U.S. military trained to kill, not keep peace

January 26, 2000|By Chris Lombardi

RECENTLY, much of the nation watched in horror as CNN showed us her photo: an 11-year-old girl in Kosovo, her face battered, with a U.S. Army paratrooper accused of her rape and murder.

Readers of the New York Times may have noticed that the murder was reported side by side with the rape of a woman in Okinawa, Japan, also allegedly by a member of the U.S. armed forces.

I looked at the 11-year-old's photo and thought of the 12-year-old girl who in 1995 was kidnapped, tied up and raped by three GIs in Okinawa.

This isn't supposed to happen in today's military. The new U.S. military is supposed to be concerned with humanitarian missions, to beat back oppressors, to ease ethnic tensions, to rebuild bridges and schools.

But that is not what we primarily train our military to do.

I wasn't surprised by the reports of the Kosovo murder, even less so by the Okinawa rape. I see and hear such stories every day of the week.

As a counselor on the GI Rights Hotline, I talk to young men and women who pour out their distress and rage as they ask for discharge information. I take testimony every day from those whose bodies, and lives, are scarred by military violence at the most personal level.

On the hot line, we often get calls from people in basic training. These recruits have reported being hit by drill sergeants and being forced to drink scalding hot water till they have blisters on their throats. They tell us about brutal hazing rituals. One former Ranger said his "Ranger indoctrination," as it's called, included "hanging us out the window by our feet threatening to drop us."

According to Lt. Col. David Grossman, author of On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (Little Brown, 1996), military training changed significantly after World War II, when a majority of veterans reported having been unable to shoot at another human being.

The changes were effective: By Vietnam, active-duty troops had a 90 percent firing rate, according to Lieutenant Colonel Grossman. The techniques of basic training, as popularized in films like "Full Metal Jacket," foster a climate where soldiers are desensitized to violence.

Thomas Ricks, author of Making the Corps (Scribner, 1997), approvingly calls this "breaking a man down to make a Marine."

Trauma creates people who will kill. It creates people who will, as Col. David Hackworth, author of The Price of Honor (Doubleday, 1999), says proudly, "eat bugs and cut throats."

I don't think these are the people we should be sending to build cities or to defuse ethnic conflicts. I doubt their current behavior is helping to create a peaceful world.

If the U.S. paratrooper in Kosovo is found guilty of murdering that young woman, the military isn't likely to accept part of the responsibility. Often it does one of two things: turns the offender into a scapegoat, or sneaks him home to receive a letter of reprimand and perhaps a bad-conduct discharge. When it comes to accountability, the U.S. armed services has a bad record.

The results of this violence are far-reaching. At home, the toll is high. Veterans Affairs hospitals are full of patients who testify to the traumas of being trained to kill.

And women in Kosovo and Okinawa have their own traumas to overcome. In Okinawa, women have organized resistance to U.S. military presence. Will Kosovo be next?

Chris Lombardi is GI advocacy coordinator at the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors in San Francisco (www.objector.org). In 1997, she co-founded Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel.

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