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Tagesspiegel Blames Haditha partly on a Military Dominated by "White Trash" and Minorities

Berlin's leading paper Der Tagesspiegel always answers some "Questions of the Day" on page 2. On Saturday, Caroline Fetscher answered the question whether some individual Marines are responsible for the alleged massacres in Iraq or whether these instances indicate a problem of the entire US military. She considers the alleged massacres to be more of the latter:
Der Imageverlust für die Soldaten von "Operation Iraqi Freedom" könnte kaum verheerender sein. Nach den Skandalfotos aus dem Gefängnis Abu Ghraib nun Haditha und Ishaqi. Dass es immer wieder zu solch erschreckenden Vorfällen kommt, ist auch in der Struktur der US-Armee begründet. Sie ist eine Berufsarmee, zu der sich Freiwillige melden, die grob gesagt aus drei Gruppen rekrutiert werden: aus der weißen, arbeitslosen und ungebildeten Unterschicht ("White Trash" ist der Slangausdruck dafür); aus ehrgeizigen Nichtweißen, zumeist Hispano- und Afroamerikaner, die in der Armee die Chance zum Aufstieg suchen; und einer teils akademischen Führungselite, die zum Beispiel an der berühmten Militärakademie Westpoint ausgebildet wird.
This paragraphs includes at least five claims to take issue with:

1. She mentions Abu Ghraib and alleged massacres in Haditha und Ishaqi and concludes that the structure of the US Army is one of the reasons, why such shocking incidences happen "again and again", which is an exaggeration, if you put the number of proven massacres and abuse in relation to the appr. 130.000 troops serving in Iraq at any time for the last three years. How many working hours under the most severe circumstances does that make?

Each massacre and abuse is one too many and the perpetrators should be punished, but Ms. Fetscher's claim that these things happen "again and again" is unfair to the 99% of the servicemen and women who perform honorably despite witnessing the horrors of war daily. It is naive to expect a clean anti-insurgency/terrorism war of this scale without anyone acting in a shameful way. It's an illusion like being able to end Iran's nuclear program with "surgical" air strikes.

2. The allegations concerning Haditha seem to be solid, but the Marines should be considered innocent until proven guilty. Most journalists apply this legal principle to the Guantanamo detainees. Besides a U.S. investigation cleared the soldiers of any misconduct in Ishaqi. While their might be other massacres, Ms. Fetscher does not mention any of them, but refers to Haditha and Ishaqi only. Her article, especially the subheadline and the way the "question of the day" is phrased, suggests that the Marines have already been found guilty of murder and the US troops have "learned nothing from Abu Ghraib."

3. Ms. Fetscher says that the structure of the U.S. volunteer Army is partly to blame for these alleged massacres. She  wrote "Army", but she probably means the entire military because the Marines are accused of the Haditha massacre and they are not part of the Army obviously. Besides, "Armee" is often used by the German media for the entire military.
According to Ms. Fetscher the Army/military gets its recruits from roughly three groups: Unemployed and uneducated "White Trash", ambitious non-Whites (Hispanics or Afro-Americans), and "a partly academic elite" that gets trained for example at Westpoint.
It is true that the military provides the best advancement opportunities for many poor and disadvantaged Americans in rural areas and troubled inner-city neighborhoods. The US military has a long and proud history of providing social, educational, and economic advancement for less fortunate Americans. It is fair enough to criticize the lack of opportunities in some rural areas, which is something we are familiar of in East-Germany as well.
However, Ms. Fetcher is wrong to claim that the army/military enlists disproportionately many uneducated Americans. According to the American Forces Press Service, Bill Carr, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy, said that military recruits are better educated than the general youth population. "More than 90 percent of recruits have a high school diploma, compared to about 75 percent of the U.S. youth population." According to the 2004 Department of Defense (DoD) report on social representation in the U.S. Military Services, "enlisted members tend to have higher cognitive aptitude than the civilian youth population, as measured by scores on the military’s enlistment test."

