There is a certain grim but obvious irony in the outrage of pundits and military officials to the recently released video depicting American soldiers urinating on the bodies of several fallen Taliban fighters. As is typical when the shameful actions of war are exposed to public scrutiny, every effort is being made to characterize the dehumanizing acts as entirely isolated, as the deviance of a few “rogue” Marines. The narrative is a familiar one to those whose political consciousness developed amidst this last decade of endless war. Haditha, Guantanamo, Bagram — each killing, act of torture, and incident of brutality on the part of American soldiers has been characterized as some sort of sick deviation from the military’s commitment to waging a highly ‘professional’ and spotlessly ‘humane’ war. When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2004, military officials presented a similar explanation — that of lone soldiers straying from established military procedure. It was an explanation that the vigilant watchdogs in the American media — the New York Times, the Washington Post, and our cable news networks — seemed happy enough to accept.
Yet, as with every scandal involving American military actions abroad, virtually no one in the mainstream press (with one or two exceptions) has raised her voice to challenge the pervasive narrative about the benign role of the US military. Nowhere do we find any suggestion that intrinsic to the functioning of a successful military force is the dehumanization of the opposing side — and that, as an expected result, actions like these should come as no surprise at all. Indeed, what is most bewildering about these incidents is not that they occur (we should assume that they occur, undocumented, fifty times as often as we read about them). It is the reaction of mainstream punditry: that confused sputtering of those who just can’t believe that our military forces — trained to commit the most dehumanizing act of all: the killing of another human being they’ve never met and know nothing about — could ever engage in such a “shocking” and “craven” act as urinating on a dead person.