How can people behave this way?


The brutal truth about foreign troops occupying a country is that they almost always result in horrific abuses of the local population, even if the troops are there not to invade but as peacekeepers. There seems to be something in the dynamic of a powerful occupying force facing a defenseless local population that brings out the worst in some members of the former.

Reports coming out about French forces in the Central African Republic as part of a UN peacekeeping force are positively ghastly.

The United Nations’ failure to respond to allegations that French peacekeepers sexually abused children in Central African Republic amounted to “gross institutional failure” and allowed assaults to continue, according to an independent panel’s damning report released on Thursday.

The study, commissioned by the UN, found that children as young as nine were encouraged to take part in oral sex in exchange for food or money in the middle of a war zone. The alleged perpetrators were mainly French soldiers from a unit known as the Sangaris force which was operating under authorisation of the security council but not under UN command.

They abused very young children, taking advantage of their desperate need for water. How can any human being act like that? It boggles the mind.

The UN authorities initially stalled and blocked investigations. The person who first blew the whistle on the abuses was initially disciplined, another drearily predictable outcome, before later being exonerated.

The sad truth is that human depravity seems bottomless.

Comments

  1. hyphenman says

    Mano,

    This is just one of the many reason why I—someone who served 11 years—am very much against all-volunteer forces.

    Universal drafts create forces leavened by people who are morally/ethically repulsed by violence and war. These people, like our own draftee Ronald L. Ridenhour, act as the brake on such outrageous behavior by the small number of sociopaths who think the military is the perfect environment for them to practice their deparvities.

    Jeff

  2. says

    The problem is that the draft creates a whole other moral quandary of forced labour. The concept that a person can be forced to enlist then be punished for cowardice or going AWOL is vile and repugnant.

  3. says

    It’s pretty clear that anyone who’s comfortable subsuming their will into a uniform and a gun, is both attracted to power and submissive to it. That sets up a basic desire for heirarchical relationships: the person sees the world in terms of “people who order me around” and “people I order around.” First off, such people are hardly trustworthy. Secondly, you literally can and should expect the worst from them, behavior-wise. They’re pack animals who have demonstrated that they’re comfortable discarding their moral agency.

    (For those of you who follow this blog and know me, you may be thinking “Marcus has already said he hates cops. Sounds like he’s not so keen on soldiers, either!” Yep. I flip flop constantly as to which is a more immoral job: the person who gives away their own moral agency and declares themselves as willing to kill for an intangible authoritarian nationalism, or the person who swears to uphold a body of laws against their fellow citizens that they cannot possibly completely agree with. I guess soldiers are worse. But it’s a race to the bottom.)

  4. says

    The concept that a person can be forced to enlist then be punished for cowardice or going AWOL is vile and repugnant

    Yes.

    But nationalism does this all over the place: because you happen to be born within a certain set of imaginary lines on a map, you are therefore subject to a set of rules that you never agreed to. Forced military service ought to be treated as a crime against humanity. Individuals forcibly inducted into the military are occupied/under compulsion, and have a moral right to resist – violently if necessary.

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    hyphenman @1:

    Universal drafts create forces leavened by people who are morally/ethically repulsed by violence and war.

    I agree.

    Tabby Lavalamp @2:

    The problem is that the draft creates a whole other moral quandary of forced labour.

    Sure. Moral quandaries abound whenever people live in groups. We should work towards a world in which armed forces and police are unnecessary. Until then…what?

  6. hyphenman says

    Such is, or ought to be, the price of citizenship.

    If you’re not willing to defend your country (even in a non-combat capacity, then you don’t deserve citizenship.

  7. says

    If you’re not willing to defend your country (even in a non-combat capacity, then you don’t deserve citizenship.

    How do you think people should pick “their” country?

    Would you say the same thing to a North Korean?

  8. Rob Grigjanis says

    robertbaden @9: Yes, armies and police forces tend to be or become tools of the ruling class, and get away with far too much. That’s frighteningly obvious. Unfortunately, they are also necessary. Always a double-edged sword, so to speak. The best (I think) we can hope for is to try to ensure that the people fulfilling these roles are motivated by the desire to do the right thing. Some are, but not nearly enough.

  9. Chiroptera says

    hyphenman, #1: Universal drafts create forces leavened by people who are morally/ethically repulsed by violence and war.

    I recall US enlisted personnel engaged in sabotage and mutiny to keep their units from participating in Vietnam; I also recall how Soviet troops refused to fire on civilian protesters during the coup just before the collapse of the USSR. Most of the cases I know where troops refused to obey heinous orders were conscripted soldiers. If I were ever to support military conscription that would be the main reason for that support.

