When soldiers commit atrocities, we must ask why. The question is being raised once again by reports that a handful of American soldiers in Afghanistan carried out premeditated killings—murders—of Afghan civilians. The soldiers allegedly took photographs of themselves posing with corpses and body parts, including fingers and heads.
The alleged ringleader is Sergeant Calvin Gibbs. In an interrogation video leaked to CNN, Specialist Adam Winfield, a member of Gibbs’s platoon, said that Gibbs “likes to kill things. He is pretty much evil incarnate. I mean, I have never met a man who can go from one minute joking around, then mindless killings.”
Some evidence supports the bad-apples theory of atrocities. In a previous post, I cited a report by two psychiatrists that after 60 days of continuous combat, 98 percent of World War II infantrymen suffered from psychiatric illness, with some succumbing to a near-catatonic “vegetative phase.” But 2 percent of the soldiers, far from being traumatized by intense, prolonged combat, enjoyed it. The psychiatrists diagnosed these soldiers with “aggressive psychopathic personalities.”