What Do You Do with Dead Soldiers?

News Abroad

Mr. Sledge is a free lance writer living in Boulder County, Colorado. He is the author of Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, and Honor Our Military Fallen (Columbia University Press, 2005).

“What do you do with dead soldiers?”

This is the question asked by Charlie Anderson (played by Jimmy Stewart) in the 1965 movie, Shenandoah, when he and his sons come upon the bodies of Confederate soldiers who were ambushed.

Now, with the death toll of Operation Iraqi Freedom continuing to mount—but still less than three or four days’ worth of dying in World War II or a couple of tough weeks in Vietnam—we once again find ourselves, as John Fogerty says in his protest song, “Déjà vu All Over Again,” “Ship[ping] the bodies home while the networks all keep score.”

What do we do with the dead?

When researching and writing Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, and Honor Our Military Fallen, a book inspired by a story I heard about the recovery of missing Korean War dead, I asked that question again and again—and, surprisingly, came up with another question, even more important: “Who are the dead?”

Stewart’s character was not referring only to the Confederate dead strewn on the road in front of him. Clearly, his comment included the waste from all those killed in war. Wilson “Woody” Powell, Executive Director of Veterans for Peace, in an interview on Democracy Now, made the same observation: “The first objective of Veterans for Peace is to inform the people of the cost of war. Of course, the most apparent one is the immediate deaths of the combatants.” Powell did not exclude enemy dead when he said “combatants.”

Similarly, Marla Ruzicka, the activist who was recently killed in Baghdad, understood the importance of counting all the dead. Her efforts to “try to do the right humanitarian thing” often ran into roadblocks, but she nevertheless persevered, right up until her death, to help Iraqis document the death of family members at the hands of U.S. forces.

With regard to our dead, the U.S. government has a very caring and complicated process that has evolved over the last 300 years to the point where almost all remains are immediately recovered, identified, and returned. One aspect, though, is controversial: the media ban on any depiction of returning transfer cases containing remains—that is, the avoidance of “The Dover Test.” (General Hugh Shelton, Retired, first used the phrase at Harvard on January 19, 2000, when he said that a decision to commit the nations troops into combat “[M]ust be subjected to what I call ‘The Dover Test.’ Is the American public prepared for the sight of our most precious resource coming home in flag-draped caskets…?”)

The administration justifies its prohibition as an effort to protect the privacy of the bereaved families. (“The families can invite or allow all the journalists they wish at private burial ceremonies,” is a rationale I have frequently encountered.) But media representatives and pundits say that the return of our “Soldier Dead” is a matter that belongs in the public domain. To my knowledge, no one has been able to refer to surveys of family members or find legal citations that would support either position.

But The Dover Test is not the most important issue. As I talked to current and former service members responsible for the actual hands-on work of handling remains, family members of the fallen, and others who are in some way charged with the duty to care for the dead, it became clear to me that we are searching for a way to adequately commemorate those who give their lives for their country.

As we approach the start of the fourth year of the Iraq War this Spring, we will have speeches, services, and silences, all meant to recognize our losses. But we are still not addressing the fundamental issue—that, perhaps more than we know, we grieve for those we kill. This cannot help but be true if part of the mission to spread democracy is to establish the equal freedom and value of all individuals of all nations. This cannot help but be true if, despite the moral compromises we might have to make in order to wage war, we still feel some empathy for our foes as fellow human beings who have also sacrificed their lives.

Throughout its history, the United States has focused on its own dead while failing to acknowledge the masses who have died at our hands. The number of Iraqi dead from the first Gulf War is unknown, but is thought to top 100,000. The number of dead in the current Iraq War, too, is unknown, but some estimates exceed even that number. What do we do with those dead? And, while we struggle to find a way to commemorate the deaths of our servicemen and -women, are we at all aware, as Stewart’s character was, of the need to recognize the value of all lives lost?

During my research, it was difficult to obtain information about American dead, but even more difficult to find out about enemy dead. In the current Iraq War, we do know that combatant dead in Fallujah lay in the streets for days before recovery. We do know that Iraqi dead have been handled in a way that would have brought immediate protests had our dead been handled in a like manner.

Certainly, the United States leads the world in the humane treatment of enemy dead, but there is still much to be done. Consider, for example, the words of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld when speaking to reporters about the decision to publicly display the bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein: “I’m glad I made it. . . . In this case, it was not a close call for me.” He might as well have attached thongs through their Achilles tendons and dragged them around the cities of Fallujah, Tikrit, or Baghdad.

