David French’s imaginary world of the US military


David French of the National Review took serious exception to some of the recent comments made by Donald Trump about war and torture. Trump advocated the use of torture and war crimes to fight against ISIS and other threats to the United States. French considers such talk as slander against the past and present members of the armed forces.

I’m happy that French would take so much umbrage with that kind of talk. It is truly disgusting of Trump.

Unfortunately, David French lives in a fairy tale land. In his critique of Donald Trump, he says:

There is no scenario under which the military would ever follow directives so offensive to its honor and so blatantly illegal. No man I served with in Iraq would comply with an order to intentionally kill an innocent woman or child, and no officer with a shred of decency or honor would give such an order.

Is this true? I have an acquaintance who is a former Marine who spent time in the Middle East. He told me that he believes that all of the children in the Middle East should be killed since they would otherwise be the next terrorists. I questioned him on it further and he defended it. When I’ve questioned him on the ethics of wars he has said on multiple occasions that “they told me where to march and I marched.” That doesn’t sound like someone who is going to morally analyze each of the orders he’s given before executing them.

My grandfather fought in the Pacific during World War II. When he finally started talking about his war experiences when he was in his 80s, he once told me that as entertainment on some nights, American soldiers would let some Japanese POWs out of their cells and lead them to the edge of the base. Then they would motion to them that they were free to go. As they were running away, those soldiers would shoot the Japanese POWs in the back.

I understand that these stories are unveridiable anecdotes. So perhaps we should ask Ethan McCord about witnessing a man being killed in Iraq as he was trying to take his kids to school. There are videos of it leaked by Bradley Manning. But that was a “legal” engagement, so I guess it was okay? Maybe we should look at the waterboarding the military engaged in—oh, I’m sorry, that was “enhanced interrogation,” so we can give it a name other than torture and make it not torture. And I guess you can just say that soldiers “do not assault prisoners in their custody” to make the torture and abuse that happened in prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan simply go away. Or those crimes simply could not have happened because there were laws against it as directed by “both the War Crimes Act of 1996 and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”

A quick Google search would easily prove that French is completely wrong to say that American soldiers would never commit war crimes. Wikipedia makes it easy too.

French does acknowledge that collateral damage has occurred because of the wars in the Middle East. “Those deaths are the unfortunate consequence of targeting enemy combatants, and are the moral and legal responsibility of the terrorists who wear civilian clothes and hide behind human shields.” That’s certainly convenient to put the deaths of more than 1.3 million civilians on the enemy. I wonder if French uses the same definition of “enemy combatant” that the United States government does: all men of military age (regardless of whether or not they’re actually terrorists).

Are Harry Truman and all of the others involved in the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki not responsible for killing several hundred thousand Japanese people?

Does French defend his defense of killing innocent people with any substance? Does he explain why the killing of Iraqi civilians based on lies about weapons of mass destruction is the fault of the locals? Does he mention that many of the problems in the Middle East are the result of a terrible US foreign policy that has led to disaster after disaster?

No, he makes a cheap appeal to emotion if you dare question him:

It is morally depraved to suggest otherwise. Look men in the eye who’ve lost friends or bled on the battlefield because of their desire to fight the enemy and the enemy only and call them war criminals. I dare you.

Now I’m not suggesting that every American soldier is a murderer or that men and women sign up to do anything other protect their country. Intentions are important and I feel that most soldiers are victims of those pulling the strings of war. That said, intentions can only take you so far. While it is certainly honorable to be willing to put your life down to protect others, there is no honor in following orders without thought. The foreign policy of the United States has proven itself to lead to nothing but the death and destruction of innocent people and the creation of new enemies, so when do the people who choose to execute these wars begin to be held accountable for their actions? Nothing will change until people stop saying, “I’m just doing my job.”

As bad as Trump is, David French’s decision to close his eyes to reality is also deplorable. I know it’s inconvenient, but you cannot just wish things away. If you could, I’m sure most people living in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan would wish the US military away.