Simon Tam

Founder and Bassist, The Slants LLC

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Should There be Rules on How the Dead are Treated During War?

A recent video of American soliders urinating on the dead recently erupted online and sparked international fury. People were disgusted and saddened by the actions of the soliders treating the corpses with such disregard. However, has the anger been misplaced?

Why has there been more fury over urine than the actual act of killing itself? In a time of war, should there be specific rules on how the dead are treated? Or does the old adage remain that "all is fair in love and war?"

Somesocieties try and be above reproach, claiming civlity. However, the message is to kill the enemy. Is there a contradiction here?

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    Jan 13 2012: I think Cord Jefferson said it best when he wrote: "More American troops now kill themselves than die in combat, and female soldiers are more likely to be sexually assaulted by a colleague than to be killed by the enemy. In short, the kids aren't all right, and it's time for everyone to stop being shocked when they behave in abnormal, terrifying ways. War is an awful thing that irrevocably changes and destroys people, and it yields horrific, destructive behavior. If you'd like to live in a world in which soldiers don't pee on their dead enemies, then it's your duty to fight for a world in which soldiers aren't killing people in the first place."
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    Jan 13 2012: Defiling the dead dehumanises the perpetrator. This sort of dishonourable behaviour will probably leave long term mental health implications. How will they deal with the question "Daddy, what did you do in the war?" A. "I killed lots of men and pissed on their bodies." It devalues any victory and enflames the anger of the opposition. It also brings shame on the perpetrator and their "side". However, we train young men (and women) to kill dispassionately - so they cannot be held totally responsible. Perhaps we expect too much. War brings out our most base emotions and behaviours. Lets face it, humans can be violent and cruel. War already has rules - but war is war. I'm sure these sort of images will continue to surface form time to time. For those fighting, war is 90% boredom and 10% terror. People who have seen horrific violence often develop sick humour as an emotional release. It's not great to see the results but when the time comes when everyone fights fair we will not be fighting wars anymore.
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    Jan 14 2012: It is normal in a sense what happen : they kill each other there and usually this process don't involve respect.
    The talbians killed lots of their comrades , take it a sign of sadness and empathy (even if it is in a rude way) for their fellow soldiers killed in the fight .
    I agree it would have been better if this didn't happen but this happened .
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    Jan 14 2012: A recent comment on a vet org's post condemning the Marines who urinated on Afghans said in their defense that Marines are not boy scouts: expect them to be drinking, smoking, chewing tobacco, watching porn, swearing, fighting, and/or urinating on dead Afghans. After all, war is Hell. Everyone knows that. Case closed...

    ...Or is it? At home, many Marines are committing other acts: self-medicating, perpetrating domestic violence, getting thrown in jail. More, still, are holed up with such severe cases of PTS--panic attacks, nightmares, survivor's guilt, and horror over the memory of acts as bad as or worse than this--that they cannot function in society. Many are living on the street or in the woods, and that is not all. In November 2011, suicide attempts among those in the US Marine Corps reached 176. Since 2002, the rate has more than doubled. That is only for attempts that were reported. The actual numbers may be much, much higher, and there is no hint of a decrease.

    Caught between excusers, accusers, and those who just don't care, no other crisis is more dismissed, elided, and silenced. TED is not exempt. Guess how much this topic has come up on If you do a search on the term "veterans" on, you will find out. If you open a conversation about veterans on, if you propose an idea to address the issue, no one will comment, and the administrators will remove the conversation. Go ahead and try it, yourself. This wholesale sweeping under the rug of such a pervasive and horrific problem virtually guarantees that we will once more be at war with yet another country.

    Nothing condones violence more than the refusal to redeem its perpetrators.

    J. Glenn Gray noted that in war insanity starts to look normal and normalcy begins to look insane. That this act by these Marines will be exploited for agendas that have nothing to do with ending war or helping vets rediscover sanity--and life--is our own national brand of madness.
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    Jan 13 2012: Seems that media hype can also add fuel to the flame too. There are thousands of incidents or rape, hazing, murder, etc. Of course these all demand social justice, and I don't mean to belittle any of it at all, though I think this is getting away from the the topic at hand: what kind of rules (if any) should be in place during times of war for the dead.

    Believe me, I believe that many times our attention, anger, and advocacy efforts can be better directed.
  • Jan 13 2012: On December 30, 2011 KCCI Des Moines reported that a highschool wrestler had reported being hazed by teammates, including being urinated on. This would be a living, breathing human being getting pissed on. No outrage.

    Meanwhile, the national news reports a story of American Marines urinating on dead foreign combatants. These would be cold, dead terrorists. Outrage.

    Excuse me for calling the indignation exactly what it is - hypocritical bullshit. We only care if something gets pissed on if its the Koran or a dead Muslim.

    • Jan 14 2012: Ahem.

      I don't know about that last point but I definitely agree that this is all so hypocritical

      If we condemned the act rather than who's doing it or who its been done to, we'd all be equally liable if any of us does it.
      • Jan 14 2012: Mohammad,

        "Ahem. I don't know about that last point but..."

        I will happily stand corrected if you could remind me of a news story and international response which contradicts my assessment.

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    Jan 13 2012: "Why has there been more fury over urine than the actual act of killing itself?"

    War, few people disagree, is always the last resort, after all diplomatic options have failed. I would argue that, those killed in war are representatives of leaders who have found no way forward, and who have accepted their life is to be given for their country/leaders/cause. "Fury" over the actual act of killing them, then, would be pointless. Would our enemies think twice about killing one of our own?
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      Jan 13 2012: These actions were done admist peace talks (which thankfully, were not disturbed). Not everyone agrees that war is the last resort (look at the number of people who disagree with the U.S going to war with Iraq, with North Korea's actions, with Serbia invading Bosnia/Kosovo/etc.) since some people use war for their own advances (such as Germany or Japan during WWII, Iraq invading Kuwaitt). Fury over ruthless killing can and should always be anticipated.

      Countries do set up "rules of war" (such as no military in civilian clothing, treatment of POW's, etc), yet there's no distinct regulations over treatment of the dead. I'm just wondering if any would be appropriate, effective, or even worthwhile?

      However, in regards to your last statement, "Would our enemies think twice about killing one of our own?," I don't think that our actions should be predicated on the intentions or possible actions of another.
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        Jan 13 2012: I agree that there should be distinct regulations pertaining to the treatment of the dead. My point is that, in war, people will die. We cannot infer from the video of the urination under what circumstances the dead were killed. Were marines lives at stake? If killing these people ment saving an innocent's life, does that make their death justified? I think it does. The fury over this video should not be pointed at the act of killing, because it may have saved another, but at the act of desecrating the bodies, which is wrong in any circumstance.

        With regards to my last statement, you're right, our actions shouldn't be predicated on the possible action of our enemies. I feel I may have misspoken.