Last week, the world was shocked and angered by a video of United States Marines desecrating the bodies of Taliban fighters they had killed during a firefight in Afghanistan. The video has been viewed millions of times around the world, and is being compared to the shocking pictures of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. There are fears that it will so inflame the Afghan people that it tears down everything that’s gone into creating a better relationship with that country.
But a far worse atrocity has gone largely unnoticed.
Certainly, desecrating the bodies of dead enemy soldiers is profoundly disrespectful and insulting. It dishonors our common humanity and puts us beneath the level of whatever moral standards we claim to be upholding. Yet however morally bankrupt the behavior of the young men who committed this act, it’s not remotely in the same league as what we see in another video, taken two months earlier.
Last November 6, United States soldiers dragged a terrified sheep into a crowded room in Afghanistan and beat her to death in front of their laughing, cheering buddies and other people, including children. One of the soldiers videoed the whole miserable scene. Like it was something for his vacation album?
To desecrate the dead body of your enemy violates standards we set for ourselves as a civilized society. But to drag a defenseless, innocent, lamb – the universal embodiment of innocence and peace – into a room and club her to death is a crime against all of life and all of nature. A sin that cries out to heaven.
Here’s the video. Be warned, though, that it is deeply disturbing, and you may prefer not to view it. I’ve watched it, and the images won’t go away. It left me feeling not so much angry as helpless, numbed, sickened and depressed.
The background to what these men were doing is that it was the day of the Muslim festival of Eid, which commemorates the Biblical story of Abraham sacrificing a lamb in place of his son, Isaac. Lambs are routinely butchered across the Muslim world and eaten as part of the festival. But even if you grant the cruelty of local customs of animal sacrifice, how do you begin to explain the horrific scene of a helpless lamb being tortured to death in front of a cheering, laughing, dancing crowd of American soldiers and the children they are there to protect?
In another incident, three years ago, a Marine is seen standing at the edge of a cliff with a puppy. He takes a puppy by the scruff of the neck, holds her up to his buddies in front of the video camera, and then flings her off the cliff. We hear the young men laughing and the puppy squealing as she falls to her death below.
On that occasion, military authorities did conduct an investigation and the Marine was expelled from the service.
In the case of the lamb bludgeoned to death, there has, to the best of our knowledge, been no such investigation. According to Digital Journal:
To date, the US Army has released only one statement saying that they are investigating the matter but animal activists and concerned citizens have expressed their distrust in the process as in the past only minor disciplinary charges have been given out for similar offences.
On her Huffington Post blog, Ingrid Newkirk of PETA notes:
We wrote to Secretary of the Army John McHugh and then, when no answer was forthcoming, to other high-ranking officers, including Chief of Public Affairs General Stephen Lanza and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command David E. Quantock. No one – not PETA and not the thousands of people who have seen this video and are rightly disturbed by it – has received any acknowledgment, not even a single comforting word, that an investigation has been started.
In trying to fathom what could possibly be driving these young men to such atrocities, you might say that they, too, are victims of what happens in a war zone – that killing people and watching your buddies being killed makes you crazy, and that if you haven’t been there you just can’t imagine how crazy it makes you.
That’s all true. But it doesn’t begin to explain the cold, premeditated atrocities that are committed in the videos of the sheep and the puppy. And it’s an insult to all their comrades-in-arms who don’t behave like that. Many, indeed, have gone the other way altogether, making it part of their duty and mission as soldiers to rescue dogs and cats and caring for them – even setting up a worldwide network of volunteers to help place them in good homes.
War strips away the veneers of society and culture, and exposes who and what we truly are.
The men who beat that lamb to death did not just kill a helpless animal; they took the very symbol of innocence and bludgeoned it to death. And as they did it, they laughed.
When you commit a crime against innocence, you don’t just kill an animal; you violate nature itself. In so doing, you also violate your own nature – the core of innocence that is your own soul.
War is always horrific. But when you deliberately destroy innocent life and laugh about it, you kill your own soul. And while an injured body can often be repaired, it’s very hard to resurrect a dead soul.
* * *
The website Care2 has launched a petition to demand a full investigation of the beating of the sheep. They need another 6,000 signatures to reach their goal of 20,000 people.