There Goes the Neighborhood
Little Johnny marches off to war...to become a man. With his one stripe, his gun and his flag and his pocket sized New Testament that his mother gave him. Now Johnny was a high school football player. He loved wearing the uniform, the school colors, it made him feel important, respected. He loved the violence of crashing headlong into other boys, it made him feel strong, it gave him an outlet. But now Johnny has a new uniform and the town is just as proud. The words “hero” and “patriot” and “good Christian” float up and down the streets of small town USA. So Johnny marches off to save the world from evil as it gathers for the apocalyptic showdown, might makes right and he knows this and like the pastor said, God is on our side. So with his passions inflamed and his body heavily armed he hits the desert running, he is highly trained and he carries out his duties with a cold precision. His unit is the new sheriff in town, they are the law in a lawless land. His ego becomes engorged as he learns new things...how to survive, how to kill, how to torture and humiliate. Johnny learns what it means to be a conquering army, to rape and pillage in the grand military tradition, to have total dominion over a powerless people, to step on those who are down just for kicks. All of these things Johnny learns...and then Johnny comes home.
In a postmodern world everything appears as a flash on the screen or a soundbite in the air, there's no effort made to digest information and weigh its consequences. We are so wired into our suburban nightmare of strip centers and traffic jams that we are incapable of understanding the realities of the world until they come violently knocking at our door. And then we resort to jingoism and hatred to rationalize our perceptions of what just happened to us. "They're evil, they hate us, they're jealous of our freedom," end of discussion. You can't argue with that, because a person who is capable of uttering such nonsense is unflappable. So a few pictures of Iraqis being tortured hit the airwaves and some congressmen and senators act appalled, point fingers, call each other names and our president fumbles through a couple of speeches while his henchmen stand behind him praying to God that he doesn't make a mistake...and life goes on. Most people seem nonplused by the entire thing and more than a few can't understand what the big deal is. After all they are brown people with a funny language who don't love Jesus. Hot-wiring a man’s testicles seems like the logical thing to do. And if a soldier wants to indulge a little rape fantasy or strip some men naked grab a broomstick and have a little frat boy fun, what's the harm. It's happening over there, to them, and those soldiers were just following orders.
Ah, but what's that sound? It's the violent knock at the door. The boys are home from their masochistic trip overseas and they've got the taste of blood in their mouths.
"C'mon Ma, I got some home movies from the war...if you think Survivor is cool, you ain't seen nothin' yet."
For all the questions that recent events have raised, one that has not been asked is what happens when these soldiers come home. Many states have laws requiring sex offenders to notify all households in a neighborhood into which they plan to move. Will this same type of law apply if you’re seen on CNN sodomizing a stack of prisoners or forcing people to masturbate at gunpoint. Does the army have a de-programming department, will they send these people to sensitivity training before putting them back out on the street. If the military creates monsters or is encouraging disturbing behavior that is already inherent in its troops then the military should take some of the responsibility for their actions. You can't kick a dog, teach it to maim and kill then just let it loose, someone is going to get hurt.
There is no silver lining in any of this. This brutality is bigger than national boundaries, bigger than religious affiliations and political ideologies. They are a vicious reflection of who we are as humans and where we are headed. There is a flaw in our makeup that allows for torture and violence to occur on either side of a conflict. That atrocities take place in a war is a given. War itself is an atrocity that does violence to us all. To deny this takes a fool, to ignore it takes a coward. Maybe we will evolve but history says otherwise. In the meantime we have another problem on our hands. At some point troops will begin to come home and some of them will have grown quite accustomed to the sick and the depraved, some having even grown to like it. Where do they go for fun, how do they blow off steam, we probably don't want to get them angry. Maybe I'm overreacting, maybe there's nothing to worry about. But there's a guy out there recently home from the Gulf and he's just come outside with a plunger and a strange look in his eye. This is a serious matter that needs to be addressed and the king psychos in Washington are not going to be the ones to get it done. They're too busy shouting praise and glory from the rooftops to address the sanity of our armed forces.
Americans will continue to turn a blind eye to world events until they affect us directly. We will continue to believe that as long as we don't see the bodies that American soldiers don't really die, they just vanish in a blinding flash of heavenly light, one of Gods chosen. And we will continue to ignore the depravity of soldiers the world over until that one night when that knock comes at the door and it's Johnny fresh home from the killing fields and he has something that he wants to show us.
J.M. Palmer is a writer living in Orlando, Florida and is currently at work on his first novel.