"Within minutes of their approach, a mine was tripped, and the men of Bravo Company heard screams. One was killed and four GIs were seriously wounded... Frustration reached a fever pitch...(It) was a confluence of disasters- inexperienced line officers, edgy troops, higher ups who covered up and eventually got off scot-free, inept intelligence..and an endemic, pervasive feeling in the military that wasting 'mere gooks' was of no great consequence."
Myra MacPherson; "Long Time Passing; Vietnam and the Haunted Generation"
All people have a right to be shocked about the emerging story of the murder of Iraqi civilians at Haditha, but for the Vietnam generation it is certainly no surprise. We have been through all this before. The massacre of 400 Vietnamese villagers at My Lai in 1968 came to be the epiphanous moment when we realized that in times of war, the U.S. is not always on the side of democracy and justice and that in dehumanizing conditions, our forces, too, are capable of evil. The similarities between the atrocities at My Lai and those at Haditha are uncanny and differ only in the magnitude and terrain in which the events took place.
"War changes men's natures. The barbarities of war are seldom committed by abnormal men. The tragedy of war is these barbarous acts are committed by normal men in abnormal situations."
Soldiers' Defense Attorney; "Breaker Morant"
The apologists for the Bush government have been arguing vociferously that we should not confuse Iraq with Vietnam, when in fact, Iraq is becoming exactly like Vietnam except the blood is absorbed by the desert rather than the jungle. The U.S. forces, whose mission in Iraq is now unclear, are fighting an enemy without uniform that sets land mines by night and blends back into the population by day. We are supporting a fragile government without popular support and our soldiers are unable to tell friend from foe because of the indigenous nature of the insurgency. The official cover-up of My Lai lasted a year; Haditha lasted seven months. This incident, and the others under investigation, are bound to happen when you demonize the enemy and devalue the lives under your subjugation.
"You had the whole chain of command trying to keep My Lai quiet. In any war where you lose so much, soldiers will want revenge. Anytime you have a losing situation, you've got a potential My Lai. That is when it is up to the commander to set the tone, to halt it."
General Eugene "Mike" Lynch, who fought in WWII, was an aide to General Matthew Ridgeway in Korea, and served in Vietnam.
Donald Rumsfeld might have foreseen this since he was a Navy pilot. But the rest of the lot; Cheney, Rove, Rice, and especially Bush, have known not war, nor protest, nor conscientious objection or personal loss. Yet they pursue an ideological and political war with other people's children and misuse those same courageous forces for their own ends. Bush rightly claims that the individuals who participated in this atrocity will be punished, but the lessons of Vietnam tell us that responsibility goes beyond the soldier who's finger was on the trigger. The only man convicted for the My Lai massacre was Lt. William "Rusty" Calley, who served about half of his seven year sentence confined to his own quarters until a chorus of hawks and conservatives persuaded a pardon out of Richard Nixon. This investigation needs to go straight up the chain of command and place the culpability with the people who put our young men and women in this untenable position.
So, how should one feel upon hearing that this type of terrible event has happened again? After humiliation that this was done in my name, I feel sadness. I am saddened for the innocent Iraqi people who were killed and their families left to grieve them. I am saddened that our excellent troops working in impossible conditions will be tarred with the despicable acts of cruelty of a few. I am saddened for the Reservists and Guardsmen who joined the military to earn money for college or for their families, and are now on their second and third tours because our Commander in Chief doesn't have the luxury of a military draft. And I am sad for this country , involved in a war with seemingly no end, led by inexperienced and intractable "yes men" for geopolitical purposes. Surely pressure must now be applied to bring this horror to an end, because the saddest thing of all is that it never had to happen.
I have mentioned Robert McNamara's book, "In Retrospect; The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam," before. It was published in 1995. Rumsfeld, the neocons, and co-members of the Project for the New American Century were so certain in their militaristic theories that they did not even ask the advice of Bush the Smarter. So why should they consider consulting with the architect of our nation's most tragic foreign misadventure? Perhaps because McNamara, unlike Rumsfeld, assumes responsibility for his mistakes and urges others to learn from them. With Rummy, "stuff happens."
McNamara enumerates several "Lessons of Vietnam" that were the "major causes for our disaster." Some of the cogent ones are, "We misjudged then, as we have since, the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries, and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions."; "We viewed the people and their leaders in terms of our own experience. We saw in them a thirst for, and a determination to fight for, freedom and democracy. We totally misjudged the political forces within the country."; "We failed then, as we have since, to recognize the limitations of modern, high-technology military equipment...We failed as well to adapt our military tactics to the task of winning the hearts and minds of people from a totally different culture."; "We did not realize that our leaders are not omniscient. Where our own security is not directly at stake, our judgment of what is in another people's or country's best interests should be put to the test in open discussions in international forums. We do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our own image or as we choose."; and most prescient, "We did not hold to the principle that U.S. military action, other than in response to direct threats to our own security, should be carried out only in conjunction with multinational forces fully supported by the international community." In conclusion, McNamara stated that in future "limited" wars, that "our leaders, and our people, must be prepared to cut our losses and withdraw if it appears our limited objectives cannot be achieved at acceptable risks and costs."
The risks and costs of this war are now beyond unacceptable. Only real investigations into the selling of this war can make clear how we got to this terrible place. And these investigations can only come about by individual and personal determination to create a change in the political dynamic of the United States. If we attempt to punish a handful of soldiers while the administration and higher-ups in the military washes theirs, we will miss this lesson as well, and can expect a My Lai or a Haditha again and again.
"We should strive to do things in (Ghandi's) spirit. Not to use violence in fighting for our cause, but by non-participation in anything you believe is evil."