It’s difficult to understand why incidents such as Abu Ghraib or Marines urinating on dead bodies occur in an organization such as the military.
An organization that prides itself on Soldiers being the standard bearers for leadership, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.
The Army even showcases dog tags with each of these values listed. These values are on our evaluation reports, painted on our buildings and hung in our hallways.Then the senior military leaders find themselves explaining to the media and taxpayers why we’re pissing all over dead bodies and torturing human beings in prison.
I don’t condone these incidents in any way, shape or form.
I spend the majority of my day in the conservative military culture and a majority of my free time as an ultra-liberal yogi, so my perspective, to say the least, is unique compared to my conventional peers. But even to me, my reasoning behind these brutalities fall short and almost seem forgiving.
However, we (Soldiers) are asked to do extraordinary tasks for an extraordinary cost. And no, I’m not talking about defending anyone’s freedom or paying the ultimate sacrifice, etc. Each and every one of us has to detach ourselves from our humanity on one level or another in order to do what we’re asked to do. Some describe it as desensitization, not feeling, “flipping the switch off”, or whatever…it’s all a form of detachment.
Detachment is not a bad thing. In the book Anatomy of the Spirit, Caroline Myss describes detachment as:
“stilling one’s fear-driven voices. One who has attained an inner posture of detachment has a sense of self so complete that external influences have no authority within his or her consciousness. Such clarity of mind and self is the essence of wisdom, one of the Divine powers of the sixth chakra.”
Taking this a step further, the Dalai Lama describes detachment as taking:
“the sting out of our emotions toward others that are based on superficial considerations of distance or closeness.”
Based on these statements and my theory of detachment, Soldiers should be these ultra enlightened beings that have a realization of complete sense of self…yeah right. I think most of us are pretty far from that realization, but we all have the ability to detach on one level or another.
To a yogi, detachment is a tool used to find truth without the foggy glasses of ego and personal experiences swaying us one way or the other.
For a Soldier, detachment is also used to find truth. From a leadership perspective, it can be a very useful way to make rational decisions. In war, detachment is often used on a very primitive level. We use it as a tool for survival. Some have the ability to detach better than others.
Unfortunately, all the training in the world won’t dictate how well you detach from that moment when someone is trying to end your life. I can think of various instances where Soldiers couldn’t detach and the emotion of pure fear absolutely overwhelmed them.
Are they bad Soldiers? No. They were able to travel to the Middle East and live for a year or more with the possibility of not coming back. That action in itself takes a level of detaching from one’s emotions.
But how does detachment relate to incidents such as Abu Ghraib and the Marines?
During and after these long periods of deployments, Soldiers have to find their emotional “on” switch.
Most of us detached from anything emotional for a period of nine months or more (and on a reoccurring basis). It can feel like the on switch is bolted down to a cement floor. Soldiers take detachment to the tenth degree and can’t find their way back.
Senior ranking officials blame it on bad leadership, not enough training, and supervision, and that may be true on one level or another.
However, we ask human beings to let go of their humanity, their emotions, and then expect these incidents not to occur.
I would say a large majority of Soldiers can maintain their moral compass during these times…after all, that’s what your taxpayer dollars are training us for. But some Soldiers have seen their brothers and sisters (for all intensive purposes) killed and they react in a very inhumane and detached way.
These reactions aren’t anything new, just look at the Mai Lai Massacre and the Nazi’s in World War II.
Even the popular Obedience to Authority study conducted by Stanley Milgrim said, “The feelings of duty and personal emotion become clearly separated.”
I’m not writing this so you feel sorry for these Soldiers.
I’m writing this so you have a better understanding of “why” this can happen, and I may be wrong. However, from my Soldier-yogi perspective, it seems like fair reasoning.
Can we do anything about it? Probably not, it’s the nature of what we’re asked to do. If the military knew how to completely stop these inhumane actions, I have no doubt they would (and they’re trying), but this is the extraordinary price we pay when we’re asked to tuck away our humanity from the time we board the plane to the time we come back home.
But you can do something – the next time you see news of the Marines urinating on dead bodies or another unfortunate incident, you detach from your personal feelings from war and the military.
You realize that those Soldiers are human beings – human beings lost in their own detachment. Ironically, it’s from a sensible place of detachment that we find our true compassion for both the sufferers and the perpetrators.
(Prepared by: Hayley Samuelson)