Monday, September 27, 2010

Collecting war trophies: 12 American soldiers charged with keeping body parts

This is the first time I can recall military personnel in Afghanistan being charged with collecting grizzly war trophies.

As a veteran, I know stuff like this has been happening since we invaded that country a decade ago. It certainly happened in WW II and Vietnam, but let’s take a look at the charges in the following article first, then a brief history of the practice by modern American military forces.   

Body parts, photos part of charges against soldiers

“The first of 12 soldiers charged with crimes in Afghanistan that range from killing civilians to keeping body parts as war trophies faces a military tribunal on Monday that will decide whether his case proceeds to court-martial. Army Spc. Jeremy Morlock, 22, from Wasilla, Alaska, is charged with premeditated murder in the deaths of three Afghan civilians, assaulting a fellow soldier and "wrongfully photographing and possessing visual images of human casualties."

This kind of thing is nothing new as far as what soldiers do in war.During World War II, some United States military personnel mutilated dead Japanese service personnel in the Pacific theater of operations.The mutilation of Japanese service personnel included the taking of body parts as “war souvenirs” andwar trophies”. Teeth and skulls were the most commonly taken "trophies", although other body parts were also collected.

The phenomenon of "trophy-taking" was widespread enough that discussion of it featured prominently in magazines and newspapers, and Franklin Roosevelt himself was reportedly gifted a letter-opener made of a man's arm (Roosevelt rejected the gift and called for its proper burial).

The behavior was officially prohibited by the U.S. military, which issued additional guidance as early as 1942 condemning it specifically. Nonetheless, the behavior continued throughout the war in the Pacific Theater, and has resulted in continued discoveries of "trophy skulls" of Japanese combatants in American possession, as well as American and Japanese efforts to repatriate the remains of the Japanese dead.

                           WHAT I OBSERVED IN VIETNAM AND CAMBODIA

 I served in Vietnam, and Cambodia, in 1970. As part of a demolition squad (31st Eng Battalion), Bravo Company, we were attached to numerous other units on various missions ranging from mine sweeping roads, to clearing out dense areas of forest to construct firebases.

The photo to the right were a common thing while I was there. One of the guys in my squad collected enemy fingers. Another proudly wore a necklace of ears taken from VC and NVA soldiers.

There is no excuse for this kind of thing in any war. But it happens. While I didn’t approve of it, I never turned anyone in for it because I didn’t trust officers and I knew someone would probably “cap my ass” if I did. I admit that I didn’t have much sympathy for the victims, but my brain was in a survival mode and they were – after all – people who would have killed me if they had the chance.

Then there was the civilian atrocities, like what these 12 soldiers from the 5th Stryker Unit are being accused of. I couldn’t possible do justice to portraying the horrors I saw committed on innocent civilian men, women, and children. As you read this you may be wondering how could people do these terrible things…unless you’ve been in combat. Then you know. No civilian could possibly understand the depths of depravity men will sink to in these situations.

In the madness of war civilians always suffer. It’s always been like this since the first armies clashed in ancient Mesopotamia.

As It Stands, it seems we’ll never learn, as a species, how to maintain peace throughout the world.    


Vietnam Airlines said...

War is terrible, I'm a people of Vietnam. In 1970, I was a boy only 10 years old. I grew up in the sound of explosions and air defense artillery, many friends and my relatives have died in this war. Hopefully it will not happen a war anywhere in the world.

Anonymous said...

i agree yes at war people get pretty crazy..there was this old film on you tube a while back its been taken off now but it was in vietnam and in one part they caught some vc very young girls and boys and they actually showed the man clothed and you could see he had been serverley bashed and the girl naked and the gis around her you could see laughing there wasnt sound but you could see she was just in shock mode the documentary said she was mumbleing communist slogans but it was pretty damn clear they had gang raped her and bashed the males i couldnt beleive i saw it. then later it was no longer on youtube. but yeah pretty crazy stuff but everyday thing in war

Francisco Betancourt said...

I am currently writing a book and wondered if I could use your picture and quote your phrase regarding the necklace of ears and the finger collecting
thanks to let me know

Dave Stancliff said...

You can use it and my photo Fransisco. Would you send me a copy when it's finished? My email address is

Good luck!