June 3, 2006
-- by Dave Johnson
Larry Johnson, Earplugs, Marines, and Haditha | TPMCafe, excerpt:
As we keep sending our sons and daughters into the teeth of the insurgency in Iraq, we are discovering that we have forgotten the horror of fighting an insurgency. When tight knit units, like these Marines, lose friends and colleagues, they normally are not thinking like philosopher warriors. The Marines train these kids to kill (and well they should). They are not trained to operate as police officers. Entirely different rules of engagement.
Insurgents don't play fair either. They do not show up in clearly marked uniforms. They look like civilians and hide in the midst of populations. Sometimes the locals are witting and supportive and sometimes they are coerced. Both situations currently exist in Iraq.
I do not know who is personally responsible for the killings at Haditha, but it certainly appears that some Marines lost control and are probably guilty of manslaughter. Fortunately, this has not been a common event. But that offers small comfort. In the war for the hearts and minds of the Iraqis we do not have the luxury for any mistakes like this.Go read.
We must also accept that Americans as a whole share some responsibility for the actions of these soldiers. We sent them to war. We put them square in the middle of the battle. We cannot simply sit idly on the sidelines clucking our tongues over the awful thing that was done. We are complicit. If we think we can deal with this by simply "punishing" the guilty and move happily on with the rest of our lives, then we have ignored our societal obligation to the soldiers we ask to go to war to fight on our behalf. If young Marines have murdered Iraqi civilians, who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, then they must be held accountable. But, in punishing them, we must remember that we still have an obligation to these soldiers. Leaders we selected put sent these young men and women to war (and yes, I realize Al Gore probably won the election). We have an obligation to help make them whole and return emotionally intact to civil society.
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I've said since the beginning of this war that this is the kind of war that can only be won by killing everybody because there's no way to tell the difference between "enemies" and "friends." That was true in Vietnam, too, but this one is worse because we're now trying to stop someone else's civil war. There are going to be a lot of incidents that are morally on the edge; it seems that the pregnant woman who was shot was being rushed to the hospital. When the car got to a checkpoint, what the soldiers saw was a car rushing at them without even slowing down and they had no way to determine why. So from a military point of view they were probably justified; the car could easily have been another suicide bomber. Each incident is going to have its own ambiguities and it's going to be more and more of a horror story.
Some of our wounded will never feel whole, and even some who return physically intact will not feel whole. A great part of our responsiblity must be directed at helping these veterans reconnect with the life they left behind.
But I do disagee with you on one point, Dave. I don't believe incidents like Haditha are unique, at this point in the occupation. And as sectarian strife has turned into civil war in Iraq, it becomes more and more likely that the forces of an occupation will kill the wrong people. There is only the military to police its own in these incidents; and it is reasonable to conclude, that in this environment, our soldiers are automatically given the benefit of the doubt routinely.
Don't forget that this Haditha crime was covered up for a long time. There may have been many others. But in fairness to our soldiers it must be said that the war crimes are revealed often because of their individual acts of conscience, because they report horror which they have seen and simply can't bear to let pass.
Posted by: Copeland at June 4, 2006 3:38 PM
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