Marines P*ssing on Dead Bodies: The Art of Detachment.

Via Rachael Arabian
on Jan 24, 2012
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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.

The U.S. Army

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?

The U.S. Army

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)


About Rachael Arabian

Rachael was a former Army officer and decided to trade in her boots for a pair of yoga pants. With her adventures across the United States and abroad, Rachael has had the opportunity to study a variety of yoga lineages and methods to include Ashtanga, Integral, Restorative, Vinyasa and Yoga Sports Science. Rachael is currently traveling, but you can find her at


12 Responses to “Marines P*ssing on Dead Bodies: The Art of Detachment.”

  1. Karl Saliter says:

    “Are they bad Soldiers?”


    Wrong answer! They are putting the entire war effort in jeopardy

    by behaving like absolute idiots.

    These are not good soldiers, Rachael.

    They are bad soldiers, unless the ability to survive which you mention is the only qualification for “good”.

    The soldier at war is faced with horrible realities, which they signed up for, for which they are paid, from which they need to detach. “Flipping the switch back on” is what the profession calls them to do.

    It is as integral to good soldiering as marksmanship.

    So is coping with casualties and death. Your article holds up seeing a buddy die as if it is a free ticket to become amoral. That coalition had, am I correct, less that 1% fatalities?

    Pissing on enemy corpses is infantile, unprofessional, and thoroughly undermines attempts at talks. In fact it is an insult to infants to call that infantile. Barbaric is a better word.

    It is NOT the “extraordinary price we have to pay”. It is four people expected and paid to be soldiers, but acting like thugs. There is a difference. Right?

    Your suggestion that we detach from our personal feelings about deplorable acts is mildly interesting, but to what purpose? Your tone here is perilously close to excusing the actions. Part of true compassion in this scenario is denouncing with clarity the mindless and harmful acts.

    Bad, bad soldiers. Bad bad bad.

  2. That's not "detachment" but "disassociative." There's quite a difference….

  3. omg Karl. KARL! :))

    (not the comment, the fact your'e here….)

  4. karlsaliter says:

    Thanks Braja, EJ is the best.

  5. oh btw, I tagged your article in mine today….

    Cos the world needs more gurus.


  6. Rachael says:

    Good point about the attachment and I can’t tell you what these Soldiers ARE actually feeling if they’re feeling anything. Hatred is a possibility, but even if you hate someone or something (now I’m going off the premise that all human beings are innately good, as the Dalai Lama puts it) – how can they do that.

    Yes, I use the word detachment loosely. But could you say the disassociative disorder is a very deep level of detachment. I mentioned that all Soldiers have some level of detachment over long periods of time…I wouldn’t diagnose us or even the Soldiers who committed the crimes as having that disorder. I describe detachment as a sixth sense we all have.

  7. Thank you all for an engaging in-depth discussion.

    I would love to see some follow-up articles emerging from this exchange.

    Bob W. Editor
    Yoga Demystified
    Facebook Twitter

  8. rachael says:


    I'm going to see what comes out of my dharma talk for my 500 hour training this weekend…I used this article as a preface. I'm heading for what psychologists call "dysfunctional detachment". Its necessary in war, however, Braja had a good point about attachment. Just focusing on the incident with the Marines, if they were feeling a strong sense of hatred, they probably would have done something worse. It seems like they were just trying to get reactions out of people and now are left with a courts-martial. But the Mai Lai study involved leaders with a very strong hatred for the countries people…but the other Soldiers just followed.

  9. rachael says:

    I like your point on attachment. Just focusing on the incident with the Marines, if they were feeling a strong sense of hatred (attachment to a particular culture), they probably would have done something worse. It seems like they were just trying to get reactions out of people and now are left with a courts-martial. But the Mai Lai study involved leaders with a very strong hatred for a particular culture and same thing with the Nazis…but the other Soldiers just followed.

    Talking with my psychologist friend, he used the term "dysfunctional detachment".

  10. Thanks, Rachel. Those are all interesting angles.


  11. […] This morning, it’s really got my panties in a twist. […]

  12. yogijulian says:

    courageous and thoughtful article.

    some reflections: i think that trauma is essentially fragmenting. it dissociates us from our emotional truth in order to survive overwhelming events or circumstances.

    in one sense military training is designed to enable people to function under what are traumatizing circumstances – to maintain a code of following orders and staying mentally tough when the fight or flight brain and the emotional empathy brain are on overload.

    as such it makes perfect sense that there will be problems because there is a purposeful enacting of a very out of balance way of coping – which is understandable given the circumstances. people in such states will act out violently as a way to discharge the intensity they are repressing and as a way of taking revenge on a scapegoat they blame for their hellish experience/state.

    those who act out in reprehensible ways are NOT bad soldiers or bad people. this is a human response that a certain percentage of people will be pushed to under the right circumstances.

    i want to suggest that the spiritual emphasis on "detachment" comes largely out of a dualist otherworldly religious philosophy – in which what i would categorize as dissociation from the material world is actually idealized as a way to be more in touch with some "other" world…. i think though that with what we know now we can see that this is psychologically problematic.

    as much as i appreciate carolyn myss she has a lot of whacky things to say when she gets into the upper chakras in that book – i would take it with a massive grain of salt!

    i think you draw good parallels between soldierly and dualist spiritual modes of detachment (think krishna and arjuna in the gita) but the third perspective i would offer is that both are essentially unhealthy.

    the healthy/integrated/healed place one can arrive at through psychologically informed embodied non-dual spirituality is one of actually being non-detached and fully in touch with one's emotions and the impact of one's traumatic experience so as to allow the brain and nervous system to process this – ALL soldiers should have at least 10 – 20 sessions of somatic psychotherapy in conjunction with yoga and meditation several times a week after coming home from a tour of duty.

    the dualistic spiritual ideal of detachment should not be used to render dissociation a virtue – at the same time the necessity of remaining calm under fire and not getting swept up in the emotions of the moment while in a war zone is clear; the fact just is this is an extremely difficult and damaging thing for our psyches, hence the need for such immersive training to accomplish it.

    until we (if ever) find another way to handle conflict i guess soldiers will have to go through this – my only hope is that they get the kind of grounded spiritual care that would help them recover afterward.

    all the best and stay safe