Friday 23 March 2012

The Heroic Soldier Story and the Massacre at Kandahar

Statutory Disclaimer: This article is a statement of my beliefs and the result of my research and writing. The sources I have drawn from are indicated at the conclusion of this article and are available on the internet for independent consultation. I am not in any way responsible for any fights, disagreements, quarrels or fallings-out arising as a result of discussions of this article on any media on which it, or reference to it, may appear. Thank you.

This soldier,” Vern Kimmit from Orlando, Florida, wrote, “probably prevented dozens if not hundreds of future terrorist attacks, singlehandedly and on his own initiative. Nice shooting son, I just popped open an icy cold Sam Adams in your honor (sic)!”

This comment was made in the response columns of an article [1] about the celebrated massacre near Kandahar, where sixteen Afghan civilians (including nine children and three women) were murdered in their beds by American occupation forces (whether in the form of a single soldier or a group of them). It was also far from the only comment of this sort – that article, and others on the same topic, are virtually crawling with them. With one more exception, from the same article, I don’t intend to post a selection; the reader can, if interested, check them out for himself or herself. I’d recommend a strong stomach.

Before we go any further, let me declare the names of these dead and injured Afghans, since otherwise, as we shall discuss, nobody will ever get to know of them. They are [2]:

The dead:
Mohamed Dawood son of  Abdullah
Khudaydad son of Mohamed Juma
Nazar Mohamed
Shatarina daughter of Sultan Mohamed
Zahra daughter of Abdul Hamid
Nazia daughter of Dost Mohamed
Masooma daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Farida daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Palwasha daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Nabia daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Esmatullah daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Faizullah son of Mohamed Wazir
Essa Mohamed son of Mohamed Hussain
Akhtar Mohamed son of Murrad Ali

The wounded:
Haji Mohamed Naim son of Haji Sakhawat
Mohamed Sediq son of Mohamed Naim

These nameless, faceless, Afghan civilians had names, and faces, and lives, and deserve to have those names, faces and lives recorded. But, to an amazing extent, those names, faces and lives have not been recorded. I could barely find another mention of these people anywhere.

And that is what’s so significant. Why is it that those Afghans remain nameless and faceless?

In the course of this article, I shall mention the actual massacre only as a means of discussing this larger question: the reason why the “reactions” focus almost exclusively on the perpetrator/s, not the dead and injured. Since this is far from the first massacre of Afghan civilians by occupation forces, and is likely to be far from the last, the massacre itself is less interesting than the reaction.

Of course, in order to understand the reaction, we need to talk a little bit about the massacre itself.

Since most readers of this article will already be in cognisance of the “facts” (insofar as such a constantly shifting tale [3] can be termed to contain any facts whatsoever) I’ll just go over them quickly: that at or about 0200 on the 11th of March 2012, one or more American soldiers from a base near Kandahar went to two separate villages, where they murdered sixteen Afghan civilians in their homes (including eleven from a single family), and burned their bodies with some kind of inflammable liquid. A few days later, it turned out that the alleged “lone gunman” who had perpetrated the massacre had “turned himself in” on his return to base and was quickly removed from the country, being sent to Kuwait, and when that nation was unhappy with this, to the US itself.

From the beginning, the “lone shooter” theory did not stand up to even casual, let alone serious, analysis. The survivors of the massacre, and other villagers, were unanimous in claiming that there had been “several” soldiers involved, and that one person could not possibly have done all that the killer had been accused of doing [4]. Even though the story had so many holes that nobody in any other circumstances would have taken it seriously, there was an incredible and concerted effort, apparently, in the mainstream media to believe it – to the extent that it’s standard now to read of “an American serviceman” who had “carried out the shootings”. And it’s only natural to wonder why.

As the first days went past, the identity of this “serviceman” was kept secret, to the extent that some of the aforementioned respondents began wondering aloud what the reason for this might be. As one Pookie Sue from Davenport, Iowa said [1]

If the shooter was a white Christian, we would know his name, see his picture, and hear all about him. Who is the shooter? Why is it being kept quiet?... Evidently he is black or a Muslim.