    On the other hand, the main reason I probably won’t ever support conscription is this: militaries exist to kill people, and the members of any military are in a position to be killed. For me, killing and being killed are such serious matters, at a level above every other ethical concern, that I could never support someone telling someone else when they are going to deliberately put themselves in harm’s way or to deliberately kill someone else.

  10. lorn says

    History seems to support the idea that it is all-volunteer forces, with their go-along-to-get-along, and career building mentalities, that tend to run amok. While a draftee can indeed be forced to do things they wouldn’t normally do, and the military does require a certain callousness to human suffering and death, there are hard limits to what you can do to a draftee.

    Even in times of war low ranking draftees can leverage their presence and lack of other options, and the simple fact that any officer that suffers a sit-down-strike is considered useless as a leader, to force changes. USN ships off Vietnam had sit-down strikes protesting unequal treatment of black sailors. Soldiers did protest racism and maltreatment of prisoners. Everyone involved paid a price but many of the most egregious policies were eliminated.

    Draftees generally have a mellowing effect. Most of them are there to serve their time and they intend to do it without needlessly mangling their mind, body, or spirit.

  11. hyphenman says

    Marcus,

    Sometimes defending your country means staging a revolution, peaceful or otherwise, to take your country back from those destroying it.

    Remaining aloof and living as a freeloader, however, ought not to be an option. That’s being a resident, not a citizen.

    Jeff

  12. hyphenman says

    Robert Baden,

    Defending your country does not mean passively following the orders of those destroying your nation.

    Jeff

  13. hyphenman says

    Chiroptera,

    That is why we allow citizens to serve in non-combat or to see conscientious objector status. That is why citizens have an obligation to oppose the immoral use of force (as has been the case, in my opinion) in nearly every military action since 1945. The insertions of military units into SE Europe and Afghanistan are possible exceptions.

    Jeff

  14. Holms says

    hyphenman
    Such is, or ought to be, the price of citizenship.
    If you’re not willing to defend your country (even in a non-combat capacity, then you don’t deserve citizenship.

    Pure idiocy.

    Marcus
    Yep. I flip flop constantly as to which is a more immoral job: … or the person who swears to uphold a body of laws against their fellow citizens that they cannot possibly completely agree with.

    Yet maintaining order requires exactly that, and the idea that a desire for stability – and serving as a police officer to that end – is immoral is just baffling. Recognising that your own personal moral compass does not trump that of the nationally decided body of law is entirely reasonable.

  15. John Morales says

    Q: How can people behave this way?
    A: The sad truth is that human depravity seems bottomless.

    (Rhetorical question is rhetorical)

  16. StevoR says

    >How can people behave this way?

    All too easily. Far too much of the time.

    Sadly.

    People are fucked.

    I wish I belonged to a different better species.

    (Yes, I know, I bet y’all wish that too. If wishes were Alpaccas we’d all be furry, fox-killers with good toileting habits and living in Peru. With golden condors from people turned birds by Viracocha flying overhead.)

  17. says

    Military indoctrination in every army involves brainwashing, involves breaking down recruits to instill blind obedience, and to see the “enemy” as less than human. Is it any surprise that brainwashed soldiers sent into a foreign country are going to see the citizenry as targets when they have been taught to see anyone outside their country as killable and free to violate without repercussions?

    War with Gwynne Dyer, Part 2: Anybody’s Son Will Do (1983)

    Holms (#16) –

    hyphenman
    If you’re not willing to defend your country (even in a non-combat capacity, then you don’t deserve citizenship.

    Pure idiocy.

    Too true. Military service doesn’t make someone better, it makes them malleable, gullible, and blindly obedient. If half of US soldiers had the spine of Ehren Watada, the US wouldn’t be in the mess it is.

    Every single anti-war protester since 2001 has done more good for the US and been more patriotic than all its soldiers combined. Anti-war protesters don’t commit war crimes, soldiers do.

  18. says

    Such is, or ought to be, the price of citizenship.

    If you’re not willing to defend your country (even in a non-combat capacity, then you don’t deserve citizenship

    A country that forces people to be its tools is one that I don’t want citizenship in.

  19. hyphenman says

    Left,

    As someone who has both taken part in anti-war protests across four decades—’70s-’10s—and served in two separate branches of our armed forces—1974-1986—I can say with complete confidence that military service, like any life experience, affects different people differently. Stereotypes are generally unhelpful when dealing with individuals.

