SYNDICATED COLUMN: We Have Found the “One Bad Apple” And It Is Us

Excuses Ring Hollow in U.S.-Occupied Afghanistan

Staff Sargeant Robert Bales is the man accused of going on a March 11th shooting spree that left 16 civilians dead in southeastern Afghanistan. As the New York Daily News put it: “The killings sparked protests in Afghanistan, endangered relations between the two countries and threatened to upend American policy over the decade-old war.”

Why the fuss? This is nothing new. Not to the Afghans.

Over the last ten years U.S. forces have been slaughtering Afghan civilians like they were going out of style. There have been countless massacres of supposed “insurgents” or “terrorists.” Who invariably turned out to have been ordinary men, women and children going about their daily routines.

The only difference between the Bales massacre and other acts of bloodshed is that he acted on a freelance basis, minus orders from his commanding officer. Bales’ actions were so similar to the “normal” behavior of U.S. soldiers that Afghan witnesses weren’t surprised.

Atrocities are business as usual. Afghans have learned that their lives are cheap–not to them, but to the young men and women who patrol their streets and man explosives-laden drone planes from the other side of the world.

On July 7th, for example, an airstrike in Khost province killed at least 13 civilians, mostly women and children. On December 19th, U.S. occupation troops and Afghan collaborators conducting a “night raid” on the home of an anti-narcotics official in Paktia province shot and killed his pregnant wife. At least eight children died in a February 9th airstrike in Kapisa province. A helicopter gunship opened fire on a school in Nangahar province on February 22nd, injuring nine girls.

I literally don’t have enough space to provide a complete accounting of recent U.S. atrocities in occupied Afghanistan. Here’s a brief taste: U.S. Special Forces operatives alone admit killing over 1,500 Afghan civilians in night raids alone during 10 months in 2010 and early 2011.

Afghans know the deal.

Americans don’t.

It’s intentional. The U.S. government doesn’t want ordinary American citizens to know how their “heroic” soldiers behave in remote combat zones. America’s cult of militarism, so important to the Congressmen whose careers depend on defense contractor contributors and to the media outlets for whom war means higher ratings, requires a placid, compliant populace lulled into the ridiculous belief that the U.S. military is defending freedom.

Sgt. Bales is a PR problem. His decision to blow away women and children for no reason whatsoever belies the hero-troops narrative. It’s too icky for even a “support our troops”-besotted public to ignore. So Sgt. Bales has become a political football.

Shortly after the suspect turned himself in, the Army spin machine revved up.

“When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues–he just snapped,” an unnamed “senior government official” told The New York Times. Just one of those things. What can you do?

Pointing to the fact that Bales’ spree took place while he was on his fourth tour of duty, his lawyer is laying the groundwork for a PTSD defense. “We all know what’s going on over there [in Afghanistan], but you don’t really know it until you listen to somebody like him,” John Henry Browne said to reporters. In other words: war makes people nuts. Blame war, not my client.

After incidents like this, one can always count upon the political class to unleash the “one bad apple” chestnut.

“This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan,” President Obama read from a prepared statement. “Obviously what happened this weekend was absolutely tragic and heartbreaking, but when you look at what hundreds of thousands of our military personnel have, have achieved under enormous strain, you can’t help but be proud generally and I think it’s important for us to make sure we are not in Afghanistan longer than we need to be,” he added in a Denver TV interview.

Don’t blame the war, says Obama. Don’t blame the troops. Whether they’re shooting up their high school or their post office, some people go nuts sometimes. Can’t be helped.

Of course, from the Afghan point of view, this is low-grade, elementary-school-level spin.

Afghans don’t wonder whether the former All-American footballer from Norwood, Ohio was driven crazy by combat, was like that all along, or if this is another Jessica Lynch/Pat Tillman Pentagon lie that will wind up as something completely different than what we’re being told now.

Afghans don’t care why.

The way the Afghans see it is straightforward. The U.S. invaded their country. Without just cause. The U.S. has imposed a ruthless and cruel occupation that has left tens of thousands of their countrymen dead or seriously wounded. The U.S. has installed and propped up Hamid Karzai’s corrupt puppet regime in Kabul.

