Staff Sergeant Robert Bales and the price of life.
In America, money buys everything – even forgiveness, it seems. At least, that is the implicit view of the American armed forces.
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is being charged with the murders of 17 Afghan civilians, he shot to death in their homes, at night. There were four men, four women and nine children in the tally. He also attempted to kill six others. He faces a potential death sentence and a minimum life sentence with the possibility of parole, under military law. These facts are well known. What struck me as somewhat bizarre was what America has done in response to these killings. It has attempted to bribe the affections of the deceased’s families. The US has paid 50,000 USD to the families of those killed, per victim and 11,000 USD to the families of those wounded, per victim. Think about that for a moment. America imagines that it can buy the goodwill of the families of those it has murdered. In doing so, it is implicitly stating that it believes there is some exchangeable equivalence between money and life. There is no such equivalence, in their hearts. It is certain that not a one of the survivors would rather have the money than their loved ones back, alive, with them.
Then there is another curious fact about this. The international mass media are expressing amazement at the size of the sums the Americans have offered in compensation. They seem to be saying that these are large sums of money. Now, by comparison to past payments to those killed or injured by Americans in Afghanistan, they are. Typical prior payments have been 2,000 USD for a death; 400 USD for a serious injury and 200 USD for a non-serious injury. So, by that scale these are significant payments. Yet, there is another comparison to be made. America has placed a value on human life, called the “statistical value of human life”. Different agencies place different values on life. The Environmental Protection Agency values a life at 6.9 million USD. The Food and Drug Administration values life at 7.9 million USD. This leads to a sobering conclusion: an Afghan life is worth up to 158 times less than an American life, according to the actions of the American government, in compensating the Afghan families, whose members were murdered by Staff Sergeant Robert Bales.
Should the Afghan people ever come to understand this discrepancy between the value of an American life and the value of Afghan life, they might be mightily insulted at the compensation offered. It should be noted that the Afghans have a blood money culture in which compensation for the loss of life is expected – yet, Afghan commentators have remarked, in tune with my words, that no compensation is enough to make amends for these crimes – for it won’t bring back their loved ones.
If America really wants to play this game, of buying off the hatred of the people who have every reason to hate them, then really they should pay the same value for an Afghan life that they notionally ascribe to an American life. Each Afghan victim should have been compensated to the tune of 7.9 million USD. This would have another effect. It might make the Americans more cautious about whom they kill in Afghanistan. It could soon become very expensive to send young, anger prone, gun happy, American soldiers into a combat environment – for reasons altogether unrelated to their pay and support. Were every civilian death to require almost 8 million USD in compensation, there would, I am sure, be suddenly a whole lot fewer of them – and this could only be described as a good thing.
I shall patiently wait for the American government to pay out the balance of the 7.9 million USD payments for each victim. Until then, the US government hasn’t shown that it values Afghan life as much as it values American life – and that is a very grave insult, to this long suffering people. A life is a life – and it should be valued as much from a distant land, as from our own. That is a lesson the Americans have yet to imbibe.
Posted by Valentine Cawley
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Labels: a murderous profession, a perspective on life, crime against humanity, crime and punishment, death penalty, disregard for human life, gun crime, mass murder, racism in America, the value of life