    Such service may make someone better or it make them malleable, gullible, and blindly obedient. My first person experience is that a lot depends upon the character of the individual before enlistment.

    More to the point, a universal draft ensures a better cross section of the population in uniform and makes war less likely, especially the Everwar we find ourselves in at present, when a larger percentage of families know that politicians are putting their sons and daughters at risk for the wrong reasons.

    Without a draft, Ronald L. Ridenhour (see my post No. 1 above) would not have been in the right place at the right time to do what his conscience dictated he did.

    Jeff

  20. hyphenman says

    Tabby,

    Fair enough, we always have the option to emigrate.

    I think the better option, however, is that We The People have an obligation to not be tools and to actively take part in every facet of society so as to ensure that our country acts as we think proper.

    A volunteer force, essentially a mercenary force when you consider the disproportionate numbers of economically disadvantage people who enlist because of a lack of other employment opportunities (and I see this year and year out among my students) is more likely to be obedient and malleable than a force of draftees.

    A universal draft makes war less likely because people have concrete reasons, their sons and daughters, to think hard before allowing politicians to plunge our nation in war.

    Wars are much easier to stomach when they’re fought with other people’s children.

    Jeff

  21. says

    hyphenman:
    Sometimes defending your country means staging a revolution, peaceful or otherwise, to take your country back from those destroying it.

    Nice bit of abstraction there. Basically you’ve argued that pretty much anything is “defending your country” Hey, can’t “defending your country” also be sitting on the couch and playing Playstation instead of getting involved in imperial wars that are sure to end in defeat?

    Given such open-ended notion of what “defending your country” is, it seems like everyone is justified in pretty much doing whatever the fuck they want and claiming they believe it’s for the best. Hey, it works for the douchebags in Washington.

  22. says

    A universal draft makes war less likely because people have concrete reasons, their sons and daughters, to think hard before allowing politicians to plunge our nation in war.

    You must live in that fantasy America that never went to Vietnam.

  23. says

    These people, like our own draftee Ronald L. Ridenhour, act as the brake on such outrageous behavior by the small number of sociopaths who think the military is the perfect environment for them to practice their deparvities.

    “Proof” by examples doesn’t work. For one thing, it’s quite obvious that Ridenhour is an outlier, given the huge number of Americans who went along with wars of aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Remember the number of Air Force pilots and loaders who had second thoughts about the bombing campaign? Yeah, me either.
    For every Ridenhour you want to cite I’ll cite a Calley (and that entire squad) a Bales, a “kill team” and its company commander, a crew of the Enola Gay, a Bomber Command, a Curtis LeMay, a Patton, a Churchill, blah blah blah blah blah.

  24. hyphenman says

    Marcus,

    @24 Nope, pretty solid concrete matter from where I’m standing. While doing nothing is a choice, doing nothing is not doing something. So, no. playing PlayStation doesn’t count as being a citizen in the same way that ignoring an infection doesn’t count as seeking medical attention.

    @25 Uh no, while I was never in country (I was lucky enough to only see Vietnam from the deck of the USS Bainbridge), I am classified as a Vietnam-era veteran and I still have my draft card. I do know that thanks to generous draft exemptions and deferments (college, &c.) and rules that allowed many to find sanctuary in National Guard units (like President George W. Bush), the draft after 1945 was far from universal.

    @26 Ridenhour is an exception that proves (tests) your rule. There are good, bad and indifferent men and women who have served and continue to serve in our military. My only position is that we are more likely to have people like Ridenhour with a universal draft than we are without one. And, while he was not a draftee, you should take a look at the case of Army Lieutenant Ehren Watada. I would also point to Eward Snowden and those others still not identified who have stood up to the power of the Military-Industrial Complex President Eisenhower so presciently warned us of.

    Jeff

  25. abear says

    Is it a fact that occupying forces are necessarily worse than forces in a civil war?
    I doubt it.
    Do you want to compare the behavior of the French in Central Africa with the Rwandans, the Sudanese, and the Syrian civil wars?
    How about the Sinhalese atrocities against the Tamils that are coming to light?
    The US and western countries certainly aren’t angels but if anything they are less bad than the rest. Politics is and always has been a dirty business and its’ ultimate tool warfare is always horrible.
    How horrible was Churchill compared to his contemporaries like Hitler and Stalin?

  26. Holms says

    #21 hyphenman
    More to the point, a universal draft ensures a better cross section of the population in uniform and makes war less likely, especially the Everwar we find ourselves in at present, when a larger percentage of families know that politicians are putting their sons and daughters at risk for the wrong reasons.

