The ​Guilt of the ​Soldier

No chain of command can take it

​The sting of life

​"Fatal blows can be endured - they come from outside, they are random. But suffering from own guilt - that is the sting of life. " - Oscar Wilde

Soldiers are scarred by war and suffering. They often come home as broken men. But they had the choice. If every soldier listened to his heart and laid down his weapon, instead of turning it on others in aggression wars, one could begin to speak of peace. It sounds like the fantasy of a perfect world soaked in healthy naivety.

​"Without soldiers, no war would be possible."

​It is only possible through a revolutionized, basic military training in which the soldier, ​but also the police officer, is trained to question commands critically. Instead, each recruiter and cadet is trained not to think independently and becomes indoctrinated with patriotism and misinformation. Soldiers are trained to live by command and obedience like remote-controlled puppets. To make a career means to obey orders of the higher rank. It is not without reason that Hitler's or Napoleon's soldiers marched blindly to Russia in the bitterest winter and died like flies, Americans to Vietnam or Iraq, British to India or Libya.

No nation is without guilt. Soldiers have shown their worst side since time immemorial during war. They executed innocent people, raped and killed. Carried out massacres in the name of God, against Native Americans or aborigines, in colonial wars, German concentration camps, and especially the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, which was just one of many.

​Cadet comes from the Latin word "capitellum" and means "little head".

​My Lai, Vietnam, March 16, 1968

​You are not forgotten

It's hard to read about ​the horrors American soldiers did to innocent women and children when they killed them like in a slaughterhouse without feeling shocked and emotional. 504 lives were taken, and an entire village was wiped out. This mass murder turned out to be the rule in the Vietnam war and not the exception, among millions of civilian deaths. You can't imagine how much suffering these people had to endure. Now it is merely words written down on paper with a bloody pen, but a story we must never forget. We have to be reminded day after day not to repeat -- yet we do.

This massacre left hardly an innocent eyewitness. One of them was a small boy, Phan Tanh Cong, who had to spend hours with the corpses of his mother and his two sisters in a collapsed bunker until he was found.

"They dragged 15 women to the fields in front of the village and raped them. Surely a dozen men attacked them. I still hear the screams today. Then they killed them too. They cut the belly of a pregnant woman with a beyonet." (NDR - 50 years after the massacre in Vietnam by Holger Senzel).

The company commander, Captain Ernest Medina, had demanded them:

"If it is a house, light it; if it is a well poison it; if it lives, kill it. "

Phan Tanh Cong was left alone in this world, because Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry of the 11th Brigade America Division, had killed everyone he loved. 

​​Images by Ronald L. Haeberle

​Heroes have the choice

Any one of them, any of these soldiers could have chosen to prevent it, but they did not. They murdered and raped until the 23-year-old helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson intervened, and his crew landed between them after a reconnaissance flight and directed his gunners targeted the rampant soldiers. He called for reinforcements and saved a dozen of civilians. He was a hero and yet he never felt that way. He had no choice, Thompson said, but to react from what he saw.

Afterwards, he was ostracized in the army. Soldiers left the room when he entered, 'cause he "betrayed the brotherhood" by choosing to save human lives. He took nightmares and depression with him. "This is life and life goes on." But he couldn't forgive his comrades until the end of his life. "No, I can't. I don't think I am man enough to, 'cause I know the pain and suffering that they inflicted for no reason."

The soldiers then invoked orders and hid themselves in a crowd, as the American government tried to cover it up and didn't condemn these war criminals. Although Lieutenant William L. Calley, the smallest wheel in the chain of command, was sentenced to life imprisonment, it was turned into house arrest by President Nixon before being completely pardoned three years later. The worst part of this story, in addition to the act itself, was the brutal reality it revealed -- the power-corrupted politics and an ignorant society. Half of the Americans stood behind their soldiers and saw in these men, so called "heroes," who "defended their country" against 500 unarmed civilians, women and children. They were wrapped in the same fog of misunderstood patriotism as the soldiers, complicit in their reaction.

​These soldiers have made it clear:

  • How people lose themselves in a wrong sense of belonging or community
  • How group dynamics can lead to violence and danger
  • How extraordinary situations can turn ordinary people into murderers

This phenomenon is not only among soldiers. Football or basketball riots and rampant protests testify. The weakness of an individual is hidden in a group.

But at the end of the day, each and every one of them goes home alone and is confronted with his own thoughts and feelings. He will carry the images of his actions with him, like a dagger stuck in his chest. With the revelation that the camaraderie he felt surrounded by people was merely manufactured in order to control him.

​The bodies of women become a battleground

​Millions of women are raped each year in war zones. ​Violence is ​even used ​as a tactical means of warfare, to humiliate and morally subjugate the enemy, from Bosnia to Korea. In Congo, an average of 48 women are abused every hour of up to 20 men, even with rifle barrels and sticks.