The United States, in its endeavor to spread its principles of freedom and democracy around the world, must view all loss of life as regrettable and, when it happens, allocate resources (if we care to, we will) to ensure that the bodies of enemy dead receive swift and humane treatment. If we do not, then those enemy dead will return to haunt and oppose us in a manner that will cause even more American lives to be lost.

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Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Hello Gene,

The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected-

Sun Tzu

Opposition is not necessarily enmity; it is merely misused and made an occasion for enmity-

Sigmund Freud

Gene, you know me well enough from our few posts together that I would never draw any inference or association between the brutal regimes of history to the US military. However, my post must have surely struck a nerve.


You posted, "Better yet, leave them lie and set up an ambush on them to get the others coming to bury them." Did my response draw anger or maybe was it, second thoughts, about the ethics of your clearly controversial tactic?

Nowhere in my post did I write S-t-a-l-i-n. Yet, you attribute that thought to me. Does your own proposal remind you of Stalin? Freudian slip do you suppose or, conscientious reason?

Maybe we can find the answer here...

Code of Conduct, For the Armed Forces of the United States


Probably not...

The US has placed itself in a very precarious position. On the one hand it needs/wants to "win over" the people whoever, they may be while perpetrating Abu Ghraib or smothering an Iraqi officer to death or fending off reports of female soldiers dying of dehydration for lack of water due to the need for self preservation against rape by fellow soldiers.

Yes you are absolutely right they are us, we are them, we are inseparable. Neither you nor I would have it any other way.

However, we have to maintain our dignity, civility and reason in order to protect our honor.

I believe your proposal to snipe an enemy while they collect their dead is not honorable.

Take care.

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006


Idealists and war go hand-in-hand. The poetry of Patton, the paintings of Hitler, the writings of US Grant or the teachings of RE Lee. Highly decorated soldiers all and just a very short list.

There is a huge difference between the single acts of individuals in battle versus blanket policy which you were advocating in your post.

For every action is a reaction and the US has surely sown the seed for blowback.

Here is my hypothetical for you... The Russians invade the US, replace the government, secure the populace by force and garrison in your town.

Do you...

a.) Aid, abet and placate the Russian invader.


b.) Fight and kill the Russian invader until your own death.

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Good Morning Gene,

At the very onset of the Afghan campaign, well prior to the Tillman fiasco, National Geographic had an article that contained a small blurb on a shepherd who was tending his flocks in the highlands. US troops patrolling the area confronted the Afghan sheep herder and with a little force confiscated his AK-47.

Nevermind that the AK is a vital tool for protecting the flock from wild dogs, that these were the first American's this Afghan had ever seen up close/personal or that he did not know of any Taliban nor that a little roughing up is a good introduction for the host in getting to know his new friends. The Afghan complained about none of this. His fear... having to return home and explain to his wife why he "lost" his AK.

Yes, there is needed stratagems and no debate here that barbarians such as Zarqawi must be killed or captured/tried. Welcome technology such as night vision goggles or use of highly trained snipers is essential for operational efficiency. Beyond question, war is a brutal game.

My point is that we need to draw a line as to how far will we allow ourselves to sink/lower the bar as Americans. How low will our deprivation descend? How barbaric are we? Surely, we will not behead captives but, there is an element in our country... The Hannity's, Limbaugh's, Krauthammer's and Kristol's who treat these people as if they're Islamic sub-human's and that we are fightin' in "Injun" country. Limbaugh, the drug addled pig that he is, called the demeaning acts of Abu Ghraib... frathouse hi-jinx.

Yes, there is a box within my psyche that is resistant to the fundamental reason's given by the government for our initiation of hostilities and a level of appellation at the treatment of these people, by some, as if they are mere animals. Granted a great many of our ground troops sacrifice their live willingly for the safety of these people and reach out daily, unselfishly, with open arms but, the war hawks ignore these noble efforts and cry out for more blood in ever more ghastly ways to inflict punishment and assert our will upon these people.

Certainly, not my will, in my name or with my tax dollars. Yesterday, returning home from a day trip of skiing I listened to Mr. Hannity rant. If any human is a sub-human it is this vile Cro-Magnon. Yet, this piece of human waste rules the air waves for 2M listeners and persuades them that our fight is to be unquestioned and that our acts of barbarity are pure happenstance.

You can complain against me, call me emotional or assure me to keep the faith. For this I thank you.

However, in the words of Mark Twain...

"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear; not absence of fear."

You are an extremely worldly, highly intelligent man but, even you can see that to continue to stoop to ever lower levels of uncivil vulgarity in the treatment of the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan will lead to not only our defeat on the battlefield but, to the ever increasing debasement of America as a society. It happened in the 1960's with Vietnam and it is happening again in our country today.