To the Afghans, Sgt. Bales didn’t kill those 16 people in Kandahar province. The U.S. did. Obama did. We did. After all, if we hadn’t invaded and occupied Afghanistan, Bales wouldn’t have been there in the first place.

Reporters are digging up dirt on Sgt. Bales’ marriage and supposed drinking problems in order to distract us from this simple fact.

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is

4 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: We Have Found the “One Bad Apple” And It Is Us

  1. Thank you for having the huevos for writing this, Ted. I’m an aging Viet Nam War (the Vietnamese call it the American War) veteran (US56826953) and understand the nature of this kind of “war”. Some troops snap but atrocities were done in cold blood. Sure, a lot of guys had good relations with the Vietnamese and much humane work was done, but in an insurgency war when it was difficult to distinguish civilians from the so-called enemy atrocities happen. A revenge thing is also present. Suspects were killed, including entire families, and suspected villages were bombed. A racist attitude in which Vietnamese were called gooks and slopes didn’t help. Remember this? Q: “How do you know he was VC?” A: “He’s dead isn’t he?” One little story exemplifies this: a buddy of mine told me that his platoon set up an ambush near a trail. A Vietnamese was seen walking the trail. The officer in charge gave an order to open fire and the man was killed. My friend was told to search his body. He was found to be an innocent farmer who had all the correct paperwork on him. My buddy was haunted by the event. This is all well known for the Viet Nam War, but there seems to be more excuses of these incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ve become an evil nation. I don’t flinch from calling us evil.

  2. You haven’t been reading the New York Times.

    Their outstanding reporters have verified that, except for the 16 unfortunate civilians killed by Sgt Bales, since President Obama took office, only terrorists have been killed by the US military acting under orders. Not one single innocent civilian has been killed by the incredibly ‘smart’, micro-precision-targeted actions of the US military.

    If I may paraphrase what Mr Trudeau wrote about Israeli counter-terrorism forces many years ago, the brave, selfless US forces have sacrificed themselves to keep Americans safe, killing–just in the nick of time–those adult male terrorists, those female terrorists, and those infant and children terrorists in Afghanistan who had nearly completed their diabolical plans to deploy new, incredibly destructive WMD in American cities, towns, and villages.

    (And when I write, ‘incredibly’ I mean it, literally. I no longer give the slightest credence to the US government’s official pronouncements, nor to the Times‘ verification and validation of those pronouncements.)

  3. “After incidents like this, one can always count upon the political class to unleash the “one bad apple” chestnut.”

    There’s another “one bad apple” chestnut that goes like this:

    See that country over there? Those poor people are being OPPRESSED! And it’s all due to ONE BAD APPLE!

    We just can’t understand why those poor people won’t do something to help themselves, and overthrow that ONE BAD APPLE! The world can’t stand by and let this ONE BAD APPLE continue doing what he’s doing!

    If you’re uncertain of the justness of our cause, well I’m not, and by God I’m going to do something about that ONE BAD APPLE! You know why? Because I’m ONE GOOD APPLE, and I believe we’re a nation of GREAT APPLES, and we’re going to lead the world to the light of God’s Boundless Love!

    That is, once we get rid of this one…you know…BAD APPLE.

    It won’t be easy. Our sacrifices will be great. It may even get ugly –that’s war, you know–but don’t think any less of us as GOOD APPLES. Support our fighting APPLES.

    In the end, we will prevail.

    # # #

    I think it’s unfair and hypocritical to wonder aloud why apples in foreign lands don’t replace the one bad apple that’s oppressing them when we can’t do the same for ourselves.

    Apples of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your bad apples!

  4. You unleash a war of aggression on a foreign country, and your troops are bound to slaughter huge numbers of civilians (as well as people who take to arms to defend their homes). It matters little whether you are Nazis defending your European wars in the name of «Lebensraum» or the Japanese military defending your Asian wars in the name of the «大東亜共栄圏», or the US defending its interminable wars all over the globe in the name of «democracy», «human rights», and «R2P». Some (not many) of the German and Japanese leaders were hanged after WW II ; so far US leaders have all been allowed to die in their beds, immune from prosecution – one of the advantages of a military industrial complex bigger than all the others in the rest of the world combined….