    This statement is falsified by the mere fact that the bloodiest wars took place while most nations had some form of compulsory service.

    #23
    Tabby,
    Fair enough, we always have the option to emigrate.

    “Hey if you don’t like it here, just leave!” said every bigot ever.

    A universal draft makes war less likely because people have concrete reasons, their sons and daughters, to think hard before allowing politicians to plunge our nation in war.

    Oh, you think the parents of the enlisted can disallow the belligerence of their politicians. Heh.

    (Regarding your further comments that begin with ‘@25’ and ‘@26’, who are you replying to?)

  27. Rob Grigjanis says

    Holms @29:

    #21 hyphenman
    More to the point, a universal draft ensures a better cross section of the population in uniform and makes war less likely, especially the Everwar we find ourselves in at present, when a larger percentage of families know that politicians are putting their sons and daughters at risk for the wrong reasons.

    This statement is falsified by the mere fact that the bloodiest wars took place while most nations had some form of compulsory service.

    No it’s not. In the US, conscription for the world wars was either in response to (WWI) or in anticipation of (WWII) commitment to large-scale actions. This says nothing about the effect of permanent peacetime conscription on military policy in general.

    It seems to me that popular support for military actions would, at least for some potential conflicts, be much more problematic if a large percentage of the population had relatives who would be in harm’s way. And governments would be aware of this.

    Anyway, food for thought.

  28. hyphenman says

    Holms,

    Point No. 1: A universal draft, for which I advocate, is not just some form of compulsory service, but rather a very specific form of compulsory service.

    Point No. 2: Suggesting that those who complain about injustice without taking action always have the option to emigrate is not bigotry. If good people do not stand up against bad people society suffers. Opting out is a choice, but not an action.

    Point No. 3: Yes, I do think that that parents, that all citizens, can stand up to bullies. I think we are seeing that happening right now in both the Black Lives Matter movement and in the campaign of Bernie Sanders. A defeatist attitude simply means that the bad guys win.

    My reference to @25 was to Marcus Ranum’s comment No. 26 and @26 was to Marcus Ranum’s comment No. 27. (I forgot to allow for my own comment slotting in as comment No. 25.

    Jeff

  29. Holms says

    #30 hyphenman
    Point No. 1: A universal draft, for which I advocate, is not just some form of compulsory service, but rather a very specific form of compulsory service.

    Do elaborate, as America and Australia seem to word those concepts slightly differently.

    Point No. 2: Suggesting that those who complain about injustice without taking action always have the option to emigrate is not bigotry. If good people do not stand up against bad people society suffers. Opting out is a choice, but not an action.

    It is also the classic bigot response to virtually any argument in favour of protecting people’s rights. “This is Murica, if you don’t like being persecuted for being gay / no minimum wage / fuck all mental health care / rampant shootings / etc. etc. then you can leave!”

    Point No. 3: Yes, I do think that that parents, that all citizens, can stand up to bullies. I think we are seeing that happening right now in both the Black Lives Matter movement and in the campaign of Bernie Sanders. A defeatist attitude simply means that the bad guys win.

    Did it work for the the Korea / Vietnam wars? Same to Rob Grigjanis.

    My reference to @25 was to Marcus Ranum’s comment No. 26 and @26 was to Marcus Ranum’s comment No. 27. (I forgot to allow for my own comment slotting in as comment No. 25.

    Colour me baffled as to how you managed to get a reply ahead of not just one but two that had already been made.

  30. hyphenman says

    Holms,

    Point No. 1: How so?

    Point No. 2: That may be, but how is my specific statement—that citizens have a responsibility to take actions to protect liberties and that taking no action, not standing up against those who threaten our freedoms, is a choice but not an action—in any way bigoted?

    Point No. 3: Again, the drafts in the United States, post WW II, were never universal, but rather rife with exemptions and deferments that favored those with privilege. My observation is that without those exemptions and deferments, unconstitutional wars—our Congress never declared war as required by our Constitution—would have been less likely to have involved American troops. (The same can be said for our present state of unconstitutional Everwar.) In addition, if American troops had been sent, their involvement would have been short lived because when the sons and daughters of the privileged started coming home traumatized, maimed or dead the resulting indignation from their families would have sent a clear and angry stop-message to those responsible.

    Consider yourself colored baffled.

