Killers & Poets

by lizard

With such a wide swath of Americans serving in the military, it shouldn’t be surprising our armed forces are comprised of cultural extremes, like killers and poets, serving side by side in extreme chaos and extreme boredom.

The killer aspect of American soldiering has recently sprung up in a creepy kill squad involving at least a dozen soldiers, and led by a sergeant who is suspected of participating in similar activities in Iraq.  These soldiers even collected trinkets from their kills, like fingers and bones.

But I wonder if it’s fair to hold these soldiers accountable for their sadistic behavior when the larger war effort regularly blows up women and children along with the militants and terrorists.  After all, indiscriminate killing of innocents is indiscriminate killing of innocents (right?).

To contrast that disturbing extreme here’s Brian Turner—an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team—who tries to translate his experience of war into poems.  They are not easy poems to read.

16 Iraqi Policemen

The explosion left a hole in the roadbed
large enough to fit a mid-sized car.
It shattered concrete, twisted metal,
busted storefront windows in sheets
and lifted a BMW chassis up onto a rooftop.

The shocking blood of the men
forms an obscene art: a moustache, alone
on a sidewalk, a blistered hand’s gold ring
still shining, while a medic, Doc Lopez,
pauses to catch his breath, to blow it out
hard, so he might cup the left side of a girl’s face
in one hand, gently, before bandaging
the half gone missing.

Allah must wander in the crowd
as I do, dazed by the pure concussion
of the blast, among sirens, voices
of the injured, the boots of running soldiers,
not knowing whom to touch first,
for the dead policemen cannot be found,
here a moment before, then vanished.

While this kill squad is probably an aberration, people need to realize there is an entirely new broken generation of American soldiers ravaged by a decade of (by now obviously unjust) wars, coming home then back then home then back and some of them are time bombs waiting to go off.

Because the true cost of war is incalculable.


  1. I think in the kill squad story what we’ll see is that the military made a mistake allowing Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs into the Army to begin with. Most likely he had psychological issues long before combat, and combat only made things worse.

    It’s tragic, and horrifying at the same time.

    And from it we must again learn that when you train someone to be kill, you can’t be surprised if a percentage take it too far.

    Charlie don’t surf.

  2. Turner

    Excellent post. We need to be reminded often of what our commitment to world empire looks like up close.

  3. War is ugly. The pseudo righteous would have you believe otherwise, but they use censorship to accomplish their goal. Ironic when we American’s fight for democracy.

    The brainchild of this latest civilian killing death squad? A Billings soldier on his second tour.

    He’s admitted to doing it on his first tour, also.

    Won’t see that in Montana papers.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/29/AR2010092904137.html

  4. lizard19

    i said in the post this is probably an aberration, but that’s not true at all. taking trophies and trinkets has happened throughout the long history of armed conflict. i remember reading something about trophy taking during WWII happening, but more in the asian theatre. now what does that say?

    it’s obviously disturbing, sociopathic behavior, but as a civilian i’m reluctant to focus on the soldiers, because they shouldn’t be there in the first place. i want to focus on the gutless “leaders” who put them there, and keep them there.

    • I understand what you are saying.

      Our Army has failed our soldiers with medical care – they may save limbs, but are the saving minds?

      There is no support. 100’s of suicides a day, and that is not an exaggeration.

      In this case, the Army, itself, fostered this crime. They knew and did nothing. At least one of the one’s involved couldn’t feel secure enough to stop it in the culture that is.

      Sick.

  5. Cut the comment threat! Cut the comment thread!

    Take your self-indulgent poem and substitute an American bomb, launched from a destroyer in the Gulf or from Kuwait, or from jet fighters high in the sky, why dontcha.

    And then wonder why people are radicalized, seeing their country bombed for no reason, hundreds of thousands of their fellows killed, millions fleeing in terror.

    And then whine when they blow up a roadside bomb about how tough we have it.

    You are only upset because the killing that was done by these creeps was of the face-to-face variety. That is the height of insularity and arrogance.

    • lizard19

      Mark, you need to take a couple of breaths. next, maybe you should actually read what i posted.

      first, this is not my poem. it was written by a soldier, and his name is Brian Turner. and if you read the poem, it’s about iraqis being killed, not american soldiers. i included this poem because i wanted to balance the atrocities committed by the kill squad with the fact we do have soldiers who are sensitive to the destruction we, as a country, have wrought.

      and finally, you are not the one to be accusing people of being arrogant. think a little, please, before you throw another tantrum. thanks.