In 2025 when you and I are talking face-to-face as holographs within a virtual HNN chat room we will think back to this thread. Only then, in hindsight, will we see who's way was best.

God speed...

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006


You're "we had to destroy it to save it" logic is doomed to failure. Sherman is also quoted,

"I am sick and tired of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation."

I realize Sherman is not talking to or about you but, to civilians such as me and those who govern. Today is day 1050 of the Iraq War. D-Day was day 912 of WWII.

I read your post last evening, digested it thoroughly, thought of it repeatedly throughout the day and then listened to Mr. Bush's speech tonight. We've been swatting at flies with a sledge hammer and we're not winning regardless what the President would like us to believe.

What your asking is for us to continue to build upon the disgraces of Abu Ghraib, targeting of children, detention of wives to force the surrender of husbands and the promotion of God knows what other atrocities that is more akin to Nazi Germany or Pol Pot than any to any America I know.

For others who may wish to join this all important post come prepared... I want to know...

Is this even a war, by any other historical measure? If so, give precedence?

Who is the enemy?

Where are the frontlines?

Who are we liberating?

What is the payoff?

Who is next to die?

God save us all...

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Dear Charles,

As my new found idle just a few questions before this thread goes to archive. In an effort to follow in your giant footsteps...

You write, "You don't have to ride along, just stand there--there are plenty of Americans that will do the job for you--"

What is it exactly that you are doing?

You know to fight the war, support our troops (yellow ribbon magnets made in China plastered on your Honda doesn't count) or to assist a vet...

You write, "those few that sit around and wring their much wrung hands"

What do you call it that you are doing?

You surely troll HNN as much as anyone, if not more.

Finally, who do you recommend that someone follow as a hero?

I wait in great anticipation for your reply in my quest to change and become a true Republican.

Take care...

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

OK Charles,

I'll wear the 'hater' tag but, not the 'liberal' monogram...

You wanted to join this thread so now it's on you...

Explain how this statement/idea presented by Gene...

"Better yet, leave them lie and set up an ambush on them to get the others coming to bury them."

is a viable/sound/desirable strategic military tactic?

I'll be waiting...

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Dear Charles,

There were only two civil men left in the whole United States. Dr. Joseph Lowery and yours truly. However, after reading your post there is now only one. That being the good Reverend.

You've thoroughly convinced me that you're way is best and correct. I have given up my evil ways, tossed ethics and morality into the trash along with a Dr. Strangelove DVD, an extensive jazz collection and a bunch of useless books including a beat-up Bible. It's all well enough as Thursday is garbage pick-up day round these parts.

Starting immediately my allegiance is to the Republican Party and our dear leader. Clearly 15000 years of evolutionary development as homo-whatever has not advanced the species any further than your post. Folk's like me are still 2500-5000 years off in the making.

Thanks so much for the wake-up call as it was long overdue. Be sure to put in a good word for me as a reference so as not to be confused with any of those others to be targeted for lock down in the newly built Halliburton Domestic Detention facilities. Any consideration you can lend is greatly appreciated.

Take care...

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006


Good evening. I needn't explain to you what the word assume means...

And, you would not expect for me to portend that by your lack of a direct answer to my question that you would be running around main street serving caviar and vodka to our Russian occupiers... or do I?

Me. I am killing Russians and if my neighbor is a collaborator of the Russians I am killing him.

Secondly, I do not believe that I am the one with the angst issue. Unfortunately, it is you who seems to be struggling with a reasonable, logical and honorable explanation as to why ambushing the enemy whilst collecting they're dead is an effective military tactic.

I have read where the British pacified whole populations by burying Arab dead in pits, face down or covered in pigs blood. Russians burying Muslims in pig skins and now we allegedly burned Taliban corpse. How has your tactic or these actions won wars in Arab lands? The Brits were expelled from Arab lands. The Russians too.

If the US needs to advocate or utilize these type strategies to win in Iraq and Afghanistan then the US is losing this war.

Take care.

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Dear Charles,

"The stone which the builders rejected had become the chief cornerstone."

The next time you get on your boney ass knees to give prayer to whatever pagan baal it is your type worships remember these words of thanks for the blessed life you've been granted... not that you'd show any mercy anyway for a fellow traveler that you obviously deem as below your exalted station but, you never know stranger things have happened to spark a greater awareness in far cruder creatures than you.

And, least you forget...

"Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."

Truly, only a looneybird such as you would defend haters such as Limbaugh and Hannity then actually give credence to these two cretins by calling them pundits. You really need to expand your horizons or find a real hero to model yourself after.

