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June 01, 2006


There's not a whole lot to say about the slaughter in Haditha. Outrage? Sure, I'm outraged, though I've turned up that flame so many times in the past couple of years that I've left little more than a flicker. The event was a sick carnival of horrors, and the LA Times account makes me feel more ill than anything.

This is war. A marine is extinguished by a bomb and his friends -- his brothers -- snap. They take all their fear and all their helplessness and all their rage and regain control in the only way they possibly can. You can blame them, but they, as individuals, are largely beside the point. You put human beings in a killing field and eventually a few of them will revert to beasts.

This is why war is hell. Because it isn't clean, because humans wage it. And when humans descend to hell, a few always become demons. American troops have massacred innocent Iraqis, not by accident, but on purpose. This is a barrel of gasoline dumped on the already-flaming insurgency. This will ricochet across the Arab world. We will become more hated than we already are. Al Qaeda will have another item to add to their list of casus belli. Our country can't afford to further inflame anti-American sentiment -- but doing so was as inevitable as morning dawn the moment we entered Iraq.

The Bush administration has many failings, but in the long run, their most dangerous blind spot will be the one they had for anti-Americanism. No hated country is ever safe, and we are truly loathed, more so every week. It was all predictable, it could all be foreseen. But the Bush administration refused to see it. They believed they could fight a perfect war, and didn't consider or didn't care what would happen if they couldn't. But they proved unable to alter the nature of combat, and now the very portion of the world we needed to mobilize against the murderers in their midst see us as ruthless monsters.

June 1, 2006 | Permalink


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Don't have a link (it's at msnbc. com, though) handy, but Eric Alterman's military correspondent Bob Bateman wrote as eloquently as usual on this topic yesterday-- he noted that there is and has been both a fundamental lack of ethical understanding among recruits for quite some time and that war simply does this to people, training notwithstanding. He's always a good read, anyway.

On a more personal note, my 21-y.o. cousin will be heading to Iraq in September... and he's a Marine on security assignment. The idea that the toddler I played with when I was a teen is almost certainly going to be damaged or broken in that environment, mentally if not (God forbid) physically, is almost too much to bear, even accepting that he enlisted enthusiastically and against family advice.

Posted by: latts | Jun 1, 2006 11:25:21 AM

Man, I wish I could think of BushCo. as just arrogant and not evil.

Maybe I'm a wacky conspiracy theorist, but I believe there are many involved in the decision-making tree of this administration who knew precisely how much more we'd be hated and precisely how much more war we could expect to wage as we become an increasingly fat target for anyone with a legit beef against us.

Did Bush know what he was doing? Nah. But Cheney? Mayhaps.

Posted by: punkass marc | Jun 1, 2006 12:28:38 PM

This is why war is hell. Because it isn't clean, because humans wage it. And when humans descend to hell, a few always become demons.

Or, we could say that a few bring their demons with them and give them expression in such situations.

While the soldiers who participated in this must be held responsible for their own actions, we must also understand that there is a serious leadership failure in our military.

Recruits that have no business near a weapon are being accepted in order to have enough bodies (literally) in our military.

Generals who disagree with the Administration and its remarkably incompetent, careless Defense Secretary are removed. This action and threat is carried down through the ranks, so that officers and NCOs understand that political reliability is prized above competence.

Let me put that a slightly different way. There are always people who cannot lead effectively, but who can play political games. These are the people who are being promoted and listened to in our military. Effective commanders are either being marginalized, retiring, or are subsuming their better judgment for the sake of political expediency.

A lack of displine and honor in the White House and the Pentagon will absolutely work its way through to the lowliest private just out of basic training.

The fact that Bush and co. are mortal, will someday die and then burn in hell for eternity is small consolation compared to the massive damage they are inflicting upon all of us, our men and women in uniform especially.

