Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A community of war criminals

The New York Times reported that President Donald J. Trump took initial steps to issue pardons around Memorial Day for several servicemembers accused and convicted of war crimes. These pardons would be on top of the one President Trump issued less than two weeks ago for convicted murderer First Lieutenant Michael Behenna.

In reaction to this report, many former servicemembers and judge advocates have spoken out arguing such pardons would be immoral, undermine good order and discipline, put our own servicemembers at risk for retaliation, and undermine the commander-in-chief’s own authority in the ranks. If so many who served oppose these pardons, who is the constituency? And what purpose do these pardons serve for the military’s mission?

While campaigning, the president celebrated an apocryphal story of war crimes committed against Muslims, and also argued in favor of killing noncombatant family members (and even continued to do so even after assuming the job). It is currently unclear whether the president will follow through on his intention to reward more war criminals, but it is growing harder to dismiss what animates the most powerful person in the world: unnecessary cruelty.

As Adam Serwer observed, that cruelty also serves a political calculation to bind a community that celebrates its power to inflict pain over the less powerful. Time will tell whether that political calculation is successful in undermining the military's system of discipline.

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