April 19th, 2012
02:00 AM ET

Horrors of war meet 21st century digital media

By Larry Shaughnessy

A platoon of Marines engages the enemy in a deadly firefight that lasts days. When it's over, many Americans are dead, as are many enemy troops. Some surviving Marines cut the ears off the enemy and attach them to their helmets.

Had this been in Afghanistan, someone might have taken out a cell phone, snapped a picture of the helmets and maybe even posted it on the Internet. A major controversy would ensue, rising all the way to the very top of the U.S. military.

But this wasn't Afghanistan, it was Vietnam. And other than those young Marines, the only person who found out was their platoon commander, Lt. Karl Marlantes. "I went 'you can't do this.' "

Marlantes instructed his Marines to remove the ears from their helmets and bury the enemy soldiers whose bodies they desecrated. "They started to cry, because what it did it brought them back to their humanity." Marlantes said.

Marlantes, who was awarded the Navy Cross for heroism in Vietnam, said what he saw in there happens in all wars. "I had the sense that is was like a high school kid who wants to show the letter on his letter jacket, proof he'd killed the soldiers who killed his buddies," Marlantes said.

"The difference was they didn't have the ability to take pictures of it and send them home before I got there," Marlantes said in a phone interview with CNN.

The unfiltered nature of new media in the 21st century war has created a string of controversies for the U.S. military all the way up to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

The latest is the publication by The Los Angeles Times of several pictures showing U.S. soldiers posing with bodies of suspected Afghan insurgents. Panetta condemned the photos but explained, "This is war. And I know that war is ugly, and it's violent."

It's eerily similar to what Panetta said when he visited Afghanistan immediately after the murders of 17 Afghan civilians allegedly by an American soldier. "This is a war."

Marlantes says photos like what the Times published and the video of Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters that was made public recently are just another form of "trophy taking" that has been part of war for thousands of years.

Fighters in the American West took scalps. "In World War II, guys gloated over dead Germans and Japanese," he said. Even "primitive tribes took heads and shrunk them."

Such photos and trophy-taking have long been a violation of American military regulations. So why does it continue to happen? Marlantes believes it's the nature of war and the warriors.

"The ideal marine or paratrooper or army infantry guy is 19 or 20 years old. They are not the kind of person who is going to second guess - 'Gee, lieutenant, should we think about doing it another way?' " Marlantes said.

"We are taught thou shalt not kill, so how do you get a 19- or 20-year-old to actually pull the trigger? Well, he has to think of the enemy as not human, that's the psychological trick to do. The problem is how do you get back out of that mode fast enough so that you begin to behave like a human being again? Oh, that body there is a human being, it's not some animal, and I'm gonna take the antlers off and stick it on my barn door. You have to switch back, and it's very difficult to do especially if you are 19."

Why is it harder for a 19-year-old private than say a 30-year-old segreant? Part of it is physiology.

Scientists believe that the part of the brain called the frontal cortex isn't fully developed in young adults. And that part of the brain is partly responsible for decision making and moderating social behavior. That's why young people often make good soldiers who will follow dangerous orders to risk their lives in combat without questioning their leaders, but on the flip side, they don't see the wrong in cutting off the ears of the enemy or urinating on corpses.

The Pentagon is fighting a difficult battle to prevent future such atrocities being made public, but Manlantes said that doesn't mean the military leaders don't have a role in stopping such activities.

"On the sense that 'this is war.' Panetta is correct. If you are going to go to war, really horrible ugly things are unleashed, but I would go the extra step, which is at some point there has to be a responsibility for those people in charge."

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Military • Pentagon
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    My dear ibn Franko, I would like to meet you at your time and choice of places so we can have a little talk

    May 7, 2012 at 9:02 am | Reply
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  39. michael

    Not since the slaughtering of the American Aboriginals have so many non comba tants been shot so needlessly and the Genocidal Tactics used upon Iraqui peoples can never be justifide. The US used Iraq as no less than a Live Fire Exercize and a Weapons and tactics proveing grounds and the Iraq peoples as live targets ever since Gulf I. The HONOR is in the CAUSE not in the amount of carnage one is capable of rendering.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Reply
    • Rob

      Keep quiet a lot has happend sense the 19th century you idiot. How about the two world wars that happend. You think your special don't make me laugh. My grand Dad is special 94 years old going to be 95. He has seen it all and done it all. There where still Czars in Russia and Pancho Villa still raiding the border of America. He fought against the Nazis and killed a few. He's seen all the wars of the twentieth century and those going on in the 21st. He knows that it never ends. An you are just one of the millions who have said the same thing in countless languages over countless centuries. War is a trait that is in our DNA just as our eye colour.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Reply
      • ibn Franko

        Keep on sucking that khaki cock.

