If Staff Sergeant Robert Bates did indeed slay 16 Afghan civilians, nine of them children, what led him to do it? Did the horrors he witnessed in four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan play a role? Military officials, and the general public, have begun exploring and debating that issue, and will be doing so for months. The larger question: are war atrocities an indictment of individuals, or of war?
It's an important question.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports today that bookstores are being flooded with memoirs of soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan—memoirs offering "insider looks at combat and harrowing real-life drama." The books are being snapped up by readers "ready to embrace stories that accentuate heroism instead of the often dreary developments reported in daily news accounts," the NYT says. Noting the recent success of such books, publishers are rushing to line up more.
The number one nonfiction book on the NYT hardcover best sellers list right now is American Sniper, by Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL. It's been on the list for ten weeks, and more than 400,000 copies are in print. Kyle killed more than 150 Iraqi insurgents, which broke the old American sniper record of 109. Peter Hubbard, who edited the book for publisher William Morrow, told the Times he strove to make the memoir more than "a genre military book. It functions as a great action and adventure story."
In an interview with Fox News's Bill O'Reilly in January, Kyle, the record-setting sniper, said he considered the Iraqi insurgents he killed "savages." "They live by putting fear into other people's hearts, and civilized people just don't act that way," he told O'Reilly.
"You liked killing those guys," O'Reilly said. "Did you ever figure that out?"
"It's not a problem taking out someone who wants your people dead," Kyle responded. "You have to not think about them as a human being."
In today's NYT story, Sarah Brown, a bookstore buyer in Tempe, Arizona, said the war memoirs were drawing readers who were looking for a positive spin out of war. Said Brown: “You have admiration for these elite soldiers, and they’re doing heroic things, and you don’t have to wade into the politics of anything. People feel they’re reading about the war, but it’s not as hard to swallow. How many books can you read about how we shouldn’t be there, or how we got there, or the history of the Taliban?”