Who are today’s soldiers?

The perceived role of a modern day soldier of democratic nations is one of noble peacekeeper and defender of freedoms for all. But that image now wavers under the weight of dubious behavioral failings on the part of some of our beloved freedom fighters. The latest of these incidents was brought to a head just last week, as Canadian Colonel David Russel Williams was found guilty after he confessed to 88 separate charges, ranging from breaking and entering to sexual assault and murder. Col. Williams was – before his arrest — commander of Canada’s largest air force base that was working in cooperation with the peacekeeping effort in the Iraq War. It is startling then, that a man of such national prominence could be such a malicious person, especially to his own people. Charges detailed that most of his crimes were committed in his own Ottawa neighborhood. How ironic that those who are trained to defend us abroad from those who would violate our freedoms are violating those same freedoms on the home front. This shameful and disturbing development may be an exaggerated example, but it is only the latest in a string of offenses that has me questioning what the modern soldier is really all about. The Baghdad Correctional Facility debacle back in 2004 is another troubling example of the changing nature of our soldiers. Our own U.S. soldiers were caught in the act, having abused prisoners of war — physically, sexually and psychologically. For a nation whose military mottos have long focused on eliminating evil abroad, this situation was an exhibit of high hypocrisy. The portrayal of our soldiers has also changed in other ways. Movies like “The Hurt Locker” — a movie that claims to be realistic, mind you — portray our boys in Iraq as violent, mentally disturbed, and in many ways calculating, with little regard to morals in the interest of simply getting the job done. This is a sharp contrast to how our soldiers were viewed in the past, specifically during World War II, where our guys were the heroes going abroad to fight the hell-bent, bloodthirsty fascists. It seems that now we might appear to the world as the evil oppressors — a role which was occupied exclusively by our enemies in the past. No longer do our privates appear as the brave, righteous boys going off to fight evil. Rather they are the confused, conflicted legions of violent oppressors without a cause. However, this is hardly their fault, as the war in Iraq was by itself unpopular and unfocused. So in some respects, I feel sympathetic towards the average soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan, especially as a select few give our troops as a whole a very bad name. The image of an American soldier, at least globally, is changing from one of moral defenders to one of loose, indiscriminate sadists, and I wonder if this is a taint that might not ever be removed.