Jeff Christy, the former is a draft dodging, racist, homophobe with multiple failed marriages who is addicted to synthetic heroin. While you would step over or avoid all together some strung out street junkie laying in the alley you take the word of this dope addict as if it is irrefutable truth as to how the world works.

The latter a warmongering, racist, homophobe with anal retentive sexual repression anxiety, gutless Republican apologist, sociopathic liar and Bush idolator who takes his paycheck from Rupert Murdoch, a foreigner.

"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits."

Lastly, I realize you would like to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear when a real man such a you could call out a Jap or if a coon was dangling from your next door neighbor's tree it meant that a good time was had by all.

And, as you are well aware there is nothing a bit sensitive coming from this end of the wire and if you believe there is you're even a dumber dittohead than I thought.

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Dear Charles,

You're doing a heckeva job! As for our hero GW Bush he better be a superhero with a Herculean effort to right the ship of state he and his cadre have scuttled.

Casting aside the issues of race, economy, health care/pensions/SS, budget and villains Libby, Brown, Abramoff and Wilkerson to strictly concentrate on winning the Iraq War will require the statesmanship of Franklin with the guile of Eisenhower. Neither of which our hero has in abundance nor has demonstrated.

War like chess allows only three moves. Advance, hold position or retreat. Assuming that retreat is out of the question our current holding-the-line in Iraq is tedious at best with prospects for success in our current operational mode dismal to more of the same.

Our only move therefore, is forward. This is the foundation currently being laid by "Oberst Von Scherbach" Rumsfield and "Clueless Over Hamas" Rice with rhetoric directed at Iran/Syria. Will the Bush's be reckless enough to widen the war to Iran while still not putting the nation on war footing?

As one can clearly see from your most recent post that you, like a vast majority of Americans, basically aren't doing shit to fight the war. That is not a criticism but, from your other post... the one calling for all out war... you would think that our nation would be on a serious war footing.

Unfortunately, our hero is no Churchill as is evident by his 911 call for Americans to "go shopping" clearly, this group thinks war is a game to be won on the cheap in both lives and treasure. The US is in for a rude awakening if we move forward to strike Iran who in return will shutter the Straight of Hormuz. This Iranian tactic will not be difficult yet, the US reopening it will be.

America is surely fierce but, coupled with arrogance and total lack of knowledge on the enemy... read Mr. Bray's posts on HNN on his fighting in Iraq... this mix is pure arsenic. You, as a respected teacher, more than anyone should realize the need to research all options, absorb all viewpoints, issue measured responses with thorough follow-up and bring to fruition each project one at a time. Name one item/issue/project/objective/program or policy where the Bush's have accomplished these basic tenants of governance? And, don't say extending the tax cuts!

Our hero seems to be driving this nation as if on a drunken Saturday night joy ride.

Take care...

Gene Williams - 2/12/2006


I'm back on the sub-continent for a few months and will not be able to post often.

To change the tenor of the conversation back from the ideological to historical... the Afghan government for the past two years has been pushing a process called the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization, Reconciliation). The country is awash in weapons; there can be no peace until everyone...Northern Alliance, Heqmatyar, Taliban remnants, Dostan's crowd, the warlord Ismail Khan...etc. buys into this. If this fails, Afghanistan is doomed to war for another 25 years.

You'll now find in the Parliament and government former Parcham and Khalqi communists, religious elements, etc. People have bought into the program...many accusing those trying to continue to fight the war of having "slaughtered two generations and wanting to slaughter this one as well."

No farmer needs an automatic weapon these days and it is not abuse to take it from him.

By the way, I was continually thanked walking the streets of Kabul for our sacrifice in coming to Afghanistan...Now we need to rid the Pak side of the border of the hate preachers.

You see...I remember Afghanistan in the 70's when hippies hitchhiked through the country on the road from Bangkok to London. It'll take a generation to get back to that...the Afghans tell me they first have to get rid of the weapons, then change the conversation from hate to progress.

Hope than answers some questions for you,


Charles Edward Heisler - 2/9/2006

1) I am supporting my government both verbally, financially, and by arguing the case for the war on terror.
2) I never wring my hands--that would require taking something seriously enough to worry about it.
3) George Bush, the most efficient and effective war leader in American history.

Charles Edward Heisler - 2/9/2006

Oh hell Patrick, keep the books, the records, and the Bible! You don't have to ride along, just stand there--there are plenty of Americans that will do the job for you--as there always have been Americans to protect those few that sit around and wring their much wrung hands about the wretched state of human evolution. Look around Patrick, men are still fighting and even if you think it is below you, fine, just get some good door locks to protect "Strangelove" and the jazz records.
You've got a larger problem if you believe that the fine twister of the eulogy, Dr. Lowery is a "civil one"!
Hell the fool is nothing more than another caricature of the great Democratic Party Step-un-Fetchit!
If you have to have heros Patrick, try reaching a bit higher or we will think you aren't serious about all of this.

