Towing the Line

Apparently the New Republic published an article by a soldier in Iraq describing some bad behavior he had observed committed by some US troops.

Read Jon Swift to get a snarky view of the reaction of the right blogosphere. (BTW… he has a link to a video taken from inside a hummer driving in Baghdad – its worth a watch.)

I have no idea if the guy from TNR is lying or not and I don’t read TNR. I do recognize that bad things happen in war, and if whether its accurate or not, its extremely unlikely that no soldiers in Iraq are behaving more or less as described. So what I found interesting about the views from the right is the idea that someone with real concern … would have reported such behavior to the authorities.

So I went rummaging around and found this fascinating paper presented military’s Joint Services Conference On Professional Ethics. It describes a few examples of, um, “distaste for independent thinkers” that have occurred in the military.

Consider the difference in the career paths that happened two characters involved peripherally in My Lai massacre. (Also noted in the report I cited.)

Hugh Thompson, who tried to stop the massacre, was “at grave risk of being courts-martialed for his actions and was ostracized and eventually involuntarily discharged from the U.S. Army.” On the other hand, Major Colin Powell, “refuted and disparaged the few enlisted soldiers who came forth to report the atrocity” and we all know where he eventually ended up.

More recently, there was the Tillman incident, and the Jessica Lynch incident… but those were the well-known incidents. Perhaps you feel those were all the incidents… who would know about most of them? Who would know what happened to the people involved?

And given how long it takes for the record to be set right in the cases where it is set right (again, we all remember who made out better in the end – Thompson or Colin Powell, just as one example), why would we expect anyone to speak up? Seriously?


Aside 1. I find it interesting that at one point Powell was seriously considered a presidential contender. Its not just the My Lai massacre, he also was involved in Iran Contra. Clearly towing the line what people look for in a soldier.


This post should not be understood as anti-military. In my opinion, most large organization – and that includes most large corporations – develop a certain amount of groupthink and punish those who violate that groupthink. Regular readers know I’ve written about that in the past.