Monday, July 03, 2006

Accepting Exceptionalism

The AP article on the soldier with a "personality disorder" who has been charged with raping and murdering an Iraqi civilian and killing her family has the following two paragraphs that deserve highlighting.

The suspects belong to the same unit as two soldiers kidnapped and killed south of Baghdad last month, a military official said on condition of anonymity because the case was under way.

The military has said that one and possibly both of the slain soldiers were tortured and beheaded. The official said the mutilation of the slain soldiers stirred feelings of guilt and led at least one member of the platoon to reveal the rape-slaying on June 22."

Even more than Haditha, this sounds a lot like a "tipping point". American soldiers are involved in a gruesome cycle of violence, with the crucial difference being that our attrocities elicit their revenge, while their attrocities elicit our remorse. Needless to say, those are asymmetric rules that favor their team.

If we accept the statistical inevitability that there are a few "bad apples" in every few thousand barrels, one consequence of American exceptionalism is that, as a country, we are stunned when our soldiers obey statistical laws for psychological deviance. It's a drag that American exceptionalism gets us into wars by asserting that our motives are purer than those of other countries, but the consolation is that our exceptionalism also gets us out of those wars when our soldiers show the same humanity that we expected to rise above. In contrast, when the Russians slaughter entire villages in Chechnya, their response is "this is war: what do you expect?"


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