        Maybe you and masturbator Jo can have a snowball contest to see who's the bigger patriot.

        April 19, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Boink

      Aboriginals ?

      Australians, moron.

      April 20, 2012 at 8:26 am | Reply
      • michael

        Aboriginals is an Anthropolgical term for peoples of Ancient cultures with a cultural root, While today we still have many Abortiginal Tribes one could aolmost say that those of N. America are no longer and for that matter neither are the ones of Austrailia: with only a very tiny differing groups still very much as they always were and those are n mainly the Amazonian Rain Basin.

        April 21, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • michael

      I am old and talk to, but I do not answer myself, but to Rob, who says he has a hereditory genetic defect in his DNA patterns, I think I am human and I do not think but I know I have talked to more vets, including some from the Native American of the civilized cultures,, Mexican War, that would of been my Great Uncle or my Grandpas brother, on up till today.
      Gramps was in WWI France when he sent his 1/2 Nations Tribal Mom a Birthday card, her Birthday was just one month before; mail from the Front was slow but no morfe faster in Paris so it took until exactly to the day of his birthday before she recieved it, He was 15 years old and in the hospital suffering from partial loss of one lung from mustard gas.
      I remember the Stars on thier windows and the pictures on the wall from WWII; PATRIOTIC to the corp and if you did not stand when the Flag went by, take off your hat and place palm on heart it hurt like hell, as he was as strong as a bull until he died.
      Gramps, taught me how to count, add, subtract, and even divide by using an old deck of cards from France that today would get him arrested for showing porno to a kid, and history was taught by old pictures and letters of our ancestors dating back to the mid 1620's when an Irish Bastard of an Irish lass and a Brit soldier got tired of English oppression.
      When I asked him why so many of our ancestors fought in wars he told me to go read Tennysons, answer, Because their fathres did, and he was speaking of those damn far north Scotch Welch and wild Irish mud and rock hovled filth called Crackers, a bunch of dumb inbreds the lot of them.
      He could say that because our Irish ancestors were of High Borne, even if they were Bastards, they went to New England and became even more civilized whereas; the crackers went to the south of US and are still inbreeding there, so maybe inmdeed there may well be a wee bit of insanity in some of those folks lineages,
      I know of war Vietnam, and have talked to many and my gramps and I took home many a drunken ex soldier from all three conflicts, WWI, WWII, and Korean who cried late at night when the men began to talk of wars fought long ago but still fresh as hell in their minds that night. What men said to men of war stayed with the men and not a one of them I can remember bragged about the war and spoke matter of factly about their experiences.
      The big difference between then and now, those men and our nation( in the populaces eyes and minds at least) did not go looking and trying to enrage others so they could kill them and there is one hell of a lot of difference between Killers and soldiers, well at least there once was.
      That goes all the way from privates to those who wear the brass on their hats and sit on warmed toilet seats in the Execuitive Branch and the Pentagon. who forment chaos and then destroy the local cultures to be supplanted by Corporate Interest.
      It is more economical to our finacial interest to get them to kill each other, destroy their infrastructures and then we go in finish off the few left to bring stablity and order to the region, rebuild that infrastructure to our finacial desires, and then charge them unto death to rebuild their countrfy while we rob the country blind.
      I have met and known quite well 2 Medal of Honor winners, one other but barely except to say Hi to and multiple Silver Star and minor pievecs of Bronze and crap metal medals and of the majority from the Korean and some rom The Nam none wanted to sit a brag about the killing all just went there did what needed to be done, hoping never again, and to get on with their lives, War was an Aberation not a norm to be striven for.
      Nyan anan ah, Nyan a nn ah, My Gramps could of kicked your Gramps with only one lung and one hand tied behind his back, but then Gramps did not have any genetic defects other than beiong Yankee Smart and a hard as nails SOB if you crossed him .

      April 21, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Reply
  40. michael

    The best Warriors in the world, I do agree, but do please cut out that there is any Honor to anyting more than a Warrior Code . Fancy coins and sh?1 house smoke grenades will only get you free drinks.

    April 19, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Reply
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    April 19, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Reply
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  43. In Afghanistan

    ibn Franko, I have seen the enemy we fight, and you would cower before them as they killed you. Every American soldier is a better human than you. At least they have the guts to stand up and fight versus some coward typing at his computer. I am here on ground, and although the US forces are not perfect, we are bleeding and dieing in an effort to do the right thing. If you don't like the war, bring it up with the politicians, but don't you dare condemn the men who carry out the orders. Especially from some cushy computer chair in your mom's basement. I watch American soldiers go out every day and try to help the Afghans.

    April 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Reply
    • ibn Franko

      Fuck you! You haven't seen shit. If anyone's in their mommy's basement, it's you. Bullshit patriots make me laugh. You wanna die for nothing? For politicians and bankers and chickenhawks? Be my fucking guest.

