The horror – Liberal Street Fighter

What a deeply psychotic country this is. Mired in magical thinking, enamored with our own self-image as a “good” country … we spread death and destruction around with nary a thought, then act suprised and upset when an incident like Haditha happens. People shake their heads, media newsmodels sadly report that US Marines “snapped” and committed an atrocity.

How horribly, terribly WRONG this little bit of cold comfort is. It allows us to maintain a distance from responsibilty for what is being done in this latest of our wars, as it has allowed citizens and politicians to avoid responsibility in wars past.

LTC Bob Bateman relates this tale over on Alterman’s Altercation blog, from his time training troops at Fort Hood:

Private Ericsson was the blond-haired blue-eyed epitome of American youth.  A little older than his peers at 22, he was often the first to speak up when I called for a response.  In this case I had just put forward the question, “What would you do?” to a hypothetical situation in which several prisoners had been captured who may, or may not, know about an ambush the enemy had emplaced for our unit some distance away.  The prisoners appeared to be civilians, taken in a village from which we had, in this notional scenario, recently taken fire.

“I’d shoot one of them sir, to see if it got the next one to talk,” said Ericsson with a perfectly straight face.  The room remained silent.

This was back in 1995, long before 911 and a Chief Monarch declared the Rules of War, the Geneva Conventions and the US Constitution null and void by imperial fiat.  
Bateman concludes:

Now is not the time to explain how such things happen, or why.  Although I have spent a good part of my professional and intellectual life seeking to understand how things like this occur, and believe that I have some understanding of the phenomena (here), it is entirely too early to begin commenting now.  In no small part this is because any such explanation at this point may be construed as apologia, which is in itself not a good thing.  If events occurred as they are
currently reported to have occurred, then there is nothing more to say than, “It is wrong.”

Yet at the same time I cannot help but note that those who might be inclined to trumpet these events may themselves do well to maintain some perspective.  War, in short, is savage.  All wars, bar none.  It has always been savage, and it will always be savage.  No matter how “Good” the war is, how completely altruistic the motives of the civilians who send us to this conflict or that one may be, no matter how necessary a war may be, at the level of the Soldier, War is Savage.  Professionals know this, and it is one of the very real reasons that we are (somewhat ironically, for those who do not know us or our morals) so often opposed to the use of force.  In other words, we have an informed idea of what rests inside Pandora’s Box, and this colors our thoughts when considering force.

At the most basic level, the role of the professional military officer is to control and direct the use of violence.  It is to confine the savage, but you cannot prevent it entirely.  You can train for a lifetime, devote vast resources to the creation of a professional force, and emplace institutional checks to reduce the incidence of misdirected violence…but you will never, ever, stop it entirely.  Please keep this in mind.

Given that good officers do try to maintain an atmosphere where discipline prevails, how are they to do that when the Commander in Chief is a grinning fatuous fratboy who dares insurgents to “bring it on”, a man who’s administration has condoned and practiced savagery in service of its global war on terror? Our country has already thrown out the rules that are supposed to govern the practice of warfare, of espionage and diplomacy. We are a people gone rogue, yet we still get the vapors when confronted by sadly predictable outcome of our belligerence.

We’ve thrust men and women into an intolerable position, failed to provide even the most basic support to them and their families. We’ve sent them back often on multiple tours in an environment where all law and sense have broken down. If you look at the description of what took place in Haditha, or Abu Grabe or the numerous other Countless My Lai Massacres in Iraq, what is striking, if you care to confront it, is how deliberately and carefully executed the atrocity in question was carried out.

after gunning down the five fleeing the taxi, a few members of Kilo Company moved through four homes along nearby streets, killing 19 men, women and children.

The stories are careful to go on to describe that stress led to the Marines “snapping”, the same excuse used to explain away My Lai in that past war launched on another set of lies. This is, frankly, crap. If you consider the contradictions being forced upon troops and Marines in Iraq, one can see how, after extended tours and a failure of leadership from above, the whole sense of being part of a society can collapse into nothing but the Unit. Survival would almost seem to dictate that the Unit becomes the only measure of worth, the only thing that will get a soldier and his buddies home alive. When this is described as “snapping”, it seems to excuse this break from the rules of war as a kind of psychosis. This is, in my opinion, wrong. It’s more like a group sociopathy. Anything outside the Unit is either a help, or a danger, and there is a cold rationality to a decision reached to remove any perceived danger.

Remember, then, that these men and women, forced to try to survive in this primal war, where one is either prey, or predator, these men and women will be coming home. Home to a deeply shallow culture, a culture that wallows in religious platitudes as it devolves into a you’re-on-your-own Hobbsian wet dream. A culture where the rightwing uses increasingly strident eliminationist rhetoric against political foes, against immigrants, gays, women or whatever other convenient target is the “other” du jour. As mental health care for returning veterans continues to be neglected, how will they adapt to a civilian life? How many, like Charles Joseph Whitman, will find the war following them home? We, abandoning diplomacy for the sword, have thrown these men and women into the abyss, yet we recoil in horror when they BECOME the abyss. The abyss threatens to swallow us all.

It does no good to point the finger at Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield and Gonzales. They are us, for all intents and purposes. The crimes committed in Iraq are OUR crimes. They fight in our name, in the name of a people who worship swaggering bullies and violence and a world where there is no room for redemption, for communication and change, only the Long War.

Update [2006-6-2 0:21:39 by Madman in the Marketplace]:
The BBC is reporting that they have tape of another massacre (hat tip to Crooks & Liars):

The video pictures obtained by the BBC appear to contradict the US account of the events in Ishaqi, about 100km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, on 15 March 2006.

The US authorities said they were involved in a firefight after a tip-off that an al-Qaeda supporter was visiting the house.

According to the Americans, the building collapsed under heavy fire killing four people – a suspect, two women and a child.

But a report filed by Iraqi police accused US troops of rounding up and deliberately shooting 11 people in the house, including five children and four women, before blowing up the building.

The video tape obtained by the BBC shows a number of dead adults and children at the site with what our world affairs editor John Simpson says were clearly gunshot wounds.

The pictures came from a hardline Sunni group opposed to coalition forces.

It has been cross-checked with other images taken at the time of events and is believed to be genuine, the BBC’s Ian Pannell in Baghdad says.

Update [2006-6-2 0:53:29 by Madman in the Marketplace]:
Howie Klein over at Down With Tyranny has another update, posting an entire piece that originally appeared in the The Daily Telegraph back in January:

In January, shortly before the first published reports emerged about US marines methodically gunning down men, women and children in the Iraqi town of Haditha, The Daily Telegraph spent time at the main camp of the battalion under investigation.

Rumours had spread that what happened on Nov 19 diverged from the official line that locals were killed by a roadside bomb.

None of the troops wanted to talk, but even a short stay with the men of the 3rd Bn 1st Marine Division in their camp located in Haditha Dam on the town’s outskirts, made clear it was a place where institutional discipline had frayed and was even approaching breakdown.[…]

Haditha was shockingly different– a feral place where the marines hardly washed; a number had abandoned the official living quarters to set up separate encampments with signs ordering outsiders to keep out; and a daily routine punctured by the emergency alarm of the dam itself with its antiquated and crumbling machinery.

The dam is one of Iraq’s largest hydroelectric stations. A US special operations unit had secured it during the invasion and American troops had been there ever since. Now they were spread across the dozen or so levels where Iraqi engineers once lived.

The lifts were smashed, the lighting provided only a half gloom. Inside, the grinding of the dam machinery made talking difficult. The place routinely stank of rotten eggs, a by-product apparently of the grease to keep the turbines running.

Jesus …

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