Sunday, June 04, 2006

Collateral Damage

"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.
Ibid. MacPherson

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."
Albert Einstein


Anonymous said...

But they said it wadn't gon' BE like Nam, Sput!

Anonymous said...

You are right on the money again. We have no business there. Bush wanted to be known as the "war president", well he got what he wanted. We need to know the truth about the fabricated intel that got us there. Put those people in prison who lied or altered facts about the WMD.

Anonymous said...

"What we have here is a failure to communicate'. (Cool Hand Luke)

Gregg Grinspan said...

Thank you, Randy, as always, for your attempt to clear any fog that may be laying at ground level which could muddy the view of the good people who were born inside the borders of the USA of what is going down in their name. We, the people, do not make policy and if most of us were placed in that position we would probably be awestruck by the responsibility. That would be good. It would require pause. Maybe in pausing before pushing this or that button which would summon up this or that missile we'd feel that good fear........of doing unto others what we would never want done unto us. That might be just the pause that we want in the people who do make policy for us.

Maybe in November we can find some people who we could trust to do unto the greater "us" what they would want for themselves and their families and loved ones, and never do to us what they would never want to come down on themselves. Maybe we can find some strong and intelligent people who have enough wherewithal to actually sit down face to face with their peers around the world and agree that we share this planet. That would require us to elect actual leaders, not politians.

Who would you allow your family to follow into some dark woods at night if you had a chance to sit and talk with him first? Somebody who made sense, or somebody who couldn't? Somebody whose logic was obviously fully understood by the speaker, or somebody who really couldn't back up his plans with any integrity of intelligence?
And would you follow a path that you personally knew had always been fraught with unnecessary pain, suffering, and human loss?
I guess that then depends on your own leadership in being able to make your own decisions and in being able to view with clarity those who would lead you.
We, as a people, not only can do better....we have to do better.
It's really on each of us. Sheep followed Hitler, and Stalin, and the placed politicos of Eastern Europe. None of us can afford to have some snappy razor edged well designed sound byte make us swallow our brain and go "baaa baaa" for much longer. It's not about Democrats or Republicans. We're not voting for the Homecoming King and Queen anymore. We all know people who were killed or maimed physically or mentally in Vietnam. It's on all of us. We need to take back what is right... one person's integrity at a time.
And we should be angry.

Alan said...

Randy, I though you were a history major. Were we in the right in WWII? How do you explain the atrocities that our Greatest Generation committed back then. The difference between our society and our government and those of other countries is we deal with it and punish the guilty. In My Lai the punishment was not severe enough, but there was some. You quote Einstein, a pacifist who refused to work on the atomic bomb, because of his principles, but he did help the other scientists get the attention of our government out of the fear that the Nazi’s would get it first. Do you have sympathy for the Iraqis that are blown up by the suicide bombers and the car bombers, or is their method OK with you because we are there. Did you read Thomas Friedman’s column last week about the Sunni Politician who stood up to the insurgency. Friedman was pointing out that if things are going to improve in that part of the world there had to be the explosion of Iraq to trigger a start. Sort of a Middle East Big Bang. He is critical of the way parts of the war have been conducted, but not the reasons for trying. If there is anyone in the world who knows the people and the situation in the Middle East better than Thomas Friedman, I would like to know who it is.

Anonymous said...

Gregg's comment sounds like a protracted 'Deep Thoughts' by Jack Handey...pretty cool.

Anonymous said...

I need someone out there to educate me. I worked in government for 32 years and saw the incompetency and the waste up close and personal. People in government tend to be incompetent and careless, because they are spending other people's money and because there is very little accountability. A government worker practically has to commit a felony to be dismissed. Government workers are never fired for incompetency.I have witnessed stunning examples of the grossest kind of incompetency. Another thing, I have personally sat in on year-end meetings during which needless items were ordered, because the budgeted money had not been spent. So, in order to prevent the budget from being cut the next year, all kinds of useless crap was ordered and never used. Anybody who has worked in government has seen this kind of thing and more...I'm only touching the surface. My point is this. Why do progressive types insist upon higher taxes for more government programs to fix the problems of society? It would seem that progressives would want less government interference, more individual liberty, and more money in their pocket to spend as they see fit. In other words, why aren't more progressives libertarian? It seems like they don't mind being cattle on the government farm having their lives run by slack-jawed, incompetent (and often corrupt) bureaucrats. Someone help me to see through this.

Steve said...

The only thing I'm sorry about is the fact that the troops are not allowed to prosecute the war to the fullest extent. War is hell. Shit gets blown up and innocent people sometimes get killed. If these troops wantonly murdered people then let them be punished. But let's don't let the real murderers off the hook. The mother f****** who go around every day over there killing innocents.