    Jeff

  31. lanir says

    @28: Responding to horrible things by saying there are other horrible things in a dismissive way promotes normalizing that sort of horrible thing. I would respectfully suggest there might be a more useful way to respond to such issues. If you must list other examples at the very least condemning them all at the end would seem appropriate. Of course this is assuming you think child sexual abuse is morally repugnant. If you disagree on that score you should clearly say so.

    @hyphenman: If you don’t like that the US does not have a draft, you can always emigrate to a country that does. Now you have practical, personal experience of how insipid that particular argument is. It doesn’t go anywhere useful it just implies that the person speaking has the right to judge you and set arbitrary condition for uprooting you and exiling you to another location. Which is tremendously offensive.

    I do not think we would ever get universal drafts without exceptions. Not without fixing the political system. To do that would solve the war problem on it’s own since US citizens – using the current legal definition and not arbitrary opinions – do not have a majority supporting continued war. I would prefer to work toward a solution that solves a problem rather than one that simply provides and even requires further injustices to occur. If it were easier to implement the draft and it wouldn’t be an unequal one again that would constitute a reasonable argument for it but neither is the case. It would take tremendous effort to do and current politics would never let it be truly universal. We can’t even get universal healthcare.

  32. hyphenman says

    Lanir,

    Since you clearly misunderstand, I’m not in the least offended, nor do I find your comment offensive.

    I’m pleased that you see the sense in working toward a solution that you have chosen. I don’t know, or need to know what that solution is, or how you are working toward it. That you are working is sufficient.

    I agree that the majority of U.S. citizens do not support war. Sadly, too many do not take action based on that position. There may be a number of reasons why that is true. I chose to focus on the reason I believe to be most important which is that with the implementation of the all-volunteer force very few of those citizens have any skin in the game. Their families are not in clear and present danger from the Everwar. Change that optic, institute a universal draft, or even make a universal draft a possibility, and the those families will quickly become involved in protecting their families from the trauma, mutilation and loss of life that war brings.

    That my particular solution requires a tremendous effort is no criticism. Any solution I’ve ever learned of requires tremendous effort. That which is easy is seldom efficacious. That a task is hard is never an excuse to not act.

    Jeff

  33. Rob Grigjanis says

    Holms @33:

    Did it work for the the Korea / Vietnam wars?

    It’s not a panacea. There are situations in which perceived national interest can overcome personal interest, usually aided and abetted by lying politicians. But would it make things worse? I don’t see how.

  34. Rob Grigjanis says

    Holms @33:

    Colour me baffled as to how you managed to get a reply ahead of not just one but two that had already been made.

    When I made my #31 last night, it was #30. I suspect hyphenman‘s #30 was submitted earlier, but didn’t show up until much later (see the timestamps).

  35. lanir says

    @hyphenman: I think I see where we differ in our approach. I meant that both fixing the politics and altering the draft would each take significant effort. But I think the political fix (something similar to the Bernie Sanders approach to money in politics for example) would help get us out of wars, while the alteration of the draft would not affect the politics of any other issue. I think money in politics is a significant part of what let the rich and powerful carve out their exemptions to the draft in the first place so they would be free to do so again. These are the sorts of issues you run afoul of when you don’t address root causes and try to treat symptoms. Sometimes the root causes are untouchable but if we give up on fixing this one… nothing else can be fixed, only temporarily patched up until someone finds a way to make a profit off of our misery again.

    Personally I know if the draft had been used for the various Bush family adventures in the middle east, I could have been called up. It would have destroyed my life and turned me into a dangerously unstable person. Newly trained to use and provided with firearms. I’m afraid I’m not shortsighted enough to have ever forgotten or forgiven the people who sent me into the situation either. It may have worked out okay (for everyone else) but it’s not the sort of gamble I’d recommend to anyone. I’d understand if perhaps you think that makes me an awful person but I tend to disagree: the Vietnam draft damaged some of my family members and, undiagnosed and ignored for decades, they passed some of that damage on to me. The draft itself is the root cause of why I would never have been suitable for the draft yet would have had no clear path out of it.

    And even if you don’t care about any of that, the draft approach still has the issue of volunteering many more poor and middle class people to risk life, limb and mental health for the benefit of the rich, just so they can figure out there’s a problem in this one specific area and change it – without meaningfully affecting their ability to abuse the system. The solution feels a lot like the problem (risking other people to advance your own agenda) and a lot like the financial bail-out (making the poor and middle class pay for the mistakes of the rich). Please consider a more efficient approach to the end you desire, this one has too much hypocrisy and unnecessarily awful consequences.

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