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Whenever there's another release of previously secret documents, the U.S. military establishment prefers to keep secret, the official response is always that secrecy is necessary to "protect" the foot-soldiers on the ground in foreign lands.  What they are to be protected from is never spelled out, but we are supposed to assume that the victims of whatever wrong-doing is being exposed will be motivated to exact revenge, if and when they learn who actually did the wrong.  This implied explanation only makes sense, if one assumes that the victims of torture and their relatives and enemies don't already know who was/is responsible.  It assumes, perhaps, that the victims of detention and deprivation are like the captives in Plato's cave, unable to understand what was going on because they were deprived of the opportunity to see their captors by capture hoods, bright lights or masks.  Or expects the public to swallow another myth in the interest of national security.

The truth is, I would argue, that the assertion is literally correct.  The foot-soldiers do require protection and secrecy is the tool.  Where we go wrong is in our assumptions about who/what the troops on the ground are to be "protected" from.  It's not the victims of atrocious behavior, who have known their enemy from the start and, when possible, have already exacted their revenge.  That, after all, is what the IEDs were all about.  No, what the American military personnel on the ground in foreign lands need to be protected from is themselves.  Or, to be more specific, they need to be protected from having their sense of guilt, keeping them in thrall to their superiors, relieved.

The modern American military establishment is, not unlike the Mafia, a protection racket.  Protection is the key to unlawful behavior being carried out on all levels with impunity.  At the base, there's the extraction of resources or monetary contributions (in the case of Iraq, it was mainly the free range on land for military purposes that was extracted from the local population) in exchange for a promise not to take what is wanted by brute force.  At the level of those who actually effect the extraction and occupation of a territory -- i.e. the boots on the ground -- "protection" involves the assurance from higher ups that the extortion and any necessary ancillary use of physical aggression in the face of non-compliance is not only justified, but won't be exposed to the risk of retaliation.  The promise of secrecy serves both as a security blanket for the inadvertent evil doers (American soldiers don't volunteer to be killers; they are sincere in their belief that their mission is to protect), and as a glue to keep the troops in line and maintain "cohesion."  It is, as Pentagon spokespersons frequently protest, about the morale of the unit -- not the individual person, but the group.

Secrecy is an organizational tool.  That's why private corporations insist on it, as well.  The object is not so much to prevent the outside world from knowing what's going on, as it is to keep the members of the organization subordinate to the mission and the hierarchy that directs it.  Independent individual action needs to be discouraged, even rooted out, if possible.  Keeping a secret creates a bond.  Keeping a guilty secret creates a stronger bond.  Which is why the insistence, on human rights grounds, that the rule, which forbids the discussion of personal preferences regarding sexual relations (DADT), must be repealed is such a problem for the Pentagon.

Guilt, for the person who experiences it (some people have no sense of guilt), is a debilitating emotion.  That is, it inhibits individual action, making it easier for the guilt-ridden person to be directed by exterior forces.  Also, guilt is able to be induced by calling into question the moral value of a person's natural attributes.  If, for example, a particular skin color is adjudged to be bad, then the person is, ab initio, challenged to prove otherwise -- i.e. try to make himself acceptable to the group.  Which, in effect, puts the individual in an inferior and the group in a superior position, creating a hierarchy without any effort.  It seems obvious that the U.S. military, being a hierarchical organization, finds the virtually cost-free creation and maintenance of the hierarchy useful, if not indispensable.  However, just as subordination based on pigmentation was able to be discarded in the past, gender preference should be able to be discarded, without the hierarchy being undermined.  After all, the modern foot-soldier "serving" in foreign lands has plenty of real moral infractions, requiring protection from exposure, to be guilty about.  

One would think.  But then that guilt trip, defined as the persistence of morally suspect behavior, keeps being exposed by meddlers and threatens to loosen the bonds of self-subordination on which, like the life-long commitment of traditional marriage, our modern "all volunteer" military relies.  Since service in the military is not personally satisfying in itself (unlike when one's kith and kin are under actual attack and needing to be defended), the ability to indulge in aggressive acts with impunity -- i.e. without having to worry about either revenge or punishment -- is worthless when it's exposed for all to see.  Worse, when it turns out that hardly anybody cares.  Offering "protection" from a non-existent threat does not produce a strong bond.  So, the authority of the Pentagon over the personnel in the organization is undermined.  The troops will be encouraged to think for themselves and, perhaps, even refuse to engage in actions they perceive to be detrimental to themselves and other lives.

Since a picture is probably worth a thousand words, the embargoing of the images of torture and dismemberment that were demanded for review in court has probably been more effective in delaying the eventual public inspection of the whole record of what really went on in Iraq.  But, that it will all come out eventually, is probably indisputable.  All that's in question is how much longer it will take for the complete documentation in words and pictures to be revealed.  After all, every troop transport, plane, helicopter and drone has been outfitted with video recording capability.  And, while much may have been inadvertently "lost," enough remains to provide a basis for making an accurate assessment of the enterprise.  Which may well prove the final irony since all that video monitoring equipment was no doubt sold and installed under the aegis of "organizational accountability" -- images being so much more efficient to collect and review than written "after action" reports.  Real-time data, that's the ticket.

All that's needed is the ability to keep it secret.

Originally posted to hannah on Wed Oct 27, 2010 at 05:59 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    The conservative mind relies mainly on what is plain to see.

    by hannah on Wed Oct 27, 2010 at 05:59:54 AM PDT

  •  In the military, this is known as ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ... "Lie till you die".

    Those who master it early rise the fastest.

    If George Bush or Dick Cheney or Don Rumsfeld are guilty of the war crimes of Aggressive War or Torture, they should be hanged.

    by Yellow Canary on Wed Oct 27, 2010 at 06:41:41 AM PDT

  •  plato's noble lie (0+ / 0-)

    Maybe all these lies and secrets are for our own good? Maybe any other energy sources pale in comparison to oil and if we didn't have oil we'd be begging our leaders to go invade a country to get it?

  •  I keep getting these twinges (0+ / 0-)

    that tilt me toward the Overton window.  I remember that much of what we know for sure about Nazi atrocities and other activities is the result of their obsessive need to record everything.  There were all kinds of files documenting every stinkin' thing they did, and it came back to bite them in the butt.  I'm not advocating for less recording or accountability, but our drive to record everything (including everyday activities in our own cities and towns) does strike me as a huge karmic farce.  Or, maybe I'm just so damned warped that I can't take things at face value...

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Wed Oct 27, 2010 at 12:04:40 PM PDT

    •  Deprivators are control freaks. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      That's why they keep records of their "conquests."  There are no ulterior motives.  They don't punish because they don't like their victims; they punish because they like punishing.

      The conservative mind relies mainly on what is plain to see.

      by hannah on Thu Oct 28, 2010 at 04:15:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Quite like (0+ / 0-)

        killers who keep 'souvenirs' of their victims.  I don't have your professional creds, but I can sure recognize sick when I see it....

        -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

        by luckylizard on Fri Oct 29, 2010 at 02:50:51 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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