Posted by: Stephen | Jun 1, 2006 12:34:07 PM

I'll avoid commenting on the actual situation that occured at Haditha, and concentrate on the post-action events. Worse, in my mind, is that apparently officers up the chain of command attempted (and partly achieved) a coverup of actual facts about it.

Coverups of immoral and illegal actions are never an acceptable idea, but in the particular situations involving war crimes, a coverup sends the message that discipline will not be maintained and illegal behavior won't be punished, including the actions of the officers covering up a crime.

This is the real danger and damage because it suggests that the whole bottom to top apparatus is contrary to both our laws and interests. If those officers involved in the alleged coverup are not harshly punished, then we truly will have an out-of-control military that needs to be brought home for reorientation and retraining, immediately.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 1, 2006 12:50:43 PM

I have already heard it in a number of accounts, and you touch on it here.

"It" meaning the ability or desire to understand how people, our troops, could do something as terrible as execute unarmed women and children. They were exhausted, they were outraged by the death of another marine, etc.

When an Iraqi insurgent drives a carbomb into a group of U.S. troops and blows up a bunch of civilians as well, do we mitigate his crime with the knowledge that his outrage is borne of humiliation, death, despair?

Posted by: Justin | Jun 1, 2006 1:08:40 PM

You make a point Justin. But I don't know that we are mitigating the act here. Personally, I think the Marines who did this ought to be charged with murder. Still, for me it is hard to believe that an American Marine could do this. It really is so far out of the character of the service corp. overall. Hence, attempting to understand the motivations or cause behind it doesn't seem unreasonable to me. Ultimately, your Iragi insurgent has a reason for doing what he does. And while his act and expression is both horrific and unjustified, knowing the reasons why he did it are useful to stopping it.

Posted by: Adrock | Jun 1, 2006 1:57:59 PM

It is not a rational mind that prefers the existance of life on the street, but you can find many a homeless war vet. My point is that war can leave a decent person wholly uncivilized..

Posted by: goodasgold | Jun 1, 2006 3:17:08 PM

Even the best trained Marines in the world have to have clear instructions and a clear concept of the plan if they are expected to do the job right. Our military was put into this conflict without a realistic plan, or leaders even willing to suggest that a new plan is desperately needed. They have been put into a futile situation - the rules are elastic, the goals are constantly revised, it was mission accomplished, wasn't it, at some point, now what? The only strategy left is to defend yourself and your own.
Absolutely, justice should be served if these Marines murdered those civilians, but I have to admit that I feel horrible for them.

Posted by: sprocket | Jun 1, 2006 3:21:52 PM

Since the vast majority of the innocent Iraqs killed by American troops are killed within the rules of engagement I don't see why incident will make much difference to how much American troops are hated.

Posted by: James B. Shearer | Jun 1, 2006 3:39:13 PM

When an Iraqi insurgent drives a carbomb into a group of U.S. troops and blows up a bunch of civilians as well, do we mitigate his crime with the knowledge that his outrage is borne of humiliation, death, despair?

We don't excuse it, but we damn well out to understand it. I think that's part of Ezra's point.

Ezra, why do you hate Amurrica?

Posted by: DaveL | Jun 1, 2006 3:50:09 PM

"out" s/b "ought"

Posted by: DaveL | Jun 1, 2006 3:50:50 PM

This massacre is the tip of the iceberg. Atrocities are nothing new to people in the military. That's what they do: kill people.

Posted by: Jim O'Leary | Jun 1, 2006 5:41:43 PM

As the saying goes:

"If you let slip the dogs of war, you wake up with the fleas of war".

Posted by: Mathias | Jun 2, 2006 3:20:31 AM

Vets don't like to discuss the realities of wartime service with civvies. Take a look at the Brotherhood of War series for fictional storyline that is said to get the experience across. An old one is Farley Mowat's "And no Birds Sang" ( from a gentler time. Just use the first letters of the last two words ). If an egomaniac like Farley can confess to snapping under pressure, you can bet it's way too common.

Posted by: opit | Jun 3, 2006 12:51:40 AM

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