Charles Edward Heisler - 2/8/2006

Patrick this is too easy. Look, war is a horrible thing, a terrible thing, a useless exercise but one that men along their entire history insist on engaging in--it seems to me to be a biological imperative of the human. Because it is a practice that continues, I take the practical position that these wars that America engages in must be won. Wars are won by killing as many of the enemy as can be killed--if using bodies as decoys results in killing more of enemy, it must be used. If mistreating prisoners results in saving our troops, then prisoners must be mistreated. It is all as simple as that Patrick.
On the night of 9/11 I taught a class of very worried students, I suggested to them that everything would work out fine and that they were about to find something out about the American character--the one thing that this enemy misjudged--the absolute fierce nature and ruthlessness of the American people. I believe in it and I trust it.
Look at our history, look at our games, look at our business practices, look at our entertainment--the America you so desperately wish for does not exist, isn't even hinted at, but my America, the fierce one, is always there--repeated bluntly for all that wish to know can know clearly. I have not deluded myself that Bush has defined America--not even for a minute--America and Americans have defined the President in this most important war--he clearly symbolizes all that we are in times like these and I am grateful for it--I believe his (read America's) reaction to 9/11 has spared us further attacks to this time because that harsh reaction has intimidated many enemies.
Patrick, I consider our enemies to be ill led, poverty stricken, ignorant zealots following an illegitimate religion to their own destruction. The sooner the better--I also can paraphrase the very American William T. Sherman who knew as I know, that the harsher war is made the better because it causes a cessation of hostilies. Of course war was hell to Sherman, he just wanted to make sure he and the Union were the dispensers of that "all hell" environment.
I would never critize a man for wishing for peace, most do. But, to be unrealistic, dreamy, indecisive in times of great personal risk is the very epitome of foolishness. Your personal happiness is dependent on an American victory in the war on terror and you should not quibble about which political party delivers that victory.

Charles Edward Heisler - 2/6/2006

Why Patrick, how interesting that you could, thru the use of many adjectives, work yourself up to being that which you profess to hate so much!
Which, of course, goes a long way to prove my point that even liberals like yourself are more than capable of leaving the dead rotting on the field--so long as they were Christian, white, and conservative!
Ain't life grand when people who wish they weren't are?

Charles Edward Heisler - 2/5/2006

Patrick, Patrick, Patrick, right here on a history website you complain about the confiscation of a dog shooting AK-47 from a shepard in Afganistan and to trash two very, very popular American pundits and the past history of the American people will lead you to a not to distant time when the President of the United States referred to our enemies as sub-human "Japs"! Further, our hallowed military was summarily executing every prisoner taken in many campaigns, we were firebombing the soldiers kith and kin with impunity, day and night by the hundreds of thousands.
All during this time, sensitive souls like yourself were cheering and crying for more enemy death so that the hard won peace would bring, well, bring peace. How is it that you reserve such care and regard for the followers of Islam (who riot against free speech as we speak) and deny the same care and regard for the Imperialists of Japan and the Nazis of Germany?? I think it would be interesting if you explained it all to us Patrick.

Gene Williams - 2/3/2006

mes amis,

ahh...Swords and arrows of our benighted species did very well for mass slaughter. As examples: Timurlame's pyramides of skulls outside of Delhi, Hugalu's depradations in Afghanistan, Iran and the Euphrates basin where he trampled the Caliph of Islam, wrapped in a carpet, to death beneath his cavalry, ... the Yu'an Dynasty (Mongol) finally fell because the grand vizier suggeted they kill all Chinese with 5 specific sur-names (which composed..oh..about 40% of China). When the Romans "sent in the army" to quell a revolt along the Dalmatian coast...80% of the population was exterminated. No...I think our ancestors would be proud of the 20th century.

Gene Williams - 2/2/2006

Hi Patrick,

Afghanistan is not Arab.

Strategems have been used throughout the history of war, some of them pretty nefarious...some guys even hid in a wooden horse and burned a city to the ground so I'm told.

You seem pretty upset about one of these. Maybe a list should be drawn up of forbidden strategems for our troops... like no "playing dead," no pretending to flee a burning vehicle then bombing it, no using night vision googles, no snipers for sure, no reading other gentlemens mail, humm,lemme see, oh yes - in Laos we left a lot of booby trapped ammunition around - it would make the NVA weapons explode if they used it..guess that should be out too ....