Unfortunately for such people, the identity of the “sole gunman” was later revealed to be a Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a white Christian who immediately became a subject of overt or implied sympathy. He was on his fourth deployment in a war zone, he’d had part of a foot amputated, he’d suffered possible brain damage in a car crash, he’d been suffering marital problems, he’d seen a friend have a leg blown off by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED; a fancy term for a homemade landmine) only a day or two before, and as his friends said, he was a “nice guy”, a husband and father. Not someone who was really to blame – if there was any blame, it lay elsewhere. Where, nobody seemed to be clear; on the (black, Muslim, Kenyan) President, on the (evil, raghead) Taliban, on “society” – but elsewhere.

Then, things became murkier, as Bales’ personal history came seeping out. He was, it appeared, less of an angel than at first appeared. He had defrauded an investor of over a million dollars, had been involved in an assault on a former girlfriend, and had taken part in at least one massacre in Najaf, Iraq – meaning he was likely a war criminal as well [5]

Now, can you think of a better candidate for a “fall guy” to take the blame? He is either a stressed-out victim of circumstances, not really in control of his own actions; or he’s an intrinsically evil person, who should have been locked up long ago and the key thrown away. Either way, he is the perfect scapegoat – leaving the rest of his colleagues blameless and still eminently worthy of worship.

Worship, did I say? Isn’t that too strong a word?

Not at all; and it’s in the extent to which soldier-worship has become a part of modern Western discourse that the key to the puzzle lies.

Rewind a moment, to the war in Vietnam. Back in those long-ago days, when the smell of napalm hung in the air over the rice paddies, US soldiers had fought and died in another war against a faceless, invisible enemy. There had been massacres there, too, and crazed soldiers running amok, and “free fire zones” where any Vietnamese was fair game. But there were differences – important differences.

In Vietnam, a large majority of the American soldiers in that war were conscripts. These young men, who had been forced into uniform because they could not get student deferments and whose only other options were jail or hiding in Canada, had been sent off into a never-ending war they didn’t understand in a nation they couldn’t find on a map. And when they returned, they came back to find themselves reviled as “baby killers” and worse, by those (as they saw it) with the money and connections to escape the draft that had swallowed them. And, of course, most importantly, the US ended on the losing side in Vietnam.

Today, a different narrative has been quite deliberately created – the narrative of the Heroic Soldier, protecting the Homeland from the Freedom-hating Evildoer. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and everywhere on the planet Earth that the American Soldier treads, he’s now no longer a baby-killer; he’s a torch-bearer of freedom, fighting for what used to be called Truth, Justice and the American Way but now goes by the name of Freedom and Democracy. It’s fed by everything from bumper stickers to yellow ribbons, and the myth is as assiduously cultivated as the military-industrial-political multiplex (MIP) is protected and encouraged. Of course, this Heroic Soldier is not, on the surface of it at least, an embittered draftee who couldn’t get out of serving his time; he’s a volunteer who put his life on the line for freedom. The fact that the average military volunteer worldwide has – after the Great War, at all events – been a victim of the poverty draft, joining the military because he has no other option, is neither here nor there in that narrative. Whereas the murderous Vietnam War American soldier was One of Them, the heroic American soldier of today is emphatically One of Us.

Obviously, the Heroic Soldier cannot be allowed to lose - he has to be supported through thick and thin, at the cost of everything else. The blood he spills is sacred; the sacrifices he makes cannot be allowed to go in vain.

And this is exactly why the media

... was quick to follow the lead of "U.S. military officials" who "stressed that the shooting was carried out by a lone, rogue soldier, differentiating it from past instances in which civilians were killed accidentally during military operations." [6]

Even if one ignores the canard that civilians were killed “accidentally” – the recent history of Afghanistan and Iraq is rife with instances [7] in which civilians were not just killed deliberately but with malice aforethought, as sport – the “officials”, one ought to note, “stressed” that the shooting was carried out by a lone, rogue soldier; meaning, a soldier not under control, and whose actions were not therefore the responsibility of the army which employed, armed, and deployed him.