      April 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Reply
      • In Afghanistan

        haha, its funny because I'm literally typing this sitting in Afghanistan after being on mission all day. Good luck to you bro. I understand people's disagreement with the war, but to take it out on the soldiers just shows how out of touch you are. We are humans just like you, and we protect your right to run your mouth, so enjoy it. And the next time you meet an infantryman like myself after coming home from the war, I encourage you to run your mouth some more. You seem like a big tough guy, I'm sure it will work out great for you. And tell your mom whats up for me.

        April 19, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
      • ibn Franko

        On the ground? More like on your knees.

        You couldn't find Afghanistan on a map.

        April 19, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
      • Jo

        Well you just proved something to me. You have proven that you are one of those guy's that sit's on Yahoo chat all day talking sh$t. And cutting others down. I have seen it when I am home on leave. My son goes on that chat and shows me these loser's that think that they are some kind of chat god. Listen up sonny! In my 33 years first with the 101st Airborne Division and Currently with the 5th Special Forces (Green Beret) Currenly Deployed over here. I don't see you signing up for anything, except maybe food stamps. When you man up and go to war you might have something to say. But when you disrespect one of our brothers over here< over a computer I might add. You have crossed a line that shouldn't be crossed. I would put any 17-18 year old soldier against you anyday and why don't you diss a soldier to his face? because your a computer pushing wimp that has a big mouth when we don't know who you are. Oh Mommys callin you she wants to know why you have been down in the basement for days. LITTLE PUNK with a big mouth.
        Master Sergeant Jo 5th Special Forces Over here.

        April 19, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
      • ibn Franko

        Hey really don't mind me I'm a shiteating liberal cocksucker. After I get pounded in the ass in the morning I like to troll forums – gotta get my kicks somehow other than pulling tricks.

        April 19, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
      • ibn Franko

        Jo – since you like to go on about those who are on food stamps, what would you call someone, like yourself, who depends on the government for a paycheck? Oh, that's right, a hypocrite. Master Sgt.? More like masturbator. You war lovers crack me up. Fucking dickless chickenhawks. Mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging war-monger scum.
        As for the 'other' ibn Franko; couldn't come up with your own name? Too difficult, no? Was "I Love Cock" already taken?
        Back to you, Jo; STOP WITH ALL THE BULLSHIT ABOUT HOW 'YOU'RE FIGHTING FOR US'. Because you're not. You couldn't find Afghanistan on a map, let alone pass a basic aptitude test to qualify as canon fodder.

        April 19, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
      • Jo

        That just proved to everyone what the gutless wonder of a dumbass you are. Thats ok spew your baseless crap. you love the fact that you can spew your insults to someone who can't find you. It is a fact that you got beat up as a kid. so now you hide behind your computer talking shit to a person that could kill you with a touch of my finger. fool. one day someone will find where you live and then you'll be sorry you opened your big mouth

        April 19, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
      • ibn Franko

        Spoken like a true bully. Whats the matter, sweetheart – did I call you on your bullshit? Thirty-three years of suckling at the public teat makes you one hell of a welfare recipient, doesn't it. By the way (humor me on this one), what time is it right now – 'over there'?

        April 19, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
      • Jo

        It's 5:26 Pm. Suppertime you little piece of shit.

        April 20, 2012 at 8:58 am |
      • JayBee

        ibn Franko, what is your deal dude? you are the worst person.........literally you suck so bad that you are the worst person. There are over 7 billion people on this planet. And somehow you managed to be the worst. As we speak, there are 1,000 little microscopic sperms rolling off your moms chin that are worth more then you.

        April 20, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
      • Jo

        Gotta agree with you on that. He is just some little antagonist that get's his jollies from doing just that. Everyone on here can see through his crap. He should just pack his shit and get out of the states before someone shuts him up for good

        April 20, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
      • ibn Franko

        Hey, Jo – maybe once your heroic tenure as a glorified welfare recipient comes to an end, you can get a job with the Nazis at the TSA, where you can continue to bully and brutalize the elderly, the disabled and the very young. All in the name of 'freedom', of course. And bonus!.........it being a tax-funded government agency, you can still sponge off of the rest of us who actually work for a living. If it weren't for the military, you would have been on food stamps a looooooonnnngg time ago......you little piece of shit.

        Oops!.......I'm sorry. You're not a piece of shit – you're just a socialist. Like Obama. Hahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!

