CW: I know I tend to sprinkle swearing and colorful language in these regardless, but I really go off on this one language wise. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
This wasn’t what I wanted to start off this year writing about.
Believe it or not, I had some more tongue and cheek stuff I wanted to show you for the inaugural essay of 2021 that at least might have been more entertaining – if still informative (still have it in the works, but its going to have to wait for a while now).
Unfortunately, it has once again been proven we cannot have nice things, and something in particular has gotten under my skin and that of many other leftists who are or have been involved with defense, the military, or other parts of national security – as well as anyone else who isn’t a leftist or a natsec person but still possesses anything resembling a soul and a conscience.
That something in particular was what some might charitably call an “opinion piece” – though I’d rather call it self-indulgent, racist, right wing masturbation material – that was published by Military.com on January 4, 2021 (“yesterday”, as of the time I’m writing this, fueled by anger and a hasty dinner of fried spam and rice because that was all I had in the pantry I could make quickly to get right to writing).
The op-ed in question was written by written by retired Marine Corps Reserve Lieutenant Colonel David “Bull” Gurfein – I want you to know my eyes rolled so hard from his claimed moniker that my retinas very nearly disconnected – and calls for convicted war-criminal, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, to be pardoned by President Donald Trump. Bales was convicted in 2013 of the murder of 16 Afghan civilians while he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. It is worth noting that, not only was he convicted of the murders by a jury of his military peers, he also plead guilty to that crime and confessed to those murders. Additionally, his case also went through the military appeals process, going all the way to the Supreme Court – which declined to review it.
Despite this, Lieutenant Colonel Bullshit – I think that nickname is more appropriate than the version he would prefer I use – lays out a disjointed series of falsehoods masquerading as “patriotism” in an impressive feat of mental gymnastics that would turn any sane person’s brain into a pretzel, arguing that Bales should be pardoned and released along with a number of other convicted “warriors” that remain behind bars. He does so on the behalf of “United American Patriots”, an organization that specifically advocates for U.S. troops convicted of war crimes – that is, the few that actually have been convicted in twenty years of forever war with numerous wrongs committed along the way.
Bullshit is making UAP’s final push for pardons after likely seeing that the writing is on the wall for Trump despite all of his attempts stealing an election that saw him lose by several million votes – to Joe fucking Biden no less. I can see why. War criminals have had no greater advocate in a President than Trump, who in his one term has pardoned convicted murderers Army First Lieunteant Clint Lorance and Army Major Matthew Golsteyn, as well as reversing the demotion of Navy SEAL Master Chief Edward Gallagher – the demotion being the only punishment Gallagher received for a murder that even other Navy SEALs were disturbed by. There have been a number of other war criminals lining up aside from these three notables, all hoping to get the Trump treatment to wash them of their sins.
So, knowing that, I can’t say I’m surprised that Bullshit is pushing for Bales to get the same hero treatment that Lorance, Golsteyn, and Gallagher have all received. But fact that he has the gall to advocate for it, so forcefully and openly, for someone convicted of a crime that is so egregious and horrific, is what makes this attempt so sickening – as well as the fact it would get published in anything other than, say, the Daily Stormer. It drives home everything that is so thoroughly fucked up about civil-military relations and the military in general in this country today.
Why This Really Matters
I’m not going to go through Bullshit’s article and refute his sad excuse for an argument point by point. Frankly, it doesn’t deserve it, and if you have any shred of decency left, you’ll know that he’s wrong without needing someone at me to tear his argument apart to show you how.
What really has me incensed about this is the fact I have to write this at all – let along the prosecutor who convicted Bales, who offered his own reasoning why Bales should remain behind bars and any pardon would be a miscarriage of justice. The fact we have to even consider that Trump might pardon Bales before he leaves office – if he’s not too preoccupied with any last-minute coup ideas. The fact that a military officer – retired, reserve, active duty, or otherwise – would think that this is a good and decent position to take, write an entire-ass op-ed about. The fact that anything resembling a reputable source of news – something Military.com just barely counted as before today for me – would think it was moral and ethical to give a piece of shit like this a platform to argue for something so abhorrent. That’s what has me steaming mad.
All that being ranted, there is one specific point from Bullshit’s piece that I want to latch onto that has me especially livid and I think really gets to the core of “something is very, very wrong with this country and its military” point I’m trying to make out of all of this. To cap off his cavalcade of fuckery, Bullshit concludes on this note:
To maintain good order and discipline within our armed forces, the president must send a clear and resounding message to its commanders, prosecutors and investigators that our nation will not tolerate our warriors’ rights being violated. Supported by the Constitution, the president must confidently take action to rectify the injustices faced by the eight warriors listed above by dismissing with prejudice the charges, disapproving the findings and sentences, providing full and unconditional pardons, and/or commuting the sentences for those still imprisoned.