4. Ms Fetscher is wrong to claim that roughly everybody in the military apart from elite leaders is recruited from "White Trash" and Blacks and Hispanics seeking social advancement. Secretary Carr says that the military recruits mirror the U.S. population and are solidly middle class. The same DoD report concluded:
African Americans were equitably represented in the military overall. In the enlisted force, African Americans were slightly overrepresented among NPS active duty accessions (15 percent) relative to the 18-24 year-old civilian population (14 percent). (...) Hispanics, on the other hand, continued to be underrepresented, with 13 percent among NPS accessions compared with nearly 18 percent for comparable civilians.
The Washington Post has more on various studies about military recruiting.

5. Ms. Fetscher said the "structure" of the military is one of the reasons why massacres and abuse happen. Even if the US military would be structured the way Ms Fletcher thinks it is, this would not be a fair explanation for Abu Ghraib and Haditha. "White Trash", ambitious Hispanics and Blacks are not more likely to be morally unfit or more likely to get brutalized by the horrors of war and lose their nerve and humiliate/torture prisoners in Abu Ghraib or take revenge on innocent Iraqis in Haditha. Again: If the allegations concerning Haditha are true.

Since Ms. Fetscher claims in her bio on her blog to focus on transatlantic relations, one would have hoped she knew better. Her university education (MA thesis about Africa clichés) also suggests that she is sensitive to stereotypes. She wrote a better article about the US nation in her blog at the end of 2005. The article, I am criticizing, appeared prominently on the top of the second page of the Tagesspiegel's Saturday issue.

Why make a fuss about a single article? I got the impression that many Germans believe that the US military is made up primarily from the lower classes of society and that this would explain many U.S. wrongdoings. Good journalists work against such myths and stereotypes rather than reinforce them.

The White House, Congress and the civilian and military leadership of the Pentagon have underestimated the problems in Iraq and made wrong decisions and severe mistakes. They deserve a lot of criticism. The troops on the ground, however, do the best they can with their limited resources under the most severe circumstances.
To be fair to Ms. Fetscher: She acknowledges that the troops have to operate in extremely dangerous and complex territory.
Many young Marines are entrusted with the most complex duties in the toughest hotspots in Iraq, but US laws don't trust them yet to drink beer responsibly. Yet most of them perform honorably and are much more mature than their peers in college due to the military training.
Still, it seems the US military is stretched too thin and the government asks too much of some servicemen and women. The Marines accused of the massacre in Haditha have been on their third tour of duty in Iraq. A year before the alleged Haditha massacre the unit had been engaged in fierce house-to-house fighting in the battle to retake Fallujah from insurgents, explains
Mike Dorning in The Chicago Tribune:
While no one is arguing that such pressure is an excuse for wartime atrocities, there are clear signs that the mission is taking a psychological toll on U.S. troops. An early study of veterans returning from the Iraq war found one in six showed symptoms of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. A more recent study found that one in three Iraq veterans has sought help from a mental health professional.
Many of the U.S. troops in Iraq are now on their second or third tour of duty in a conflict that has stretched beyond original expectations; some have been forced to remain in the military longer than their original enlistment period.
The troops need more help. The new ethics and war rules refreshing course will not help. A bumper sticker "I support the troops" is not enough. Attacking antiwar activists does not help the troops either.

Many folks who consider military solutions to various problems underestimate the horrors of war. And antiwar activists exaggerate the alleged wrong-doings of the US military. Haditha is already compared to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam with 20 times more casualties. The world's moral expectations of U.S. troops seem to be higher than in the past. Massacres by Russian forces in Chechnya are not so newsworthy.

UPDATE: Ms. Fetscher was grateful for the feedback and published my entire criticism on her blog. I agree with our reader "Fuchur", who wrote that constructive criticism works.


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Anonymous on :

Lyndee England and Charles Graner and others convicted for Abu Ghraib might be "White Trash", but many experts have argued that they could not have come up with the idea to sexually humiliate the prisoners, but that this technique was developed by some military intelligence folks with a Ph.D. in Psychology, Arab or Islamic Studies, who knew that this would be very efficient and effective to break the prisoners and to get them to talk.

Kayne on :

They couldn't have come up with the idea to sexually humiliate someone because they were 'White Trash'? You have far too little faith in human ingenuity. There are sadists in every area of the world, and in general I don't think depravity is something that requires a PhD in Psych or any other field for that matter. What is required here (and in society as a whole) is for people to actually be held accountable for their own actions (or lack thereof, if they are in a leadership position) instead of the culture of excuses that we have become (and I don't just mean in the US).

