Thursday, May 23, 2019


A few days ago, I compared support for servicemembers accused of war crimes to support for cops accused of police brutality. Right-wingers routinely rally around accused cops, so why shouldn't we expect widespread conservative support for accused members of the military?

I've been thinking that a difference between bad servicemembers and bad cops is that in the military culture it's appropriate to distance yourself from bad actors, whereas cops invariably circle the wagons to protect one another. A story in The New York Times today suggests that the military's culture is sometimes no more honorable than cop culture:
Stabbing a defenseless teenage captive to death. Picking off a school-age girl and an old man from a sniper’s roost. Indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire.

Navy SEAL commandos from Team 7’s Alpha Platoon said they had seen their highly decorated platoon chief commit shocking acts in Iraq. And they had spoken up, repeatedly. But their frustration grew as months passed and they saw no sign of official action.

Tired of being brushed off, seven members of the platoon called a private meeting with their troop commander in March 2018 at Naval Base Coronado near San Diego. According to a confidential Navy criminal investigation report obtained by The New York Times, they gave him the bloody details and asked for a formal investigation.

But instead of launching an investigation that day, the troop commander and his senior enlisted aide — both longtime comrades of the accused platoon leader, Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher — warned the seven platoon members that speaking out could cost them and others their careers, according to the report.

The clear message, one of the seven told investigators, was “Stop talking about it.”

The platoon members eventually forced the referral of their concerns to authorities outside the SEALs, and Chief Gallagher now faces a court-martial, with his trial set to begin May 28.

But the account of the March 2018 meeting and myriad other details in the 439-page report paint a disturbing picture of a subculture within the SEALs that prized aggression, even when it crossed the line, and that protected wrongdoers.

According to the investigation report, the troop commander, Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, said in the meeting that while the SEALs were free to report the killings, the Navy might not look kindly on rank-and-file team members making allegations against a chief. Their careers could be sidetracked, he said, and their elite status revoked; referring to the eagle-and-trident badges worn by SEALs, he said the Navy “will pull your birds.”

The enlisted aide, Master Chief Petty Officer Brian Alazzawi, warned them that the “frag radius” — the area damaged by an explosion — from a war-crime investigation of Chief Gallagher could be wide enough to take down a lot of other SEALs as well, the report said.
President Trump has had Gallagher released from the brig and moved to "less restrictive confinement" as he awaits trial. Trump wants to pardon Gallagher and other servicemembers accused or convicted of crimes.

Some of Trump's extreme acts won't necessarily be imitated by other Republicans in the future -- but I think embracing war criminals will. No one in the GOP's target demographic questions the virtue of cops no matter how unarmed civilians cops kill, and no matter how many unjustified beatdowns by cops are caught on cellphone video. Nothing ever shakes heartland white America's faith in the cops, even the very cops responsible for these acts of brutality. So why wouldn't those Americans treat war criminals the same way?

Also, the GOP needs to distinguish itself from the Democratic Party on the issue of support for the military. Democratic politicans and voters now routinely express strong support for the troops. More and more Democratic candidates are veterans. In recent years, it's become difficult to patriot-bait Democrats on this issue.

So support for war criminals will become the GOP's way of distinguishing itself from the other party: You say you support the troops, but do you support these troops? No, I didn't think so.

Eventually, it will be deemed unpatriotic to expect servicemembers to respect their own code of conduct. Only peacenik America-hating liberals will do that.

This may degrade the culture of the military, but hey, there are elections to win, and that's what's most important, isn't it?

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