Thursday, December 13, 2012

Be a bystander? Really? Cognitive/moral dissonance and green on blue killings in Afghanistan

Great lengths are taken in order to inculcate a particular sort of moral courage or rectitude in the graduates of the service academies. Which sort of moral courage? The sort of strength that allows one to stand up and correct peers, or take steps to right wrongs when they do something immoral or illegal.

The temptation is always there, when seeing friends or peers bend or break ethical legal or institutional norms, to look the other way, rationalize it away, or otherwise stand silent, letting it occur. This is understandably frowned upon when it comes to lying, cheating, stealing, sexual harassment or drunkenness within the academies, and within the services. It goes without saying that such an attitude toward child abuse would not be tolerated, if such abuse were a problem.

Yet, if this story (behind a paywall at the WSJ) is correct, we have a soon to be released handbook for US Army units serving in Afghanistan that is, in its present iteration, advocating just this sort of moral indifference or inertia.

From the article:

American soldiers should brace for a “social-cultural shock” when meeting Afghan soldiers and avoid potentially fatal confrontations by steering clear of subjects including women’s rights, religion and Taliban misdeeds, according to a controversial draft of a military handbook being prepared for troops heading to the region. The proposed Army handbook suggests that Western ignorance of Afghan culture, not Taliban infiltration, has helped drive the recent spike in deadly attacks by Afghan soldiers against the coalition forces. Many of the confrontations occur because of [coalition] ignorance of, or lack of empathy for, Muslim and/or Afghan cultural norms, resulting in a violent reaction from the [Afghan security force] member,” according to the draft handbook prepared by Army researchers…

The draft handbook offers a list of “taboo conversation topics” that soldiers should avoid, including “making derogatory comments about the Taliban,” “advocating women’s rights,” “any criticism of pedophilia,” “directing any criticism towards Afghans,” “mentioning homosexuality and homosexual conduct” or “anything related to Islam.” “Bottom line: Troops may experience social-cultural shock and/or discomfort when interacting with” Afghan security forces, the handbook states. “Better situational awareness/understanding of Afghan culture will help better prepare [troops] to more effectively partner and to avoid cultural conflict that can lead toward green-on-blue violence.”

General Allen will have none of this, according to the article. He neither endorses the contents of the handbook in its present form, nor would he append his name to an approving forward that was penned for inclusion. The article does not give his reasons for this refusal, but one can fathom that this cultural-relativistic kowtowing to the distasteful aspects of Afghan culture had something to do with it.

Additionally, even though the level of information given in this article is low, as to the relative amount of blame for green on blue violence that is being given to ‘cultural insensitivity’ it would seem the drafters lay most of the blame at this factor, and underplay the obvious explanation; infiltration of Afghan forces by Taliban.

Be that as it may; the central moral question remains. When confronted with things that are clearly wrong, clearly depraved, is the appropriate response to simply not mention it, or walk away? Suppose an Afghan brings up the subject of pedophilia, or he brags about spousal abuse, or honor killings, and does so in conversation with American service personnel. (Remember, these folks are nominally allies, nominally brothers in arms, just as surely as fellow American servicemen.)

So, is the recommendation being presented in the handbook this?

Whether or not one should correct or cajole, whether or not one should take steps to prevent future harms to women or children, is completely dependent upon who it is that one is hearing these things from. If a brother in arms from Afghanistan, zip it. If an American, say something, or do something; correct, cajole or bring to justice.

If so, this is repugnant.  If things have come down to this, we need to exit stage left.

We would never dream of countenancing such moral inertia in the service academies, and within our own ranks. We are supposedly modeling behavior and serving as exemplars for the Afghans. How can we tell our service academy graduates to 'by stand' in Afghanistan after we have beaten them over their heads with the contrary view for four years?

No. If this willful blindness is now becoming institutionalized, we need to withdraw.

If we do not intend to withdraw, we need to dispense with this relativistic clap-trap, inform the Afghans there are certain things we will not tolerate, give them the opportunity to say yea or nay to that declaration, and act accordingly. And, most importantly, if we stay, we need not only to loudly criticize the Taliban, but prevent their infiltrations as we decimate their ranks. To do otherwise is a waste of our blood and treasure.

This handbook is foolishness.