“I can’t help wondering today how many of the innocents slaughtered in Haditha took the opportunity to vote in the Iraqi elections – before their ‘liberators’ murdered them.” — Robert Fisk, Seattle Post Intelligencer, June 4, 2006
“Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.” — F. P. Jones
The U.S. government has established a world wide reputation as a slow learner. In March, several Vietnamese in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City remarked how little wisdom Washington had absorbed from its decade plus experience trying to “liberate” Vietnam. Dozens of Vietnamese offered the same observation. “You are making the same mistakes in Iraq that you made here.”
In the 1960s and early 1970s, the nightly news showed GIs loading body bags into helicopters. Regular TV and newspaper images of wounded GIs appeared, alongside portraits of others in anguish, who might have posed for Edvard Munch’s “Silent Scream.” We saw less of the 3 million Vietnamese who died along with the 58 thousand plus Americans. Later, we saw how the vets brought the war home with them, some with visible wounds; others with deep scars on their psyches. The VA estimates that nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. And more than half a million experience homelessness over the course of a year. (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans www.nchv.org/background.cfm)
On December 7, 2004, UPI reported that already “U.S. veterans from the war in Iraq are beginning to show up at homeless shelters around the country, and advocates fear they are the leading edge of a new generation of homeless vets not seen since the Vietnam era.”
How do young soldiers cope with the basic fact of war? Killing the enemy always includes civilian women, children and old people. How many Iraq War veterans will have nightmares for decades, end up hopeless and then homeless? Or, will some gun their families or just wander off into oblivion, as so many Vietnam vets did?
Does the “fog of war” explain atrocities? Does it also cloud the public mind? War makers lie to get public support – not hard after the 9/11 shock. They mask their real “reasons” for going to war with frightening images of Iraq as a threat to security with her weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda. Afghanistan harbored terrorists.
The United States then launches war to “liberate” and spread freedom, democracy and decency. Our fighting men and women learn – on paper – the proper rules of engagement (ROE) and only target enemy positions, not civilians.
Naturally, the media and public express shock when its face gets pushed into reports of systematic torture, for example at Abu Ghraib and other military prisons in 2003. Then, reports surface of killings and use of illegal weapons in Falluja and now a November 2005 Haditha massacre. U.S. marines apparently dispatched 24 or more Iraqi civilians and covered up the foul deeds. The media compared these with the extermination of My Lai villagers in Vietnam in 1968.
Ironically, the media doesn’t report on the victims of aerial bombardment during “shock and awe” and subsequent bombing campaigns; nor does it offer readers information of other “collateral damage,” considered inside the correct rules of engagement. In short, war is hell on civilians and soldiers – a thought that is not headlined when presidents rev up war sentiment.
On June 2, BBC reported it had uncovered evidence of yet another incident that shows “U.S. forces may have been responsible for the deliberate killing of 11 innocent Iraqi civilians.” BBC reporters cautiously aver that a video “appears to challenge the U.S. military’s account of events that took place in the town of Ishaqi,” 60 miles north of Baghdad.
The U.S. said at the time four people died during a military operation in Ishaqi, but Iraqi police claimed that U.S. troops had deliberately shot the 11 people. An early Pentagon report justified the March 15 killings. On June 2, Major-General William Caldwell called “absolutely false” charges that “troops executed a family living in this safe house, and then hid the alleged crimes by directing an air strike.” The Pentagon rejected the video “evidence” and said that its military investigation had cleared all troops involved of misconduct.
Pentagon officials did admit, however, that at Ishaqi “an AC-130 gunship – an aircraft that pummels its target with side-firing guns – had been involved in the assault.”
The June 3 London Times reported that “the U.S. military account in March said that as U.S.-led forces approached the house of a suspected al-Qaeda operative, they came under fire. The troops called in an air strike and the building was destroyed, with an insurgent, two women and a child killed.” (Tim Reid in Washington and Ned Parker in Baghdad) Apparently, a tip had come to the military that an Al Qaeda operative had visited the house.
The Ishaqi video shows five dead children, “four of whom appeared to have bullet wounds to the head. Local Iraqi police officials said that the U.S. troops kept an entire unarmed family handcuffed in a room for an hour, before spraying them with bullets. They then blew up the building.” The Pentagon claims the building collapsed under heavy fire, killing one suspect, two women and a child. BBC said its video appeared genuine, even though a Sunni group taped it. The video demonstrates what BBC world affairs editor John Simpson called several dead people with “gunshot wounds.”
Brigadier-General Donald Campbell, Chief of Staff of coalition forces in Iraq, was asked why these alleged incidents were occurring. He replied: “When you’re in a combat theatre dealing with enemy combatants who don’t abide by the law of war [sic !!!], who do acts of indecency, soldiers become stressed; they become fearful.”
Duh! That’s what war produces! Occupied people get pissed off. First, under legal ROE, the air force or navy can drop a huge bomb or fire a missile at an enemy target. In Gulf War I, one such block buster bomb hit an air raid shelter and killed almost 450 civilians, mostly women and young children. The Pentagon later discovered its mistake and sent an apology. “Too late,” an Iraqi woman told me when I asked her how she felt about the apology.
Under rather dubious ROE, U.S. bombers dropped nuclear weapons on civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, burned German and Japanese by the hundreds of thousands by firebombing cities like Dresden and Tokyo.
In Korea and Vietnam, almost 6 million civilians perished from U.S. ordinance. After thee plus years of mounting bloodshed, Iraqis may look with jaded eyes on the US military’s promise to prevent further Hadithas by forcing coalition troops in Iraq to undergo 30 days of sensitivity training; exposure to “core warrior values,” according to a Pentagon statement.
The November Haditha slaughter may become a signpost for the U.S. occupation of Iraq as My Lai was for Vietnam. Iraqis appear to have had enough “liberation.” The Haditha mayor declared the massacre “a day of human catastrophe” and accused the Americans of “war crimes.”
Even the pro U.S. prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, declared that “We will ask for answers not only about Haditha but about any operation … in which killing happened by mistake and we will hold those who did it responsible.”
The Haditha and Ishaqi incidents apparently abound, although the media coverage has underplayed such atrocities. Stories usually refer to the number of “insurgents” killed – just as they did in Viet Nam, when the “gooks” had other names.
War means atrocities and the longer occupations prevail, the more horrible acts the depressed and frustrated occupiers will commit. The war makers lie and manipulate the public into believing a crisis exists, send troops abroad and then deal with generations of consequences – here and there – that ensue.
I await a declaration from leading Democrats Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Mark Warner, as examples, that they will show skepticism before repeating the history of folly. I fear that because they accept the imperial axiom, they will continue to mislead the populace into thinking Democrats will actually change decades of aggressive policy. They apparently have learned as much as Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld from My Lai and Haditha. They keep talking in “strong defense” clichÃ©s, as if the Pentagon’s useless high tech weapons could somehow defend us against another 9/11.
Politicians keep saying “support our troops.” Do they mean bring them home or get more of them killed? If U.S. forces remain in Iraq, despite increased “ethical training,” more massacres will likely result. Perhaps this thought will provoke a measure of political courage!