Niko on :

Ms Fetscher's conflation of "US Military" and "Abu Ghraib torture" is noteworthy in light of the fact that none of the indicted prison guards were, in actual fact, Active Duty, but Reservists. The Mudville Gazette put together a quiz on the subject matter: A score of 8-10 should be required for all journalists prior to making any "educated" commentary. Applying the same line of argument as Ms Fletscher one might be inclined to believe that German soldiers in Afghanistan are involved in systematic torture as more than a dozen asylum seekers and criminal suspects died from the hands of German police authorities in the past few years. Or that UN "Peacekeepers" sent from the worst human rights violating states to Africa are simply there to rape and exploit those they should protect in the first place. Oh, wait ...

James on :

The tone of voice applied by this journalist is telling, in condemning those in the American military with minority backgrounds. Is she trying to say, that Americans of Hispanic, Black or Asian backgrounds, or Caucasians of from modest economic backgrounds, are mental inferiors, prone to some kind of dull-witted murdering of civilians? Apparently so, although that same journalist has no sense of how this accusation sounds to American ears, coming as it does from a German journalist only 60 years after VE day. This is "one-way pacifism" at work, never having a critical word for the quite unmistakable mass-killings of civilians by Islamic car-bombs, or machine gunning of lined-up civilians in cities by masked men, whom everyone observes. Not one word about that, not in Israel nor in Iraq, anymore than about Saddam's mass graves prior to the arrival of the American soldiers.

Fuchur on :

Some myths just canīt be rooted out... Btw, there is a reason why this is repeated in Germany so often: Some people are very eager to "prove" that an army without a draft (like the US army) is problematic. The reason is the debate about the German "Wehrpflicht" (which requires every healthy male to serve in the military for 9 months). IMO, itīs a pointless relic of the Cold War, but to many, itīs almost a religious institution. The main arguments in favor of the Wehrpflicht are (from the left): "The military corrupts people. With a constant influx of fresh, unspoiled draftees, we can minimize this effect. " (from the conservatives): "Without the draft, we couldnīt get enough well-educated people to join the army. "

Michael on :

In America poor, unemployed kids from rural areas go to the army and fight in Iraq. In Germany poor, unemployed kids from rural areas get welfare help and attack foreigners.

anon on :

Which of the 3 groups writes home and asks family and friends to send school packs and shoes for Iraqi kids? Whichever, they are probably related to the crews of the Rosinenbombers. And we all know what a trashy uneducated group they were.

marriex on :

This time a question. Many of the recently immigrated Hispanics are not US citiziens therefore it is a little bit problematic to say that Hispanics are underrepresented in relation to the age group from which the army is recruited. Are there no statistics comparing the ahre of Hispanics in the army to the share of Hispanic US citiziens in the relevant age group?

Joerg on :

Sorry, I don't get your point. Do you want me to include legal and illegal Hispanic immigrants, who are not US citizens? If I would do that the share of Hispanics in the military would be even smaller. They would be even more underrepresented. Specifically for the Army, I have learned this: According to the 2003 census 12.8% of Americans between 18-55 years are Hispanic, but only 8.8% of the total Army population are Hispanic, see [url=]slide three of the Army's PowerPoint presentation[/url].

Fuchur on :

Joerg, did you see Ms Fletcherīs rather positive answer to your article on her blog: [i]US Military: Wrong Image given? We are always grateful for response and feedback, and just now we`ve received a detailed and serious comment from a reader of the Tagesspiegel who is also a writer. His text certainly deserves attention we are glad to supply(...) [/i] Good job! This once again shows that constructive criticism works.

Joerg on :

Thank you. I wrote an update with a link to her blog.

marriex on :

@ Joerg If only Hispanics with citizienships were considered for comparison the would be less underrepresented, I suppose. But thanks fpor the slide show which deserves to be advertised in a blog entry.

Joerg on :

I will link to the slide show in a new post at the weekend.