      • In the American perception of things,those roadside bombs and suicide bombers are horrible, and those crazy people are killing each other! Turner likely has no idea of what it’s like to be awoken by bombs and kids screaming “The Americans are coming! The Americans are coming!”

        This sort of pablum is allowed to filter through to us. The real horrors, which we inflict, are not.

        I read what you wrote. I read the poem. That’s why I wrote what I wrote. It was not a “tantrum”, but rather a passionate appeal to come to grips with reality. We are the butchers of the planet, killing more people before breakfast each day than Pol Pot could stomach.

        BTW, all-volunteer forces that attracts sociopaths plus basic training in which Iraqis and others are dehumanized creates the monstrous atmosphere in which these events take place. This was no aberration. I do not know how or why it penetrated the media censors, but assure you it will, like My Lai, be treated as an isolated incident.

        Far from it.

        • I apologize for being so very amused, but I’ve just got to know:

          Turner likely has no idea of what it’s like to be awoken by bombs and kids screaming “The Americans are coming! The Americans are coming!”

          When’s the last time you experienced that, Mark?

        • You could try reading what they write. That particular line, “The Americans are coming,” was something I read in the 1990’s when Clinton was busy starving them to death. Can’t cite. Long time ago, but such emotive writing sticks with me.

          What do you know of anything that you have not personally experienced? Do you know Anne Frank’s fear? Of course not! You did not experience it.

          • Hey, puppy, you’re the one who wrote:

            Turner likely has no idea of what it’s like to be awoken by bombs and kids screaming “The Americans are coming! The Americans are coming!”

            So, seriously, how the fuck do you know what Turner has an idea of? Really, prove what you have “an idea” of. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

          • Out comes the f-bomb.

            This is Kailey classic, to overlook the important, focus in on something marginal, blow it up and make it the issue.

            Of course we cannot feel what they feel, as we are not there. But we can empathize. Turner did not attempt to empathize.

            Obviously you’ve never been on the other side of one of your incoherent tirades. Try to empathize.

            • That’s the whole point, Mark. You haven’t the first goddamned clue what Turner empathizes with or not. Of course that won’t stop you from pronouncing your dick size by telling us all your prowess.

              Obviously, you’ve never empathized with any of the people you actually have the nads to engage with on blogs. No doubts it’s far less to you than the war terrors you’ve faced. I can’t wait to hear your battle stories from the deep heart of desert terror zones.

            • lizard19

              you overlooked the point of my post, and now you’ve returned to familiar terrain; battling wulfy.

              and you are in no position to judge the work of a writer who has been in the war theatre when you have not.

              and then you suggest empathy? what else shall ye decree? seriously.

            • You know, it’s like we are allowed to put up words, but those words can only be taken at face, and we can never read anything more into them. That’s nonsense. People always reveal more than they say when they write stuff down. Intuiting meaning is no problem at all.

              James Burnham dealt with this problem succinctly when he said “He who says A must say B.

              People say A quite a bit, but not B.

              I know all kinds of things about Kailey that he has never written about himself just by reading his words. They are not all bad things, but a lot of them are. He doesn’t like that I know these things. But he revealed them.

      • I might add here, that when normal non-sociopathic people engage in these aberrant behaviors, they are often scarred for life. The current fashionable word for this scarring is “PTSD.”

    • lizard19

      You are only upset because the killing that was done by these creeps was of the face-to-face variety. That is the height of insularity and arrogance

      just to let you know, mark, you have no special insight into why i feel the things i feel. THAT is the height of arrogance, that you think you know my emotional position better than i do. you do not. it’s shit like that which causes people to react negatively to you.

      • Whatever. The idea that people have no insight into other people is nonsense. We all have it, all the time. Polite society prevents us from saying anything, that’s all. You just told me why other people react negatively to me. How the hell do you know what other people are thinking? You some kind of insight machine or sumptin? Maybe they react negatively because I call bullshit, as I did with you?

        Five soldiers did some face-to-face shooting in a war that has been going on for eight years, where over a million people have died and two million fled, and your poetic instincts are enraged. It means absolutely nothing – the only lesson to be absorbed is that killing face-to-face is some sort of heinous act, but other methods are OK.

        Did you not reaffirm that by writing this – that the war is so horrible that people are actually now killing face-to-face?

        What else can I think?