This, therefore, kills two birds with one stone. For the civilian at home, who has no direct stake in the conflict on the other side of the planet, but whose finances may be suffering from the diversion of money to the Endless War, it provides reassurance; a monstrous act may have been committed, but it was the fault of a lone, out-of-control trooper. It’s possible he was too PTSD’d out to know what he was doing, in which case he needs counselling, not jail. Possibly this provides a bit of cognitive dissonance, because the particular civilian may also be one of those who rail against “liberals” who “mollycoddle” criminals and ignore their victims. But then, he or she can slip easily into the second thread of the narrative; the killer was a vile man, someone who could strip an elderly person of a million and a half dollars and then run for safety into the army. Either way, the suffering the individual civilian, or his family or friends, is enduring isn’t in vain, because it’s a lone bad apple and not the military as a whole.

And for the military, it gives another kind of comfort – it’s not another massacre by an out-of-control group, like the one at Haditha, or the Kill Team, or, earlier, at the unforgettable incident at Mai Lai. Since it’s a single soldier, and “such things happen”, there’s no particular need to do anything about it; the military’s carefully constructed mythology of the Heroic Soldier is not at stake, nor does there have to be any actual action taken on the ground to prevent anything of the like from happening in future. And, as a corollary, the Afghan “government’s” demands to withdraw these troops from villages is not justified, and cannot be agreed to.

In both these cases, it should be noticed, the essential narrative needs to suppress the individuality of the victims. Dead Afghans with names, faces, hopes and lives need to be mourned, and their deaths cry out for justice. Dead Afghans without names or faces are just numbers; nobody really cares about them, even when they say they do. And that slots in with the idea that uncivilised Afghans don’t really mind dying; it isn’t that much to them, since “human life is cheap” there. [8]

A legitimate question can be asked at this point – what about the likes of Mr Vern Kimmit of Orlando, Florida, with whose quote I began this article? Where, with their frantic bloodthirstiness, do they fit in this framework? Aren’t they outside this scenario I have put together?

Answer: no, they aren’t. They are a part of it, all right.

The likes of Mr Kimmit are a subgroup of the people who need constant reassurance that everything that’s going on in the world is someone else’s fault. Like the KONY2012 bandwagon, which provides the believer with an easily hateable figure on whom to blame everything that’s gone wrong with a part of the world, these people have invested a lot of emotion into hating the Other – the Evildoing Muslim Terrorist. They need to keep polishing and buffing up that hate, in order to hold it up so that the reflected light of it can shine in their eyes and keep them from seeing the ugly truth. That’s why those of them who do finally admit the fact that one or more American soldiers can have murdered multiple civilians need to justify that in terms of that hate. Maybe like Mr Kimmit, they claim those children and women were future terrorists and therefore better off dead. Maybe, like others, they seek refuge in claiming that Muslims had killed Americans (in their version of events, no Muslim can be a true American), so this is nothing but turn and turn about. But it’s just twisting and turning on the hook – a way of turning their faces away from the hard light of facts.

And what are those facts? The Afghans, from the start, have not believed the narrative of the single soldier who ran amok, but then, it can be argued, they have equally compelling reasons not to. But they do add to the holes [3] in the official story. For example, they point out [9] that days before the massacre, residents of one of the villages targeted were lined up by American soldiers from the base and threatened with a massacre in retaliation for the bombing in which Sgt Bales’ friend “lost his leg”. They note that the massacre continued for three hours, and that the base in question had complete surveillance over the area and yet utterly failed to stop the so-called “lone gunman” [10]. They point out to all the eyewitness accounts of multiple killers – up to twenty of them, as the chief of staff of the Afghan Army himself declared [11]. In other words, they tell what seems to be a far more believable version of the truth. And to them, flying out the accused killer is all the proof they need that a cover-up is in the works; he’s been taken where he can’t be confronted by witnesses or be subject to a court which isn’t predisposed to believe in the official narrative. Also, going by the fact that earlier cases where American troops were accused (and convicted) of murder and yet got off virtually scot free [12], they have no reason to believe that justice will be done in this case either. 