Full disclosure: I have never served in the military. For the longest time, I was just an interested enthusiast when it came to the military, war, and national security. I have never been in combat, nor any situation that I could reasonably compare to it. That being said, eventually I moved up to being a student of these topics, and finally became a civilian practitioner of them. Over time I have built up a knowledge base on these issues through my own study, experience, and interactions with current and former military personnel from all branches of the armed forces and from multiple countries – some of whom are now close friends.
So, it is with all that in mind, in response to Bullshit’s conclusion, I scream into the internet at the top of my lungs the following:
THAT’S NOT HOW THAT FUCKING WORKS.
THAT IS THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF HOW THAT FUCKING WORKS AND YOU DAMN WELL SHOULD KNOW THAT YOU PATHETIC FUCKER.
To be an officer and to say with a straight face that we need to pardon war criminals in order to maintain “good order and discipline” makes me angry on a level I did not think was possible, even after the experiences of 2020 that radicalized me to the point I started writing these essays. You don ‘t maintain discipline by implicitly telling your troops that they can murder non-combatants and get off the hook for it scot free because “‘Murica.” That is exactly the type of attitude that – along with other factors – only encourages a lack of discipline and a lack of respect for rules and regulations among the troops where it has been allowed to take root. You can draw a gigantic red line right between a lack of command discipline and a lack of discipline among subordinate troops (as if you need the bright red line there to make the connection). All you accomplish with an attitude like that is an endless feedback loop of declining standards of acceptable behavior. That’s what turns a professional military into nothing more than an armed rabble. If you asked just about any military officer or NCO that I worked with or was friends with they would say the same thing in some shape or form.
While shocking, it still makes sense that Bullshit would say this, given the type of people he advocates for – aside from the usual right-wing motivations of racism, imperialism, or the favorite right-wing celebrity past time of grifting for donation money – among others. After all, officers are meant to be responsible for the troops under their command and the actions that they take – including any war crimes. Bullshit seems like the type of officer who would want to avoid having to deal with that reality, so its much easier to simply say that the crime never happened, or that we don’t have all the facts, or that it wasn’t a crime and the murderer was wrongly convicted and that the victims were in fact “bad guys” and the murderer is really a hero, etc. etc. Anything in the book to avoid having to reap what you sow, evidentially. That’s what this all feels like: grasping any possible way to avoid repercussions for your actions because you’ve been led to believe you are physically incapable of doing any wrong.
It Shouldn’t Be Like This
If you’ve read any other of these essays I’ve written so far, you know that I think war is a reality we have to accept, and that the military is a necessary institution – even under an ideal, democratic socialist government. However, even with that in mind, we can’t have a properly functioning, professional military under any form of government if the message is sent that you can commit heinous acts with no repercussions. Bullshit, as an officer, should know that. Any of the officers and NCOs that his sad excuse for an organization has advocated for should know that. The President of the United States of America – the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces – should absolutely know that. If we are pardoning people like Bales – or even treating it as an acceptable point of view – we cannot have a military that isn’t sick to its core. It will only contribute to the numerous other maladies that poison the culture of the military and keep it from fulfilling its ideal purpose of protecting the people rather serving the interests of the few.
Its not just the military that the attitude that Bullshit and others like him takes towards war criminals poisons, but the relationship between the people and the military and the political atmosphere of the country as a whole. It sends all sorts of messages, none of which should be acceptable. It sends the message that troops are beyond reproach and capable of doing no wrong. It sends the message that the life of one American is more important than the lives of 18 people from a country that you can’t find on a map – but they’re brown, speak a different language and pray to a different God so that makes it ok because they’re clearly subhuman. If that isn’t enough, it sends the message that the lives of certain Americans matter more than others – as long as you believe the right things, say the right things, look the right way, and so on. It sends the message that violence like that Bales committed is fine as long as the right people are in charge or you have the right people on your side – which feels apt to say, just as a whole coterie of right-wing supporters are due to march on our nation’s capital to defy election results. This are just some of what pardoning Bales would signal – all of it terrible.
I don’t know how to wrap this up properly, so I’m just going to end it by stating the obvious:
This isn’t how things should work.
We can’t let it be the way things work.
Things not only should be different, they have to be different.
We have to make things different, or there really is no hope at fixing this country and making the world a better place.
Don’t let this be the way things are.
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