        April 20, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
      • Jo

        It's perfectly clear that all you are is some little kid being an antagonist. I get paid to fight for our country, something of which you obviously are not a part of. If you hate the US so much all I can say is pack up your shit and get out before you mouth off to one of us military people in person and they decide that you don't matter, which you don't. your just one of those kids that hides behind your computer because both of us know you are too afraid to say something to someones face. Never have I seen a loser like you on such magnitude. and if you look at the posts all of us here know what you are. And your job at McDonald's is not relevant. Quit your job and get out of the United States before something happens to you for opening your mouth to the wrong person

        April 20, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
      • ibn Franko

        You get paid to fight. Sure. More like you get paid to shuffle papers at a desk, you fucking pogue. And I just love the banal analogies of dim-wits and jar-heads such as yourself; i.e., "if you don't like it here, then leave". Brilliant! How original. Did you come up with that one all by yourself, genius? I guess freedom of speech only applies to those self-chosen few who feel that they are the sole purveyors of what is right or what is truth. Sure, I don't agree with you, but I would never suggest that you, or anyone else I disagree with, can't say what they want, no matter how repugnant I may find it. And this is why you're nothing more than a basic garden-variety hypocrite. Furthermore, I haven't implied nor suggested, that you should have your ass kicked, simply because we are in disagreement. Too bad you can't say the same.

        That said, finish your tour and get your ass home in one piece. (yeah, I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt) And for what it's worth, the 'other' ibn Franko – the one who refers to himself as a Liberal pussy – ain't me.

        April 20, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  44. Davis

    The point of this article isn't descecration of the enemy, or discrediting the military; it's to demonstrate that technology today has the capability of affecting political decisions about engagement in combat.

    Thoughtful comments, ibn Franko.

    April 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  45. Slurpyburpy-Jr.

    As wrong as it is to desicrate human bodies, we have to remimber that we arn't the ones fighting Americas wars and they are. We have to understand what they are going through.

    April 19, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Reply
    • ibn Franko

      I couldn't give a shit what they're going through. They volunteered. Fuck 'em!

      April 19, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Reply
      • Reaper 1-1`

        ibn Franko,

        Really? You sound just like the troops who commited these acts in the first place. Your choice use of the word Fuck makes you sound just as ignorant.

        Having served in both Iraq and Afgan, I can tell you that a MAJORITY of our troops are law abiding Americans fighting a war they did not ask for. Fighting for another countries right to freedom. Yes they volunteered and should be praised for doing a job which is not publically held in high regard. So your condemnation of the MAJORITY for the actions of the MINORITY is ignorant and uncalled for. Dont support the war effort or the troops, but at least research the facts to back up your statements, becuase frankly you sound like a rambling idiot.

        April 19, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
      • ibn Franko

        You're right of course. I am a pussy coward liberal, the closest to fighting I've ever done is multiplayer on Modern Warfare. Much easier to anonymously attack someone over the internet to make up for all of my inadequacies as a human being.

        April 19, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
      • Jo

        Thats because your probably about 16 years old and still sucking your moms tit you gutless hide behind your computer agitator. You wouldn't have the balls to spend one day over here

        April 20, 2012 at 9:01 am |
  46. ranger

    We can't fight a ruthless and unforgiving enemy with smiles and handshakes. Niceness goes out the window when bullets start flying over your head. Take a vacation to Afghanistan and try to talk peace and see how that works out for ya.

    April 19, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Reply
    • ibn Franko

      Fuck off, John Wayne.

      April 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Reply
      • Reaper 1-1`

        ibn Franko,

        Have you served? You know better yet have you ever watched the life flow out of your best friend? Watched helplessly as the vehicle your firends are in explodes into a fireball of death and destruction?

        These men and women are placed into situations which most will never endure. I am by no means advocating the actions of the minority. I am stressing the importance of understanding that everyone is different and handle combat stress differently. These individuals should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, however, ignorant people like you should be educated. That way these needless ridiculous comments can be avioded.

        April 19, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
      • ibn Franko

        No I haven't served I'm a stupid libtard douchebag. I'm just a chickenshit coward.

        April 19, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  47. Brian

    Good article. There is no desecration of bodies by taking a picture and showing happiness at the death of the enemy.
    In war that is a job well done and what you are paid to do. What about the bodies which are left on the streets while the local dogs take a nibble out of the parts lying about? War is a gruesome nasty business!

    April 19, 2012 at 10:23 am | Reply


    April 19, 2012 at 6:29 am | Reply
    • ibn Franko

      They don't have to dig that far.

      April 19, 2012 at 11:46 am | Reply
      • Jo

        you cowardly piece of shit! keep hiding behind that computer while we fight for america over here. your the lowest kind of species, A COWARD

        April 19, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
      • ibn Franko

        Jo you are right. I hate myself so I'm just going to anonymously take a shit on a forum to make myself feel better about how much of a human turd I am.

        April 19, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  49. shivadass


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    Do not be silent, Do not be part of the problem anymore.
    We can change things.

    April 19, 2012 at 6:28 am | Reply

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