Monday, November 24, 2008

Looting in the News: Rape, Pillage, and the America Way

There's looting, and then there's looting.

To Loot, or Not to Loot: That is the Question

I'm no fan of moral equivalence, so I see what an acquaintance of mine did as quite different from what happened in Kibati. (Kibati?! I'll get back to that.)

Someone I'd met knew about a building that was scheduled for demolition the next day. A succession of owners, residents, and visitors had neglected to destroy a beautiful stained glass window. Local customs and the demolition company's work order being what they were, the nearly-irreplaceable window would soon be in shards.

Demonstrating qualities which had earned his ancestors an honored place in their homeland, that night he liberated the window and transported it to a secure location.

The next day, a local historical society won control of the building, and noticed that one of their windows was missing. They spread the word that, if the window was returned, there would be no questions asked.

My acquaintance, a reasonable man, returned the window.1

What, if Anything, Does This Have to do With the War on Terror?!

I get the idea that "everybody knows," in some American sub-cultures, what American soldiers are like: brutal, vicious brutes; always oppressing and/or killing helpless, innocent men, women, and children. That's when the American soldier isn't an oppressed minority, forced into the military by racism, poor education and lack of social programs.
American Soldiers? You Know What They're Like!
I can see how someone could have that view, particularly the way traditional news media tends to handle the American soldier's 'typical' experience in Iraq: like the Haditha incident, and Abu Ghraib.

Between the news media and Al Qaeda's version of what the foreigners were like, Iraqis saw coalition soldiers, including Americans, as foreign oppressors: until they had a chance to see how American soldiers and other members of the coalition acted.

Iraqis seem to be as sensible as anyone else. They had to choose between
  1. Doing nothing
  2. Helping people
    1. With a tendency to behead people they don't like
    2. Who tend to rebuild roads, water plants and hospitals
      • When they're not shooting the beheaders
After consideration, #2b seemed like a reasonable choice.

Yes, Virginia, There Are Brutal Soldiers

No question about it. Some soldiers are just plain nasty. Like the fellows who got in the international news this weekend.
Soldiers Target Blankets, Pots, Pans, and Women
Well, one woman, anyway. And the nitwits apparently shot her before they could have any 'fun.'

Here's how the 20-year-old woman got shot, according to a man who had fled to Kitabi, Congo, with his family.

" 'Last night some soldiers came and started a fight among themselves. One of them wanted to have the girl for himself. Another one wanted to stop him. A shot was fired and the girl was hit here with a stray bullet,' he said, pointing to the centre of his forehead."
(Perth Now)

Another account says "A 20-year-old woman was killed at Kibati on Thursday night when a bullet pierced her tent and hit her in the head."

Upwards of 67,000 people live in the refugee camp near Kitabi. I'm sure they'd rather be somewhere else, but there's a war going on: and has been for years. It's between a group whose leader says he's protecting Tutsis from Hutus, and soldiers of the leader who controls the territory now. The Tutsis from Hutus are standing on land that's rich in minerals, which may or may not be a factor.
Kitabi, Where's that?
This Kitabi is a village one north of Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo: not the one in Republic of the Congo.

View Larger Map
Congolese Soldiers Behaving Badly
That business with the soldiers, the woman, and the stray bullet, isn't an isolated incident. United Nations peacekeepers were attacked recently. On the other hand, about 25 men in a U.N. convoy were arrested: the idea is that they were rebel soldiers. Some of them, anyway.

Some of the looting victims are very understanding. One man "said his house also was looted by soldiers Sunday night who stole food and a bucket but he did not blame them.

" 'It was just an accident, that they stole from us,' he said. 'They are hungry.' "

There's no way of knowing whether his statement comes from a remarkably forgiving heart, from the enlightened self-interest of a man trying to stay alive, or a little of both.

American Soldiers, Rape and Pillage, and a Reality Check

I've noticed a pattern. In situations like we've got in the Democratic Republic of Congo, two things are likely to be true:
  1. Soldiers will rape and pillage
  2. They won't be wearing American uniforms
The examples I picked were in Africa, but the problem isn't limited to that continent. Germany and Russia are still sorting out whether or not what they looted from each other was stolen fair and square, or whether they need to give the stuff back.

I think it has less to do with the quality of chow that countries give their soldiers, and more to do with the culture of the countries: military and otherwise. This may be regarded as an intolerant, hateful, elitist, statement, but: I think that Americans, by and large, don't think that rape and looting are nice - even if you do it to someone else's tribe or clan. My ancestors didn't always see things this way, and some people still don't.

Times have changed since my ancestors were on both sides of the Viking raids.

American soldiers come from today's American culture. Then, on top of what they brought in with them, the American military tries to instill notions like duty and honor. People who believe in the World According to Berkeley won't agree, but that's not my problem.

Yes: Once in a while something like Abu Ghraib happens. But that's the exception, not the rule. America, and every other country that doesn't live down to the standards set by Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and related groups, is in for a long, hard, conflict.

I think it would be a good idea to remember that the American military is not a threat to America: and that some other organizations are.

More-or-less related posts: In the news:
1 I have to be vague about what country, and what decade, this incident happened in. For one thing, I don't want to make trouble for the enterprising fellow.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.