But, of course, the official narrative isn’t meant to convince the Afghans, like the man who lost eleven members of his family and has only one son left alive [13]. As I believe I’ve made clear in the course of this article, it’s meant for domestic consumption only, to reassure the people at home that the Heroic Soldier is still a hero, and that the war is still worth fighting, at a time when an increasing majority of the people feel it is not [14]. The Afghans are much more likely to react by joining the insurgency in larger numbers, but they were doing that anyway.

Supposing, therefore, that the massacre was carried out by a group of soldiers, what might their motivation have been? As far as I can see, it comes down to one of two likely possibilities, with a third as a remote chance:

First, and most likely, that the massacre was carried out by a group of soldiers (with or without the knowledge of the rest of the base, but the lack of any effort to stop the massacre indicates that it happened with the knowledge and approval of someone in a position to give orders) in order to "teach the Afghans a lesson". The burning of the corpses - obviously the shooter/s carried inflammable liquid with malice aforethought - can only be interpreted as a clumsy attempt to cover up the evidence, and supports this idea.

Second, and a little less probably, that it was a "night raid" that went wrong [15]. These "night raids" are, after drones, the lynchpin of the Occupation's anti-insurgent strategy, and consists of attacking the houses of anyone who is even suspected of being sympathetic to the resistance. Said thought crime is punished by summary execution without trial, and is extremely deeply resented by the Afghans - so much so that even the puppet "President" of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has demanded that they be stopped. It's certainly not impossible that a group of soldiers sent on a mission to murder suspected Taliban sympathisers ran amok and killed civilians. However, the obviously premeditated attempts to burn the corpses go against this theory. The Occupation normally makes no attempt to cover its tracks where night raids are concerned, because as a terror tactic it makes sense not to cover it up to achieve the maximum impact.

The third and least likely hypothesis is that this was a deliberate action, authorised at the highest levels of the occupation, to try and provoke an Afghan reaction so intense as to provide an excuse to stop the withdrawal of forces as "promised" (if you can believe that) by 2014. However, while the US military commander in Afghanistan, John Allen, has demanded [16] that the "withdrawal" be halted, the NATO vassals are getting out as fast as they can [17] and the Afghan "government" has summoned up the temerity to ask for more control over what happens after 2014 [18] . So, if at all this was a deliberate action, it would seem to have been counterproductive.


If I were an Afghan, and if I were to take the "single person shooter" theory of the massacre seriously, then I'd have to conclude I was safer under the Taliban. Could a PTSD'd/deranged/inebriated/brain-damaged (take your pick) foreign soldier wander through villages for hours, entering houses, murder people in their beds and burn their bodies, if the Taliban were around?

I do not think so.




Copyright B Purkayastha 2012


  1. very good write Bill
    thank you for giving them names, finally someone recognizes these were actual people.


  2. "
    Not at all; and it’s in the extent to which soldier-worship has become a part of modern Western discourse that the key to the puzzle lies."

    Soldier-worship has, as you've pointed out, gone on here in America a long, long time. To do otherwise is to court disfavor with most of one's friends and relatives - of course, I have no such fears; it's why I wrote this piece some time back.

    Personally, I'm sick of it.

    What have we done?

    First, as you've pointed out, the American military is made up of poverty-stricken youth for the most part - and the rest are Red State scum, who've grown up on a steady diet of action movies and ultraRight propaganda; they've been waiting since age twelve for the day they can do something just like this.

    Second, by way of the first group, we've destroyed a generation.

    It's simple here in America - you have the 'right' to root, hog, and die; the sons of the 1% go to Harvard and Yale; the sons of the 99% go to Iraq and Afghanistan (or to prison, if they're Hispanic or Black).

    That's the reality of life here in the Empire.

    Add to the fact this little piece o' trivia: For writing this, I can now (thanks to the NDAA; H.R. 347 and Obama's new executive order) be arrested, detained without trial and sent to one of the Empire's shiny new Gulags)....

  3. If the massacre was carried out with the authorization of the American military forces in Afghanistan, the question is: what are they trying to achieve with this event?
    To quote Marx: "Who benefits?"

    1. To quote Marx: "Who benefits?"

      I've just updated this article to reflect my thoughts on that point. Let me know what you think.


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