The AP reports that many Americans are eager to excuse the alleged murder of 16 Afghans — including nine children — by Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. In his balanced piece, reporter Allen Breed points to the stress on soldiers of repeated deployments as a possible explanation:
“I kind of sympathize for him, being gone, being sent over there four times,” said Beau Britt, who lives across the street. “I can understand he’s probably quite wracked mentally, so I just hope that things are justified in court. I hope it goes OK.”
I’d like to offer another explanation: the apparently widespread belief in the U.S. that Afghans don’t value human life as much as Americans do. Therefore an Afghan life isn’t worth as much as an American life and the killing of 16 Afghans simply doesn’t qualify as mass murder — or so the thinking goes.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer voiced that opinion during my recent appearance on The Alyona Show. Host Alyona Minkova seemed to second Shaffer’s view. I protested.
The Afghans-don’t-value-life proposition is an essentially racist one completely at odds with common sense and the evidence. The photos in the aftermath of Bales’ alleged crime depict relatives of the victims openly weeping.
But never mind that. Loving your family. Protecting your own offspring and those of your neighbors. These aren’t just fundamentally human drives; they’re common across many mammal species.
So most Afghans are farmers and most Americans aren’t. Afghans speak different languages and practice a different religion than most Americans. They don’t spend as much time in school or own as many gadgets. Many Afghan men treat Afghan women very badly, in different ways than American men mistreat American women.
That doesn’t make Afghans less human. The things that Americans and Afghans have in common far outnumber and outweigh the differences. Leaving aside the rare sociopath and accepting that many men are assholes whatever their nationality, we all treasure human life.
Bales allegedly murdered 16 people, methodically and in cold blood. He deserves a fair trial. And if he’s guilty, he deserves the greatest possible punishment. That’s the human thing to do.