Anonymous said...

We, as a people, have few of the attributes that it takes to sustain a viable civilization over the long haul. The wave has crested and is in the process of crashing. It was nice while it lasted, but then nothing on this plane lasts. Hate to bring ya'll down, but it's time to head for the hills...

Cliff Friedman said...

War is not a game. It is serious business. It is also a messy business. But if an attrocity occured at Haditha, the people involved will be punished. Ours is one of the only militaries in the world who investigates itself and punishes those who wrongfully violate rules of engagement. Ask the Darfurians if they think the Sudanese Army will be doing the same any time soon.

If an atrocity occured at Haditha, which has not yet been determined, blaming "higher ups" is just idiotic. No one wants an atrocity, most particularly the other soldiers in the field and their commanders, whose job just got harder. But these kind of things are simply going to happen from time to time. And it certainly happens rarely when Americans are involved. That's why this is such a big story. If it were happening routinly, this would not be standing out. We have done a lot of fighting in the last 40 years. If your complaint is My Lai and Haditha (and we don't even really know what happened there yet), I say our record is pretty good.

This story, like so many others, must be viewed with perspective and context. Michael Yon is a blogger, ex-military, who spent time embedded with the US Army in Iraq and has been free lancing in Afghanistan. For perspective and context, I give you Michael Yon:

Please take the time to read this post.

randy said...

If you believe blaming higher-ups is idiotic, I would refer you to the commandant of the Marine Corps, who disagreed with you today. Military officers have said in the past week that episodes like these are usually done in frustration over lack of progress, and reflect the discipline, or lack of, in the command structure. Don't give me that "war is hell" crap. Our government created this hell and there is never a reason for murdering women and infants. Are you willing to send your son for this cause? As far as the atrocity at Haditha "not being determined," that's not what the people in the morgue say. Stop repeating Republican talking points and face reality.

disbcrazy said...

Until the facts are released by the investigating authorities, we might benefit from a new sign:

Speculating is Strictly Forbidden —
Violators Will be Fined

Michael Yon's piece is THE TRUTH. He was there. I believe we are truly doing the right thing. I wish we didn't have to, but if we don't, no one will. God bless our soldiers!!!
Many of you speak and write so eliquently but I don't hear truth, just feelings of scared people, who would rather believe the worst about good people.

Anonymous said...

Hi Randy-thanks for my inclusion in this important article on terrible parallels with Vietnam. McNamara has never spoken out about the inequities of the draft and his "Great Society" Project 100,000" which encouraged those who had previously been turned down for the Army to enlist in a program billed as giving them an education; they went to Vietnam in disproportionate numbers. I wrote about this in Long Time Passing and recently in reviewing the Fog of War. He remains a shameful figure to many. My new book (published in Sept.) is called "All Governments Lie:" and features the legendary journalist I F Stone who was the first to reveal the sham excuse, the Gulf of Tonkin, for sending troops into Vietnam. Myra MacPherson

disbcrazy said...

Setting the record straight on Haditha
When I worked at a newspaper, my fellow reporters and I made mistakes.
Sometimes those mistakes were on the front page of the paper; sometimes tucked away on B7 between the obits and the county's largest legume. Sometimes they were mispelled names and misplaced box scores; sometimes misused facts and mishandled reputations.

But no matter the nature of the mistake-- its size or its import-- the correction always went in the same place. Second page of the A section, bottom right-hand corner. It was policy, and the policy had the unfortunate consequence of usually making the correction of a mistake less prominent than the mistake itself.

Such is the nature of news coverage on all levels, and one of the most valuable contributions the new media and blogs can make to that news coverage is to highlight corrections that would otherwise be overlooked in their little corner of A2.

A couple of weeks ago, spurred by Congressman John Murtha's assertion that Marines in Haditha had killed civilians "in cold blood," the media promptly rushed to judgement, topping every story with Murtha's cold-blooded soundbite. When word leaked from Pentagon sources that there might be murder charges in the case, the media ran with the "maybe murder" story.

Because no one had yet been charged, and no one was leaking the Marines' side of the story, many became concerned that the slanted coverage might affect the fair treatment and presumption of innocence to which American servicemen are entitled. One of those people was Brig. Gen. David M. Brahms, a former Marine lawyer who the Washington Post quoted out of context in its eagerness to get an Abu Ghraib reference into the story.

This week, the media is backing off of its original tone, and it's time to highlight corrections so they don't end up being relegated to the back of the paper and the back of people's minds. So, I give you the Top 3 things to remember about Haditha that the press would like you to forget.