Oh I don't know Patrick, I'm really getting tired of your emotionalism about our guys fighting a war; go ahead and make up your own list if it'll make you feel better. Might include "no cutting off heads" to be distributed to Zarqawi.

Somehow though I think this is not about the tactics...rather I feel you just hate the fact that we're at war for something you disapprove of. My generation went through this once... I guess we'll just have to go through it again. sigh...

Ciao fellow citizen and keep the faith..something good will come out of our outrage

(just saw a video of Whitney Houston singing "Star Spangled Banner" at the 1991 Super Bowl as our boys ginned up to go against Saddam the first time..it was great).

Michael Barnes Thomin - 2/2/2006

When you make a mistake you might as well go all out, that's my philosophy! At any rate, or in this case year, it was only my hope and it will probably always just remain that.


Frederick Thomas - 2/2/2006

It's only 3255 years (1250 bc) in the case of Troy, but as to your main point, I wonder.

The 20th century saw 102 million people killed by their own (mainly left wing) governments, and when the Greeks fought, it was with far less deadly weapons than we do now.

The innate competitiveness of our species seems to be about the same, then as now, but we have the technical means to kill far more than the oldtimers did, and no reluctance about it.

Michael Barnes Thomin - 2/2/2006

"Did not Achilleus do worse to the corpse of Hector, to discourage the Trojans?"

I can only hope humanity has made a tad bit of progress in the last nine to ten thousand years.

Gene Williams - 2/1/2006


I gather from your post that in Iraq you take the side of the Ba'athists (never elected, shot their way to power first in 1961 then again in 1967; invaded two neighbors, etc.) and you reject the Kurdish and Shia populations' efforts to establish a new government. Ok.. fine.

And in Afghanistan by the same token I would reckon you take the side of the Taliban (they came out of Pakistan and with Pak gov support and money, shot their way to control over 3/4 of the country before being ousted). Ok...fine.

And, can I assume that you take the side of the Serbs, whose province of Kosovo, part of their country for 1000 years and the location of the spiritual heart of the Serb nation, the the 24 June 1388 field of black birds, was occupied by Americans and its coalition with no UN mandate?

I can't change your view of any of this; I can only suggest that you question your propositions one more time and examine your evident angst about the US Military and your own government and see whether these feelings are just, or whether they are emotional; and if the latter, why? Take care.

Gene Williams - 2/1/2006

Hello Patrick,

A couple of things first...I mispoke about Stalin, confusing what a previous poster had postulated with your post. Still, you made an implied connection in your post between Pol Pot, Nazis and our troops in Iraq. As I said in my response, I assumed this was hyperbole and you have assured me that it was. Thanks.

As for Sun Tze, I first read him when I was 11 and last read him in Chinese about 35 (many years ago). When Mao died, I was the only American allowed to sign his condolence book in a Chinese embassy abroad where I happened to be living...I wrote an 8 character cuplet from Sun Tze that I heard later provoked a 4 hour mass meeting to discuss its meaning..."when you cross a river, get far away from it."

As for honor in war, there is a place for it. There isn't a place when it prolongs the war or endangers our troops. here are a couple of examples:

In early May a Marine unit was operating in Afghanistan in Laghman province in the Alishing valley, one of the slit like river valleys carved by runoff from the impossibly high summits of the Pamir Knot. They entered the Mayl valley and were attacked by local Taliban and/or Hekmatyar militia. They deployed and grenaded the militants out of their caves. C-130 gun ships knocked numbers of them off the ridges as they tried to exfil themselves. 28 militants were left dead, many of them relatives of the commander. 2 marines died. 19 ACM bodies were gathered by the villagers in one village and shown to Americans. Afterwards, the village elders in this valley had had enough with this commander and forbade him to return to the valley. The goal was accomplished by letting the villages take care of its business.

But in another firefight in Zabul province, where the ACM came across the border from Pakistan, probably with the connivance of the Pak army, Americans were shot up on a highway, a Turk and British engineer paving the highway were abducted and murdered. When troops finally cornered the leader, he waited in hiding, shot another American and was finally shot down. A patrol of ACM came for his body that night. They didn't make it back to Pakistan,

So, my point is, in the comfort of our living rooms its easy to pass judgement on our troops in combat. In the field its more problematic. I know our guys; They can fight. And sometimes to fight effectively is not to be fair.

Keep your idealism Patrick; and keep your hands clean. ...You can let others take care of the hard stuff.

Gene Williams - 2/1/2006

Hi Patrick,

One other thing; I didn't comment above on your comparing Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot to our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. I assumed this was just hyperbole meant to define your feelings about war in general.

