Thursday, June 15, 2006

On losing my sense of humor

Okay, so yet another Marine has managed to shoot his compatriots in the foot - figuratively, at least. The story breaks in the wake of investigation into the deaths of 24 civilians in Haditha, although the video in question was made a month before the Haditha incident took place. Still, the viral distribution of the "Hadji Girl" video only makes the Pentagon's job more difficult as they try to assure America that Marines in Iraq are able to maintain compassion and respect for the Iraqi people throughout their long deployments, and that killing two dozen civilians in the heat of anger isn't something they'd do.

The video (available here, along with coverage of the Marine's apology) shows 23-year-old Cpl. Joshua Belile playing the guitar and singing to a laughing and cheering crowd. It's kind of a pity, really, because Belile's voice has a lot of quality to it and the tune is fairly catchy. The lyrics, however, leave something to be desired:
“I grabbed her little sister and put her in front of me. As the bullets began to fly, the blood sprayed from between her eyes, and then I laughed maniacally. . .I blew those little f**kers to eternity. . .They should have known they were f**king with the Marines.”

Sick, sick, sick bastard.

I in no way mean to imply that this is the attitude of all Marines in Iraq, or even most Marines in Iraq, or even many Marines in Iraq (note: the Pentagon's response to the incident says that "the video is not reflective of the tremendous sacrifices and dedication demonstrated, on a daily basis, by tens of thousands of Marines who have assisted the Iraqi people in gaining their freedom,” and I couldn't agree more). I know a few Marines, and none of them would ever consider doing the things described in the song. But the fact is, a lot of them would laugh at it, and not just at the funny-'cause-they-aren't-PC parts. When Belile describes pulling the "Hadji Girl's" younger sister in front of him and watching the blood spurt from her head wound, his audience laughs and cheers, and call me stodgy, but that shit just ain't funny.

Right now, the position of most of the country (somewhere around 62 percent, last I read, but don't quote me on it) is that things in Iraq aren't going well, that going in was a mistake, but that we need to fix what's going on. The idea is that we're trying to do good for the people of Iraq, trying to bring democracy and restore infrastructure and give rights to people who didn't have them. But we're not going to be able to do that successfully if we don't have respect for them; we can't teach them to respect themselves if we're joking about blowing them up - and laughing when other people do it.

If the subject of Joshua Belile's song had been a black American woman, and he'd sung about using her little sister as a human shield, America would be up in arms; we recognize, whether because of the Civil Rights movement or sensitivity training or just because we know in our hearts that human beings are human beings and deserve respect, that that sort of thing is wrong and bad and not a joking matter. But when it's a brown person overseas, it's a different matter. These people, the ones we've been sent to help, the ones for whom so many of our troops have lost their lives, are less than human, are just objects, are largely without inherent value, and if we save three and execute one, we're still ahead by points, right?

Yeah, I know it's just a song. Yeah, I know that, as Cpl. Belile said, it was supposed to be a joke. But it wasn't a funny one, and it seemed more like one of those not-joke jokes that are more revealing than anything else. Investigating the killings in Haditha and making sure they don't happen again is important; also imporant is impressing on the troops the idea that that sort of thing isn't a joke, not the kind of thing that should be taken lightly. Belile said, "I think it’s a joke, and anybody who tries to take it seriously knows it’s a joke. People can’t just laugh at it and let it go.” I'm sure he'll quickly learn that some things, you just don't joke about.

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