​"Every one who is silent makes himself guilty."

But it is not just rebels who perpetrate these acts. Soldiers and politicians officially on peace missions are also guilty. In the Central African Republic, French soldiers raped children and remain unpunished. They exchanged food for oral sex from little boys, or took young women for group sex in armored vehicles. Three soldiers paid a girl the equivalent of seven euros for penetration. When her brother complained to the military base, instead he and his sister were imprisoned by the police, as the French soldiers had immunity. (Source)
In the end, only the children and the civilian population suffer from the abuse that can tear apart a society. The children's parents drove them out because they brought shame on their family, and the children ended up on the street or in Catholic church-organized homes. Even if the perpetrators were convicted, supported by investigations by Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF, the proceedings were discontinued because the evidence was laid out in favor of the soldiers.

​Sexual abuse in the military

When your own comrades become perpetrators, the doors are usually closed. The screams and the suffering are lost, surrounded by hundreds of soldiers, who choose to look away. The affected women are left feeling helpless, and all responsibility is lost, especially when a superior is involved. They witnessed what happened to women who reported rape and harassment. Nothing. It is concealed if the opinion is not suppressed. Sexual abuse puts more strain on female soldiers than a war deployment, because they were prepared for the mission. Their suicide risk is 250% higher than that of the female civilian population.

​"People who swore before the Constitution and before God to protect us become perpetrators against whom we can not protect ourselves."

But the military is still a male domain, which aggravates the problem. If it comes to abuse, the perpetrators are protected by the troop. In most cases, convictions of the perpetrators are not based on civil law, but on an internal procedure that often only assigns soldiers to a new unit. It is reminiscent of the way the Catholic Church deals with accused pedophiles who have been transferred to a new church to continue to molest little boys.

Dealing with abuses in the military just suggests that the military leadership is made up of a large number of chauvinists, otherwise they would act harder on these issues.

​"The appearance of the institution is more important than the suffering of the victims."

​Approaches that would change something

  • We stop the business with war and stop approving arms exports.
  • We take ​the immunity from soldiers. Every single soldier at every hierarchical level should be held personally responsible for his actions, with no possibility to refer or blame the chain of command. This rule should apply from Commander-in-Chief to the simplest soldier and everyone along the line will be punished, including the politicians who are responsible as well.
  • In school we shouldn't only learn mathematics and writing, but compassion and communication, critical and reflective thinking. Beyond standardized tests, education should makes us independent and rational people. The change does not start with harsher discipline, but in less conformity. We will one day understand that only as an independent individual strong enough to stand without a group, we are capable of forming a loving society.

​Instead of honor, we should have respect.
Instead of bravery, we need courage to resist.
Instead of envy, we should appreciate.

​We live in a wonderful world with wonderful people that we should take care of. Not with weapons or tanks, but with the intimate feeling that we are connected, not about the nation, skin color or religion, but about something that is still incomprehensible for us. We may someday understand it, may it be in the hour of our death, or in the birth of a new life. We will understand that we help ourselves if we help them.

​Hooligans - Two birds with one stone

If everyone agrees to smash their heads, they should be allowed to do so on a field away from civilization, where they can not hurt or interfere with bystanders. However, they should bear their own hospital costs and not the general public.

Or even better -- in an arena with television broadcasting as "UFC GLADIATOR" and the proceeds go to peace projects. Like a real-life Hunger Games, with a good cause. Unbelievable that no one has implemented this idea.

​"Hooligans are like child soldiers."

  1. Why is it justifiable for people to kill others on orders, but not by personal agreements in a fight?
  2. Why should one not bear the decision about his life and die on request, as in Switzerland, but go to war, kill and be killed?

    Name me a war that was about human lives. With every war and every attack, we have to ask ourselves who has an economic or political interest, whether it's oil, like Iraq, or Rare Earth, as in Afghanistan. Because then we can see through their lies and rise against them.

    We have to be the voice of peace. Join me in being more aware, See the Invisible, and become a Voice for the Voiceless.

​Question: Why do politicians ​talk about peace but approve arms sales instead of banning arms exports worldwide, which would bring tremendous losses in profits to ​weapon companies?

​Share your opinion with others now.

​I will...

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    ​learn about history to make it better
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    ​see through the propaganda
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    ​be loving
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    ​go ​on the street and show my protest
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    ​talk about my feelings
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    ​give compliments
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    ​be open for new opinions
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    ​raise my voice through petitions
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    ​take politicians my vote
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    ​address the problems
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    ​seek the communication
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    ​be activ
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    never forget

​Because I am responsible.

​Sources​