Friday, April 6, 2012

Who deserves the blame?

When an American soldier went out to the nearest Afghan village and killed 16 people, a great deal of attention was focused on this one man. We heard about his family and his own history. The same happens with the grisly crimes that fill the daily paper. Teenage boys shooting their classmates. Young mothers killing their children. Angry husbands killing their wives and sometimes their children also. Young men shooting other young men.
In each case there are one or more individuals accused of the crime and the news focuses on them. A good deal of attention is then given to what sort of punishment this person should receive. Where a murder has been committed there is always mention of the possibility of the death penalty, even if the accused murderer is only 15 years old.
This intense focus on the individual murderer has always puzzled me.
When the Boston Red Sox win a pennant, half of Boston celebrates and gets drunk even though the celebrants made absolutely no contribution to the victory of the team – except perhaps paying large sums to sit in the bleachers. People are “proud to be Americans” even though their individual contribution to American economic or military power is miniscule or even completely nonexistent. We take credit for the good things that happen in our society even when we, actually, did not contribute to the good event. It gives us a sense of accomplishment. It makes us important and our lives worthwhile.
But the bad things that happen always get blamed on specific individuals. When the Red Sox failed to win a pennant because it's overpaid players were drinking beer in the clubhouse during the game, did any of us ask ourselves what our contribution was to this sort of culture of self indulgence and “more money for me.” Is it conceivable that these undisciplined players were simply living out the standard life in a consumerist society? And do all of us who participate in that society not bear some responsibility for keeping it going?
If our schools have students so angry and so disillusioned that they are willing to bring a gun to school and use it, does that not also have to do with us?
News reports say that Sgt. Bales, accused of killing 16 civilians in Afghanistan, served three tours in Iraq before he was sent to Afghanistan – clearly unwilling to go. I'm sure he is not the only one who has served that much time on the front lines. All the other soldiers who have done similar service have not gone out to shoot civilians. For sure, but should we not ask whether the military – and we – put excessive demands on this person?
Should we not ask whether Sgt. Bales should have been in Afghanistan at all? Is it possible that all of us who have been condemning those wars but have not been willing to protest loudly enough to be heard in Washington have some responsibility for the continuing damage we are doing to Afghanistan and to our own soldiers?
If you are “proud to be American” you should also be ashamed for American soldiers who kill civilians in Afghanistan.