Scott Mullen on :

Having never served in the military, I can nonetheless see that in a state of stress and fatigue, having witnessed the death of a friend in a cowardly roadside bombing, a soldier might have snapped and killed innocent civilians. Still, it is inexcusable behavior and should be investigated and punished if proven. I can only assume that Ms. Fetscher is not enamored of the military, and that the possibility of atrocities being committed by soldiers (of any country) is a particularly touchy subject in Germany. I'm sure the post-WW2 generations of Germans were inculcated with an aversion to anything even remotely alluding to improper behavior by the military. Still, for her to denigrate our military personnel by calling them white trash or riff raff is beyond the pale. I would be willing to bet that I would only have to look to Ms. Fetscher's grandparent's to find a relative of hers who participated in, aided and abetted, or did nothing to stop, the atrocities committed by her countrymen just 61 years ago. Now, such a claim is malicious and overly-broad, but it demonstrates that sanctimonious and self-righteous rhetoric can be applied to the German people just as easily as to the Americans. Ms. Fetscher would gain credibility by confining her journalistic efforts to a factual examination of the topic and by calling for a thorough investigation into any alleged atrocity. War brings out the very worst and the very best in human nature. Americans are not exempt from this rule and neither are the Germans. Was it a riff-raff army of uneducated German white trash who compiled a record of atrocity in 1933-45 that is unrivaled in modern history? Any person of any ethnicity, nationality or education level is capable of beastly behavior. In the face of the inhuman brutality of war, it remains the responsibility of free societies to bring the perpetrators of war crimes to the bar of justice. To assign guilt based on ethnicity, societal class or education level is preposterous. How ironic that we have this free and open debate on June 6th. Just 62 years ago today, Ms. Fetscher's countrymen and my countrymen squared off in a small corner of France, to settle the issue of whether or not she would be able to speak and write freely, including making such derisive comments about our military, without fear of retaliation. My, how time flies when we are enjoying the fruits of freedom, won by, among others, the grandfathers of the Marines who serve in Iraq today!

David on :

Ms. Fetscher should be condemned for calling the troops white trash, but her article does point to something important: the necessity of reinstituting the military draft in the US. It is doubtful that the Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz would have been able to launch the invasion of Iraq if the sons and daughters of members of Congress had been forced to serve. In any case, we would have long since withdrawn from the debacle. I have two sons who are draft-age, so it pains me to say that we need the draft, but that is the only way to prevent the military from being misused and abused in misguided, delusional adventures such as the Iraq War.

Consul-At-Arms on :

I knew I was "white trash" (or perhaps I was a poor not-quite-good-as-a-European "minority," but I had no idea I dominated the U.S. military. Bully for me!

Rosemary on :

Would someone kindly tell me how many people died from having underwear on their head? This is not to take that situation lightly. Not at all. They have been prosecuted, and they are doing prison time. As well they should. But please, tell me, why do you not get outraged when the terrorists blow up childrens school busses? Are they not worthy of life? We are trying to stop this. Are you? Ah, that's what I thought. Don't condemn us when you're not willing to get in the ring with us. Thank you, and have a nice day. PS. Great article. I guess I'm just a little p.o.'d, because as you said, the terrorists have more rights than we do. Many of them came from Germany, if memory serves correctly. I do not hold you accountable for this. How could I? I'm sure if you knew what was happening, you would have done all you could to prevent it. That is how civilized people respond to danger. I just pray God that I don't wake up one day and have to cry for Germans.

suek on :

The original article originally refers to "the alleged Haditha" incident, and then proceeds to pretty well smear the US forces in a manner that isn't particularly "alleged". Her comments are damning whether the incident is true or not, and obviously the entire article is written from the point of view that "alleged" is simply a journalistic nicety. She might want to check out the blog linked below, and the attendant links on that blog. I lived in Germany for nearly 7 years some 40 or so years ago - I had three sons born there and I loved it. Much seems to have changed, and I won't go back. Ever.

Joerg on :

Thanks for your comment, suek! Yes, a lot has changed and you should visit again. We are not all Anti-Americans. Ms. Fletscher appreciated my criticism and published it all on her blog: [url][/url] Some weeks have passed. I am not sure if she is still reading the comments on our blog. You could copy your comment and paste it in her blog. See above link.

Elizabeth on :

I don't think white trash soldiers can be blamed for Haditha or Abu Ghraib, but they certainly can be blamed for "Hadji Girl." White trash aren't necessarily sadists or murderers. But they are often racist and tasteless.

Consul-At-Arms on :

It's got a good beat; you can dance to it! Seriously, have you actually heard all the lyrics or are you going on the erroneous reporting alone?

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