        • lizard19

          didn’t say it wasn’t possible for people to have insight; said you didn’t have special insight to justify saying that i’m ONLY upset because the killing was done face to face.

          hey, remember me mark? i’m one of many who have been upset about our foreign policy, and critical from the very beginning of obama’s administration, from that very first predator drone strike on (i think) the second day of being in office.

          so when you say i’m ONLY upset because it’s face to face, then mock the poem (while completely missing the point of it) i have to say i think you’re purposely not getting it in order to provoke this little exchange we got going now.

          Five soldiers did some face-to-face shooting in a war that has been going on for eight years, where over a million people have died and two million fled, and your poetic instincts are enraged. It means absolutely nothing – the only lesson to be absorbed is that killing face-to-face is some sort of heinous act, but other methods are OK.

          the reason i wondered if you read what i wrote is because i wrote this:

          But I wonder if it’s fair to hold these soldiers accountable for their sadistic behavior when the larger war effort regularly blows up women and children along with the militants and terrorists. After all, indiscriminate killing of innocents is indiscriminate killing of innocents (right?).

          mark, you are making up your own imagined effigy of me and then lashing out at it. you know where i stand politically and that in many important areas we agree. that includes the facilitating role of democrats in this national mess.

          now because you missed it (or are willfully ignoring it) i’m going to say say say it again. the point of highlighting this american born barbarism and countering it with a poem a soldier wrote (from a collection by the way called Here, Bullet) is to juxtapose two very different examples of human behavior: savagery and creation.

          read the man’s poems. i don’t necessarily agree with everything he writes, but i respect the man’s experience. is he a killer? if not directly, then probably in some way of course he is. but in this country just paying taxes means nobody’s hands are clean.

          • lizard19

            you have had ample time to respond to this. you haven’t because what can you say? i am waiting.

            • Sorry – just now read it. I accept your rebuke. Well done.

              By the way, I can’t read poetry. My mind cannot grasp flowery language. It’s distracting. I cannot stomach Arundati Roy, for example, because of her emotional bent. So don’t be surprised when your poetic posts blow right by me.

        • The Polish Wolf

          Hey banned, you keep saying a million people have died. Either you’re counting all the people who died in the sanctions before the war, or you’re inflating.

          Admittedly, it is more than the 100,000 I cite, because that is only civilians. But unless we killed the entire Iraqi military, which we did not, it’s not a million.

          http://www.iraqbodycount.org/analysis/beyond/exaggerated-orb/

          Though to be fair, you also understate the number who fled their homes – two million have left Iraq, another two million have moved around within Iraq as the country segregates itself to avoid further violence.

          But to your more philosophical point, about how much insight you have into people based on what they write – it is in fact very difficult to say much about a person based on what they write online. Even a personal email leads to numerous distortions and generally more negative views of a person than a face to face or phone conversation. That’s why totally sober people get into fights online, getting riled in a way they usually reserve for a half bottle of Evan Williams (or whatever you happen to drink). It’s been pretty well studied by communication experts, and pretty well demonstrated on this here blog – a relatively benign (as perceived by the writer) statement leads to an all out insult competition.

          • IBC is the least reliable of the body counting tools. Their MO is to count only those deaths that are published in English-speaking newspapers. According to the Lancet people, such a method tends to capture perhaps a fifth of the actual tally. The Johns Hopkins people, who have been discredited in all the right places, relied on cluster samples, a fairly reliable method used in disaster areas, such as earthquakes and hurricanes. It does not pin down a precise number due to the inherent difficulties of counting dead in a dangerous place, but instead offers a wide deviation – in Iraq in 2006, the mid-point of that deviation was 655,000. Another study since that time has put the toll at 1.2 million. Not soldiers. Iraqis.

            But we live in a country that is perception-managed and thought-controlled, so that our officials officially sneer at anything that is not officially true. So Hopkins/Lancet, though never discredit, is held in contempt.

            The phrase I use for blog exchanges is “cyber-disinhibition.” Because we are not face-to-face, we do not pick up on visual signals, and raw and unedited exchanges are common. But even in that environment, discounting the emotions, it is quite easy to pick up on the meanings behind the words.

            For instance, You just went to great trouble to minimize casualties, where I think you are wrong, but to treat displacement objectively, meaning that you confronted the numbers, found them irrefutable, and accepted them and internalized them.

            That to me indicates some fair-mindedness, or a willingness to be swayed by evidence. It’s unusual – I don’t see it much, and compliment you on it. Am I allowed that? You didn’t say it – I totally intuited it. Is it accurate?




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