But take a look again at the comparisons you made and see how such accusations, even if they are exaggerations meant to make a pacifist point about the violence of war, might hurt our fellow citizens serving as soldiers of their country in Iraq and Afghanisttan. They are not hired Hessians. They are part of us, our men; you cannot separate our armed forces from our body politic; to do so is risky...recall the Praetorian Guard... and to make such charges even as hyperbole (recall JFK-II and his charges on Vietnam) really is almost as bad as being on the field against them pulling a trigger.

Do you really believe our soldiers are as bad as the Nazi SS/Gestapo, the Chekka of Lenin, or Pol Pot who slaughtered 1/4 of the population of his country? If so, then where in the world did you come up with this idea? Are you sure your characterizations ae accurate?? And if you are convinced this is true, then why aren't you taking some sort of physical action to stop the mass murders you believe are going on??

Gene Williams - 1/31/2006

Thanks Patrick for a truly human response to war. And I respect you for that as I do for your just outrage at corruption. However, I was answering a specific topic on what to do with enemy dead.

Its a tough subject. First, are we at war? Do we want to finish it? How and why? Start with the first principle of warfare..."objective." Then, if we all accept that victory (the achievement of our national objectives) is more platible than defeat (the ruination of our allies, the slaughter of our armies, the humiliation of our government, the ascendency of our opponents, the invalidation of our ideology), then we are honor bound to take all appropriate actions necessary to win. This involves in warfare applying the science of war..(remembering Clauswitz's dictims on the relationship of war to poltics).

I as a Southerner was shown freestanding chimneys in Georgia by my mother in the 1940's and remember her saying, "Son, those are "Sherman's smokestacks." So the idea of total war was sort of ingrained as a horror story spurred by family rememberance of a 50 mile swath of the South being burned by "the great invader" (words taken from GWTW).

Still I used the quote only to bring home what I perceived to be the nonesensicall misunsderstandings of war illustrative in this article. And I still don't want to have to bury the Taliban militia (they are called "acm" or "anti-coallition militant") in Afghanistan after what they have done to the villagers or to our troops just because this would be "nice." I'd indeed rather set up an ambush on the bodies.

Anyway, in Muslim culture, the dead have to be washed and buried in 24hrs. Let their buddies do it. I don't have a lot of sympathy for them...

sorry for the hard line...its just is sort of..ingrained..or it seems just to me. And I don't thing there is anyting illegal at all about these sentiments.

Frederick Thomas - 1/31/2006

It is not against international law to leave dead enemy unburied or unburned, but it can be difficult not to appreciate some of those whom one has killed in war.

The best soldier I had anything to do with in Vietnam was the VC Commander of Military Region 5, who had fought since WW II -Japanese and French- and was scrupulous about his troops and his tactics, and now was fighting us.

As FSCO in an AO with no US infantry, I had a lot to do with air and artillery. I was responsible for locating him from radio triangulation and for targeting his underground HQ with 4 loaded F4s equipped for radar bombing at 2:00 am, on March 11, 1970.

His thirtieth year of war was his last, and I regretted that death. He was the enemy, and supported a cruel and inhuman cause, but was a good man. Burial was not an issue -he was buried enough- but the feeling of respect is still there 35 years later. He deserved respect from both sides.

Uday and Husay is another issue. If they were not proven dead publicly, they stood to become Robin Hoods to whatever murderers (NOT soldiers) who remained alive in Iraq. Rumsfeld was right to do as he did, and the author has no right to second guess him. Did not Achilleus do worse to the corpse of Hector, to discourage the Trojans?

Gene Williams - 1/31/2006

Hi Chris,

What is illegal about setting up an ambush in war or not burying your enemy's dead?

Oh, by the way, it sounds like you had one hand on your skirt hip and the other wagging a finger when you wrote your comment? And...and...You mean I can never ever write about law or morality again because you've forbidden me to do so? I'm...I'm....crushed.

chris l pettit - 1/31/2006

the ideological criminals who wage it on both sides should be prosecuted in international tribunals...

Law exists on its own authority...not because some ideological misfit tries to enforce it...

If you want to argue that law does not exist, that is fine, but you cannot complain that anyone is then being barbaric, or a terrorist, or doing anything against the law, or immoral...since these things then necessarily don't exist. You can only argue that what is being done goes against the ideology that you want to impose on the world. Therefore, there was nothing inherently wrong with 9/11 in and of itself...it was simply one group trying to impose its ideology on another...and it happened to go against your ideology. it was not illegal or immoral as these concepts must be universal by nature and stand alone without "enforcement." You then must state that you choose to go after them in order to impose your ideology which you think is best. That is fine...the Nazis did it, Islam does it, Stalin did it, Leopold did it in the Congo, Israel does it, the Chinese did it, and the US is doing it. But I never want to hear another word about right and wrong, law, morality, ethics, whatnot. you simply cannot have it both ways.

either you choose law, reason, rationality, ethics, etc...or you choose to abandon reason for social darwinism and the imposition of ideologies without regard to law, morality, etc. If you want to choose a return to Hobbes state of nature, so be it. Just don't let me ever hear anything about law or morality escape your lips.


