In eighth or ninth grade, before I learned how to better defend myself, a trio of school bullies forced me to make a hard choice: either I would kick the shit out of a smaller, effeminate boy on the playground, or they would work me over on the spot. I didn't know the kid all that well, but he wasn't a pleasant sort, constantly complaining and bitching about whatever vexed him. Still, I had zero desire to beat him up, yet if I didn't, my ass would get stomped thrice over. So, with the bullies right behind me, I started an argument with the kid, which got him snapping back, and as the thugs urged me on, I kicked the boy right in the gut, sending him to the ground.
"Finish the fag off!" they kept yelling, pushing me forward. "Go on -- do it!"
So I kicked that kid I don't know how many times, THOMP THOMP THOMP on his ribs, stomach and once his face. I'll never forget his high-pitched screams, his pleas that I stop. At this point I didn't care about getting beat up -- I simply couldn't take what I was doing (though I was holding back somewhat) and the pain and fear it caused. So I stopped and helped the boy up. Told him that I was forced into it. He didn't believe me, swore that I would pay for my assault, wiped away his tears and ran back into the school.
The thugs laughed. One of them slapped my back. "Not bad," he said, "for a pussy." Having had their fun with me, they pretty much left me alone for the rest of the year.
When I explained myself to the principal, I received a stern lecture and told I was on "probation," which I didn't fully understand at the time. The wounded boy stayed clear of me from then on. I wanted to apologize, make it up somehow, but to him, I was one of those ratty bullies who preyed on the schoolyard weak.
This foul memory was rekindled when I watched the video of British troops beating several Iraqi teens in Basra in 2004. Like the kid from my youth, these boys screamed and pleaded for mercy, which not only didn't stop the Brits from bashing them, it seemed to spur them on to further violence. Their cruel excitement was shared by the Brit Cpl. who taped the beatings. The man was audibly enthused, laughing and taking great pleasure in the stomach-turning spectacle. One wonders if the exposure to a war-torn environment ate away whatever humane impulses the Cpl. once possessed, or if the guy was just another sick fuck when he enlisted. I don't know the man, but something tells me that it was probably a fair share of both.
The official PC stance one is supposed to take when discussing military matters is that regardless of how awful things might be, you still must honor the troops and believe them to be a special, holy breed. To me the problems are structural, not personal, so I tend to criticize the larger system that allows and encourages such vile behavior. But even given that, there are some truly twisted personalities in uniform and at all ranks. I saw it first-hand, from Basic on. A few of these psychos were so anti-social that they were eventually discharged. But I've broken bread, mopped floors and cleaned M-16s with those who were not only prone to viciousness and violence, they were steered by ranking personnel into the Infantry or Special Forces. It was felt that they could be taught to keep their darkest impulses in check, while using that crazed energy to master combat training. This clearly was nothing new, and judging from the videos, photos and numerous reports from Afghanistan, Iraq and Gitmo, the same shit goes on today.
When arguing this point with war supporters, I've encountered either pious denial, as if the very suggestion of thuggery in the ranks was so bizarre that no sane response was possible; or, when that facade crumbled, direct admission that yeah, we beat, we torture, we sadistically kill on occasion, but what do you expect? In war you gotta break "the rules" in order to survive. And besides, these goat fucking terrorists have it coming. Whether or not all those jailed or in detention are guilty of terrorist acts is never truly examined. To those who get off on the mere suggestion of beating a hooded prisoner into the blood-soaked dirt, the concept of innocence has no real meaning. My physically assaulting you proves your guilt -- why else would I do it?
A couple of weeks ago, in one of my rare moments of CNN viewing, I watched a report about Russian skinhead gangs who terrorize primarily African immigrants, killing and severely injuring those who, being "non-Russian" and of darker hue, are asking to be savagely attacked. Those who manage to survive these assaults don't bother reporting it to the officials, believing that the cops, when not turning a blind eye to the violence, privately support the skinheads' campaign. One skinhead interviewed on camera (bravely wearing a ski mask, as did his comrades) said that these gang attacks are an effort to protect Russian civilization from the mongrel hordes, and that when fighting "animals," you must become an animal yourself. And as video ran showing several skinheads repeatedly kicking a young, unarmed man in the face and ribs, I thought to myself, "Hmmm, that sure sounds familiar."