I wonder when people with offensive opinions are going to figure out that posting shit on social media brings more trouble than its worth.
There's been a furore this week when it was revealed that a number of Australian soldiers serving in Afghanistan had posted racial slurs about the locals on Facebook. According to various reports, there were references to "smelly locals", "ragheads", "dune coons" and "sand niggaz".
A few things. Firstly, it is completely unsurprising that this type of thinking goes on, and no one should delude themselves into thinking that Australian soldiers are much worse than any other country's soldiers in this respect. Military culture is macho and aggressive, some would say out of necessity, and they also are exposed to some of the worst aspects of the Afghani people. They are in highly stressful situations and need to vent.
But unsurprising or not, it's the sort of attitude and behaviour that the armed forces desperately needs to stamp out. And it's nothing to do with such airy-fairy notions as "political correctness" or racial slurs just not being nice. It's extremely practical, because this is one instance that illustrates how potentially harmful racism can be, rather than just some unfashionable thoughts.
Firstly, the troops are not just trying to wipe out an enemy. They are trying to win the hearts and minds of the Afghani people, and creating situations that turn civilians into potential adversaries is severely detrimental to the cause. As Air Marshall Angus Houston, head of the Armed Forces, stated recently: "The problem is that it will be used against Australian soldier and against the Afghan government," he said. "This sort of disrespectful behaviour will endanger the lives of others."
But not only that. Racism, where it is allowed to flourish, leads to greater dehumanisation of the Aghani people. The more they are dehumanised by soldiers, the greater likelihood that atrocities will be committed. Atrocities are a sad inevitability of any war, to some extent. But it's much harder to commit atrocities when you recognise the common humanity in the people whose territory you are occupying. And it's a lot easier to commit atrocities against people you see merely as a bunch of smelly ragheads, dune coons and sand niggaz.