Agence France Press, 8 December 2011
The US Air Force dumped the cremated, partial remains of at least 274 troops in a landfill before halting the secretive practice in 2008, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
Theophillis Goodyear Comments:
No matter who is specifically to blame here, this story is certainly a powerful metaphor for what’s wrong with worldwide society. Our systems have taken on a life of their own. They’ve become massive machines that no one is steering. And we’ve become fodder for them. Some people have more power than others. But mostly these machines are blind collectives that are beyond the control of any single individual or group. According to the article, senior Pentagon officials never authorized this decision and were unaware of it. But anyone who’s ever been in the military knows that the culture tends to force underlings to get creative when it comes to fulfilling objectives. Orders are not always doable but they must be done anyway. And the culture is a collective entity.
What’s likely is that the person in charge of the US Air Force mortuary at Dover Air Force Base was facing a dilemma created by his superiors. And the bottom line must have been money. I’m guessing that budgetary pressures, time deadlines, and political correctness (not calling attention to piles of body parts) were the motivating forces here. These conflicting forces probably left the head of the mortuary with only one option: dump the remains as quickly and cheaply as possible.
The article goes on to say that “an additional group of 1,762 remains . . . were also disposed of in this manner.” Knee-jerk reaction tends to drive us to search for an individual to blame. The Tea Party will want to blame Obama. The Democrats will want to blame Bush policies. The military will want to blame the lowest man on the totem pole. And the officer who applied all the pressure to the man who actually made the decision, probably has an airtight defense; because he probably never told him exactly how to solve the problem, and he probably said that he didn’t want to know, or need to know (all discussed verbally and in private, no doubt); because the military also trains people to cover their asses at all costs! It’s a basic survival skill.
The real culprit here is likely to be the collective. And collectives tend to dilute the responsibility of individuals. That’s what makes collectives so dangerous. We would become extinct as a species without them, but they have grown so massive and powerful that top-down management no longer works. The solution, of course, is open-source intelligence.
We are no longer driving these collectives. No one is. They are driving us! Even the most powerful leaders are disposable. But the collectives that they manage go on and on without them. And if they try to reform them, they will be quickly ejected and replaced. Our collectives have become blind machines. And only truly open collective intelligence, collective wisdom, and other open-source systems can save us from them.
But we must remember that although this incident can be used as a metaphor for the problem, the incident itself is not a metaphor but a reality. Our collectives have become giant meat grinders. That too is a metaphor. But the networks of cause and effect it describes are all too real. Who did the heroes who were unceremoniously dumped in a landfill serve? Ultimately they served a blind collective and were discarded by the same.
A blame game or a witch hunt can’t save future heroes from a similar fate. If the Pentagon wants to do justice to these men and their families, they must blame their own military culture, which is what led to this disgraceful and undignified end. They must start openly challenging the blind aspects of the collective they serve. And citizens (in whose name the collective operates) must support them in the effort.
A good model might be truth and reconciliation, which waives individual culpability in order to get at the truth of the matter. And in this case I think the truth will liberate everyone. The collective can’t be tried and sentenced and sent to prison. The collective can’t be embarrassed or humiliated. The collective has no need to avoid responsibility or defend itself, because the collective is an abstract entity with no life other than what we give it.
Put the collective on trial.