The Fundamental Reality

You probably read The New York Times article detailing the sexual abuse of boys by U.S. allies in Afghanistan and were sickened to learn that it is U.S. policy to disregard what is called bacha bazi (“boy play”). Even when it takes place within sight or hearing distance on military bases.

Service members who’ve disobeyed the rule to ignore have been disciplined. After Dan Quinn, a former Special Forces captain, assaulted an American-backed militia commander, Abdul Rahman, for keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave, he was relieved of his command and subsequently left the military. The Army currently is trying to “forcibly retire” Sgt. First Class Charles Martland who participated in the attack on Rahman.

In 2012, a teenager, the domestic servant and probable sex slave of a U.S. ally, killed Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. and two other Marines. Buckley’s father believes his son’s death resulted from the policy of overlooking sexual abuse.

On first seeing this story, I noted over 1000 reader comments. Later, after the comment section closed, I checked the number again. There were 2008. Here’s a portion of one:

American troops being told to tolerate the abuse of young boys by Afghan officers makes them complicit in the eyes of those Afghans who were aware of, but not guilty of abuse. No wonder some of them grew to hate America. In their eyes we are the worst sort of hypocrite. That this was official policy is disgusting. That American officers are being punished for defying that policy stains American honor.


Asking our troops to ‘look the other way’ is to make them accomplices in the torture of children. Is that what we are spending all these billions of American dollars for–to subsidize horrific crimes against children? Thank you to the NYT for continuing to publicize this shame on America. It has to be stopped.

One reader concluded with:

Let’s ALWAYS speak out against abuse—the abuse of anyone. Cultures that value human dignity, personal choice, bodily integrity, women’s (and men’s, and children’s) rights are just better than those that don’t. Period.

I didn’t read all the comments. I couldn’t. Dry eyes, you know. “Avoid the computer,” my ophthalmologist advised.
But plenty I did read stressed American honor, the staining of this honor, the shame of promoting a policy to disregard sexual child abuse, our superior values, that our culture is better.

Our. Culture. Is. Better.


Our culture is one in which college football is so revered that Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was allowed to sexually abuse boys for years before he was held accountable.

Our culture is marked by Catholic Church sexual abuse.

Our culture is so racist it necessitates the Black Lives Matter movement.

Our culture is violent, the country that leads the world in the number of mass shootings.

Dan Quinn said, “The reason we were here (in Afghanistan) is because we heard the terrible things the Taliban were doing to people, how they were taking away human rights.”
Sergeant Martland wrote a letter to the Army and said that he and Quinn “felt that morally we could no longer stand by and allow our A.L.P. (Afghan Local Police) to commit atrocities.”

Taking away human rights?

Morally we could no longer stand by?


The fundamental reality is war itself. The inhumanity of war. The maiming, the deaths, the horror, the refugee crises.

They hate us for our freedom. We heard this repeatedly from George Bush and his administration. It’s true. They hate us for our freedom to invade and occupy, to destroy their lives, to use weapons that alter their DNA, to terrorize 24 hours a day.

Adopting a strategy that allows allies to sexually abuse children is egregious, but is this deserving of more intense outrage than U.S. imperial foreign policy?

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: