2012-02-01 / Opinion

Lapse of discipline


Even before new recruits step onto the painted yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island or San Diego, they have already been told by their recruiters that discipline — personal discipline — will be required in order to earn the title of Marine.

One cannot graduate from boot camp without conforming to the Marine Corps’ definition of discipline, which controls everything, including when to use the toilet.

The four Marine Scout Snipers recorded urinating on dead Taliban fighters suffered a grave lapse in discipline that goes against all their military training and, most likely, all they’d been taught about respect for others before joining the Marines.

According to Headquarters Marine Corps, a Marine who aspires to the military occupational specialty of Scout Sniper must meet higher standards — including standards of discipline — than the typical infantryman. Among the requirements are a General Technical score of at least 100 in the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, no courts martial or nonjudicial punishment in the last six months, no history of mental illness and a perfect score on the physical fitness test. Candidates, the directives say, should also “ possess a high degree of maturity, equanimity and common sense.”

There is no excuse for the snipers’ behavior, and the act, as it appears on YouTube, is reprehensible. The smiles on the faces and the chuckles of the Marines recorded in the video are disturbing. Those bodies, not long before, were living, breathing beings who were certainly sons of parents, and were perhaps husbands, fathers and brothers. They were also, not long before, enemies determined to end the lives of the men now accused of desecrating their corpses.

The act of desecration was intended to dishonor the dead, but it dishonored the four Marines in particular, and the Corps and the armed services in general. It was meant to deprive the dead of their dignity, but it was the four Marines who relinquished their own.

When U. S. troops were dragged through the streets and desecrated in Mogadishu, Somalia, or when Blackwater contractors were burned and hung from the Fallujah bridge in Iraq, it enraged and appalled civilians and it motivated servicemen and women, but it didn’t grant license for payback.

Anyone’s first reaction to either the video or reports of the incident says plenty about our own belief structure and moral fabric, but it says nothing of how we would react had we been standing in those Marines’ boots, wearing their desert camouflage and carrying their body armor half a world away from home.

Every war has its outrages, but not all of those outrages meet the standards of war crimes.

They are immoral expressions of the horror that is war, and they should serve as reminders of why we should commit our sons and daughters to war only when we have no other choice.

Perhaps application of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (which, recruits are frequently informed, offers more protections to a defendant than the civilian legal system) will bring dishonorable discharges and confinement, as happened to the reservists convicted of outrageous, humiliating crimes against prisoners in Baghdad’s Abu Graib prison.

The UCMJ is the appropriate vehicle to apply justice to the four Marine Scout Snipers accused of desecrating bodies. Their personal decisions led to personal actions, and so they will bear personal consequences. Calling their acts war crimes, however, is not warranted.

— The Cape Cod Times


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