthcoming World Health Organization report on birth defects in Afghanistan, and the findings are shocking. In Fallujah, more than fifty percent of all babies conceived after the US invasion had birth defects, compared to around 10% before. In Basra, another city ravished by war, birth defects increased by 60% over the past seven years. The report theorizes that these appalling shifts have occurred due to an increase in exposure to metals like lead and mercury. Hair samples taken from affected children in Fallujah found levels of lead five times higher than normal children, and six for mercury. Children with birth defects in Basra had teeth that contained three times the level of lead.
Stress also affects pregnant women negatively. According to the study, “more than 45% of all pregnancies surveyed ended in miscarriage in 2005 and 2006, compared to only 10% before the invasion.” Without a doubt, the metals and chemicals in the air had an effect, but stress itself “has major physiological effects…. Stress can dramatically effect the blood brain barrier, which prevents chemicals in circulation in your body from entering the brain. It is more likely to ‘leak.’ Stress hormones can also cause damage.”
It is easy to jump to conclusions, especially considering the severity of the statistics, but it is important to wait for a definitive answer. It is unclear if the data prior to the war was underreported due to social stigma. Comparable studies are few, meaning it may be years before we can be sure that these stats were caused by the war. Needless to say, though, they carry a convincing impact.
We’ve been socialized to believe that a world without war is an impossibility. People who fight for an end to fighting are seen as naïve, and their fight is futile. Why is that though? I’m not optimistic enough to believe war will end in my lifetime, and probably not in this century, but why not later? Is it worthwhile to work for an end to war?
When faced with the World Health Organization’s report, a UK government spokesperson said: “”All ammunition used by UK armed forces falls within international humanitarian law and is consistent with the Geneva Convention.” We’re to understand that they use the righteous bullets, not the evil bullets? That the British and American armies kill people the right way? I know I’m being idealistic here, but my hope is that one day, there will be no right way to kill someone else. Oh look, a flying pig!
By: Andrew Eckhous
(Photo courtesy of sxc.hu)