Thousands of us, then, some of us now in our 40s and 50s, have led tactical combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have been one of the most isolated occupying armies in history—mostly separated, linguistically and physically, from the men and women whose countries we occupied. Thus the fact that we have done so, over a period spanning an incredible 18 years, with so few incidents of war crimes or other abuses, is remarkable and likely unprecedented in the history of war.
This is also why the very few men and women convicted of committing war crimes—such as the officer pardoned by the president last week—are viewed with such disdain by their peers. You could be forgiven for thinking that “shitbird” is the actual doctrinal term applied to such men and women, such is the frequency with which is it used to describe those who violated their ethical codes and, in cases, the law.
But large parts of the country, and especially large parts of the more reactionary elements in society, do not understand that. Fed a steady diet of 24 and action movies, they think professional military units play out like their personal fantasies: men of righteous violence, forever straining against rules and prohibitions foisted upon them by less noble, more liberal, weaker politicians who can’t understand what it takes to win.