Desecrating Taliban corpses

Without having any sympathy for the Taliban, who not only want to destroy Western civilization but would torture Western soldiers without hesitation or shame, I am firmly in favour of investigating the notorious video of U.S. marines now making the rounds and, if it is genuine, punishing the perpetrators. I know some people say those who are not combat soldiers should not make judgements about what happens in the heat of battle. And I am not a soldier. But Eugene Sledge was. He was a marine in the Pacific in World War II and his superb memoir With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa was an important source for the recent series Pacific. So I submit his account of the time he almost desecrated a corpse as the most fundamental reason why, although I know these things happen, I am certain they should not (I quoted this on Newswire on Jan. 13).

I noticed gold teeth glistening brightly between the lips of several of the dead Japanese lying around us. Harvesting gold teeth was one facet of stripping enemy dead that I hadn’t practiced so far. But stopping beside a corpse with a particularly tempting number of shining crowns, I took out my kabar and bent over to make the extractions.

A hand grasped me by the shoulder, and I straightened up to see who it was. "What are you gonna do, sledgehammer?" asked Doc Caswell. His expression was a mix of sadness and reproach as he looked intently at me. "Just thought I’d collect some gold teeth," I replied. "Don’t do it." "Why not, Doc?" "You don’t want to do that sort of thing. What would your folks think if they knew?" "Well, my dad’s a doctor, and I bet he’d think it was kinda interesting," I replied, bending down to resume my task.

"No! The germs, Sledgehammer! You might get germs from them." I stopped and looked inquiringly at Doc and said, "Germs? Gosh, I never thought of that." "Yeah, you got to be careful about germs around all these dead Nips, you know," he said vehemently. "Well, then, I guess I’d better just cut off the insignia on his collar and leave his nasty teeth alone. You think that’s safe, Doc?" "I guess so," he replied with an approving nod.

Reflecting on the episode after the war, I realized that Doc Caswell didn’t really have germs in mind. He was a good friend and a fine, genuine person whose sensitivity hadn’t been crushed out by the war. He was merely trying to help me retain some of mine and not become completely callous and harsh.

UncategorizedJohn Robson