Charles Edward Heisler - 1/30/2006

Ah Chris, mewling and slobbering again about what the world "might" be like if only Chris like figures inhabited things? Sorry that your dream world doesn't exist even if your tepid response to violence is prevalent in some small quarters of humanity. Where in your no doubt extensive scholarly history did you find these vast populations of peace loving folks? Where did you find that temperate smiley faced responses to mortal threats saved the day?
I myself am a peace loving man, cherishing dogs and small children with gentle and soothing touches and words, I only become passionate and combative with liberals who describe worlds that do not exist and with those who would attack and vaporize 3000 of my peaceful and innocent fellow citizens.
I will leave you with your permanently Leftist snear intact, protecting it and my peaceful demeanor by calling for the death of as many Islamofacists as it will take to end this matter in the Middle-East and wherever the evil thrives.
Meantime, Chris, try to trust the good natures of your countrymen just a little bit more than those of the enemy if it is within your head and stomach to do so.

Gene Williams - 1/30/2006

Posted this before I finished. Burying your enemies is nice...Romans cleaned the battlefields for health reasons. But on the ground in these battles in Afghanistan and Iraq, leave them lie. Someone,...their relatives or comrades...will police them up. Better yet, leave them lie and set up an ambush on them to get the others coming tu bury them. This is a war not patty-cake on a Sunday morning.

Gene Williams - 1/30/2006

War is cruelty. There's no use trying to reform it, the crueler it is the sooner it will be over."
-William Tecumseh Sherman

"War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them
all they want."

chris l pettit - 1/30/2006

is as fanatic as any other fanaticism...

you have ideological deliquents on all sides...and the innocent get caught in the middle.

As the comedian George Carlin put it...any time religious fanatics want to kill each other I find it to be a good idea; maybe they can wipe each other out...all fanatics (nationalism is the new religion) should be included in that thought. Unfortunately it is the innocent and those trying to live in peace that get caught in the middle...since the cowardly and power hungry don't fight their own ideological fantasies, they leave that job to the misinformed, brainwashed, and ignorant.

Its too bad that the Bush's, bin Laden's, Heisler's, Baker's, Klinghoffer's, Sadr's, etc of the world can't fight their own battles...maybe once they killed each other off the rist of us could build a world based on law, community and rights instead of force, rules, and social Darwinism (might makes right).


Charles Edward Heisler - 1/30/2006

Stephan, that pup won't hunt! Fanaticism is fanaticism--you assume that the Islamofacists are more fanatical than Nazis? Japanese Imperialists? Communists?
As I said earlier, history is on my side--we have waited for the sky to fall throughout my long life from one form of "ist" or another.
The victor always seems to be, with few exceptions, the one who has the power and ability to leave the most dead enemy on the field--seen or unseen.

Stephen Kislock - 1/30/2006

Mr. Heisler:
The 1940's are gone!
Today the Emperor is an Idea a Though, Kamikazes are Walking amoung US and Why?????????????????

The Body of todays Kamikazes, cannot be Recorded, there is Nothing Left, but a Family fighting for an Idea, you cannot Kill!

Charles Edward Heisler - 1/29/2006

"The United States, in its endeavor to spread its principles of freedom and democracy around the world, must view all loss of life as regrettable and, when it happens, allocate resources (if we care to, we will) to ensure that the bodies of enemy dead receive swift and humane treatment. If we do not, then those enemy dead will return to haunt and oppose us in a manner that will cause even more American lives to be lost."

Certainly a commendable concept but as a child that grew up with pictures of crispy fried Japanese soldiers smouldering alongside their ratholes, images of German troops turning black in the North African desert while American soldiers marched casually by, I doubt the conclusion you suggest.
Sensitivity is a good thing but these Islamofacists are probably no different than the Nazi and Japanese fanatics--if we convince them, as we did prior enemies, that the next bloodied and humiliated corpse will be theirs, we will probably not have to worry about a "haunting".
War is a cruel pastime at best, I think the best attitude is to simply get the matter over with using the maximum cruelty as it relates to the enemy combatant and let the devil and the future sort it all out.
History is on my side.