Switching Aggression On and Off In Iraq

Maj. Gen. Keith Stalder, chief of the USMC Training and Education Command said:

"How to get along with the civilian population is at the core of [our cultural training]. Marines get enough language training to be conversational, to be polite, sensitive and in fact to operate in a more coherent way in an insurgency environment. We stress the cultural interaction. We use what we call vignettes where we challenge units to react properly given a very very challenging problem."

This kind of training is all well and good, but my guess is that  being sensitive to a foreign culture creates a huge contradiction and a big problem to the average Marine and soldier. 

The enemy almost always is dehumanized. They become Huns, Japs, Krauts, or Gooks. It’s always been this way. So, cultural sensitivity becomes something of a contraction and probably very confusing when your job is to kill the bad guys and you can’t tell the bad ones from the good ones. They’re all around you. They all look alike.  Which ones are you supposed to be sensitive to?

And knowing if you shoot the wrong one, you’re in big trouble.  How frustrating.

I was around Marines long enough when I was in the Navy to know that their approach to things is pretty much, kill ‘em all and let God sort it out.

It’s almost impossible to abruptly switch on and off that aggressive, kill or be killed mode that is essential in combat and is so much part of the Marine Corps culture. At the same time, they are expected to be polite and sensitive to the locals, many of whom want to kill them.  This is setting up a situation that will eventually lead to an unfortunate incident.

There’s a need to decompress after an incident. There are physical, emotional, and chemical reactions going on that are difficult to restrain. It’s natural reaction to want to take out the people who have  just killed your buddy.

I’m not a combat veteran, but I’ve spent almost 30 years in law enforcement, and when you see a bunch of cops beating the crap out of a suspect they just caught after a long chase, especially if one of their own were killed or injured during the incident, you are seeing the same mental, physical, and emotional reaction to stress experienced by those in combat.

It’s wrong, but it happens.

Perhaps Marines and soldiers are taught how to de-escalate their emotions after an incident, but even if they are, there are physical and emotional forces pulling at them that are tough to overcome, particularly if they been in action for some time. Some of these guys are on their third tour of duty in Iraq. 

After one of their Marines is killed, all the cultural sensitivity training in the world isn’t going to prevent some of these Marines from taking out their anger and frustration on the first unfortunate Iraqi that happens to cross their sights.

It’s not right, and we shouldn’t condem the entire Marine Corps or military over this unfortunate incident, but it’s shouldn’t be unexpected either.

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