Last time, I continued with my review of “Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer. The authors were illustrating the idea that:
“The only thing that counted was how people thought of you in the here and now…the unit was the entire world…what they thought was right, was right and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.”
They used the My Lai massacre of 1968 as their example of how group behaviour can turn apparently decent young men into madmen and war criminals :
A subsequent chapter makes reference to the violence of our own time, 2010 to be precise. It discusses a movie which was released onto WikiLeaks. The film shows the indiscriminate killing of more than a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad. These victims of violence included two Reuters news staff.
According to WikiLeaks:
“The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.”
I found three stills to look at, although the content is such that I have decided that I could not not display them. The first was entitled:
“The men try to cover as the first rounds of shots hit them from the Apache helicopter” :
The second still shows how “one man falls to the ground”:
And the third still shows how “Namir Noor-Eldeen runs for his life. ”
I really would recommend that you follow the link and watch the film, perhaps the shorter version. Alternatively, the Wikipedia page does have one or two stills to look at.
This film does not show an incident in the fog of war, as the full version lasts around forty minutes. The footage concerns a number of Iraqi men, including some who were armed and who were standing where insurgents earlier that day had shot at an American vehicle. Among the group were two Iraqi reporters working for Reuters.
The group of American military personnel seem so quickly to transform events into some kind of appalling video game. Their opinion of events is exactly the same as that witnessed by Michael Bernhardt at My Lai. It was that same idea, namely that with groups of soldiers in war:
“What they thought was right, was right, and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.”
So, everybody in the group in Iraq is OK with “it’s a guy with a weapon”
which becomes firstly:
“I have individuals with weapons”
and then “he’s got an RPG.” (Rocket Propelled Grenade)
and then “Yeah we had a guy shoot”
at 02.49 “Let’s shoot”
at 02.50 “Light ‘em all up”,
at 02.52, “Come on, fire”
at 02.57, “Keep shooting, keep shooting”
at 02.59, “Keep shooting”
at 03.02, “Keep shooting”
at 03.10, “All right, we just engaged all eight individuals”
at 03.23 “All right, hahaha, I shot ‘em”.
That was topped off at 04.31 with “oh yeah, look at those dead bastards”.
At 04.36 and 04.44 it was “Nice….”
At 04.47 it was“ Good shot”
And at 04.48 with “Thank you”.
The last still shows how “The helicopter pilot inspects the pile of dead bodies. ”
These men see the world with their own group vision. Observations and comments which have only been made once and by just one person are soon confirmed by the entire group, and indeed are quickly developed by other people within the group. Thus a single weapon soon becomes a number of individuals with weapons. A number of individuals with weapons are soon transformed into a Rocket Propelled Grenade. And then an individual, is seen to shoot. This imaginary event gives the group the justification they crave to open fire. And then they can kill what were, in actual fact, merely passers-by. Now though, they have become combattants.
Neitzel and Welzer call this phenomenon “a dynamic of violence” or “group thinking”. At the end:
“everything is crystal clear. the targets are dead, order has been restored, the delivery truck was an enemy vehicle, the would be rescuers in it were further terrorists”
More specifically, the authors explain how:
“The behaviour of those defined as “enemies” confirms the truth of that designation.”
The only characteristic of “target persons” that counts is that they pose a threat. Any indication to that effect provides sufficient reason to kill.
So, by that thinking, babies may carry hand grenades, children can be partisans and women can be insurgents.
This had already been put forward by Berndt Greitel, writing about the Vietnam conflict who said:
“Anybody who tried to flee was automatically an enemy who should be shot.”
The attempt to escape merely confirmed the group’s suspicions that an individual was a Vietcong.
Taken to its extreme, we finish up with the much repeated idea that “Whoever we said was a Vietcong was a Vietcong.”
But not everybody could have been a combattant. The US 9th Infantry Division killed a total of 10,899 people, but only found 748 weapons during their searches.
And even those figures may be suspect as some GIs apparently placed Soviet weapons in villages so that they could come back to find them on a later occasion.
Next time, the tapes made by the Germans at Trent Park, and, believe it or not, a genuine RAF joke. Well, the first half of it, at least.