1. Oops, Time After Time

In the first media report on a "possible massacre" at Haditha, back in March, Time magazine reported that "a day after the incident, a Haditha journalism student videotaped the scene at the local morgue and at the homes where the killings had occurred. The video was obtained by the Hammurabi Human Rights Group, which cooperates with the internationally respected Human Rights Watch, and has been shared with TIME."

Because the incident was under investigation and no one could comment on it, Time used that videotape to bolster the accusations of civilian massacre. Now, buried at the bottom of page four of that article is this correction:

In the original version of this story, TIME reported that "a day after the incident, a Haditha journalism student videotaped the scene at the local morgue and at the homes where the killings had occurred. The video was obtained by the Hammurabi Human Rights Group, which cooperates with the internationally respected Human Rights Watch, and has been shared with TIME." In fact, Human Rights Watch has no ties or association with the Hammurabi Human Rights Group. TIME regrets the error.

Without the connection to "internationally respected Human Rights Watch," the origin of the video and the motives of the journalist involved become much more questionable.

But that's not the only piece of photographic evidence called into question by Time corrections.

In a subsequent Time story , we have this correction:

In the original version of this story, TIME reported that "one of the most damning pieces of evidence investigators have in their possession, John Sifton of Human Rights Watch told Time's Tim McGirk, is a photo, taken by a Marine with his cell phone that shows Iraqis kneeling — and thus posing no threat — before they were shot."

While Sifton did tell TIME that there was photographic evidence, taken by Marines, he had only heard about the specific content of the photos from reports done by NBC, and had no firsthand knowledge. TIME regrets the error.

Well, I would hope they regret that one. When a major national news magazine claims there is specific photographic evidence of American Marines killing civilians while they were praying and it ends up being wrong, that correction should be as prominent as possible, especially when those Marines have not yet been charged or faced trial.

Over at Sweetness and Light, a blogger takes a look at Time's young journalist source and finds that the journalist was not exactly the green go-getter Time had described.

Why start a human rights group if you want to remain anonymous? And why did Time pretend their source was young? Why did they pretend he had no involvement with Hammurabi? (When in fact he is its founder.)

But that is just the start of the many questionable aspects of Thabit's accounts.

Bear in mind that this "budding journalism student" waited until the next day to videotape this alleged atrocity, which supposedly happened on his very doorstep.

Note that this same "budding journalism student" and self-proclaimed human rights watcher did not bother to turn over his video to a media outlet or a real human rights group from November 2005 until March 2006. A four month delay.

That's how eager they were to make sure such a crime is never again

2. Context Come Lately

There was more going on in Haditha that day than just the IED explosion that killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas and apparently sparked the fighting that left so many dead.

Capt. James Kimber offers his story:

But that day, at about the same time, Iraqi insurgents attacked all three Marine companies patrolling in the Haditha area--one of them commanded by Kimber. He said he could hear over his radio the shots being fired during a running gun battle in Haditha.

"They weren't just Marine weapons. You can tell from the sound," he said...

Kimber's recollections provide a valuable backdrop to the events last November, a period during which Marine units were encouraged to escalate their use of force in dealing with insurgents, according to a Marine colonel with knowledge of operations in that area.

A source I've talked to, who is involved in the potential defense cases for these Marines, said that the IED that took Terrazas' life was just the beginning of a coordinated insurgent attack on four Marine squads they knew would respond to the first IED attack. The cluster of attacks ended up hampering relief efforts and injuring about a dozen Marines.

As the situation developed, the Marines at the initial ambush site were isolated for a period of time in this hostile city and they had every right to fear for their lives. A group of about 15-20 foreign fighters were believed to be in Haditha that day, supplemented by local insurgents. Knowing that 6 Marines had been surrounded and killed in Haditha before help could reach them just three months before, the isolated Marines had to fear the worst as they responded to the first attack.

Haditha was a hotbed of insurgency in November of last year. It's important to remember the frequency and intensity of attacks these Marines were facing. There's also another side to the story, and the accused are beginning to tell it through their lawyers:

A sergeant who led a squad of Marines during the incident in Haditha, Iraq, that left as many as 24 civilians dead said his unit did not intentionally target any civilians, followed military rules of engagement and never tried to cover up the shootings, his attorney said.

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, 26, told his attorney that several civilians were killed Nov. 19 when his squad went after insurgents who were firing at them from inside a house. The Marine said there was no vengeful massacre, but he described a house-to-house hunt that went tragically awry in the middle of a chaotic battlefield.

3. The Nature of the Enemy

Something terrible happened in Haditha. The day ended with one Marine and 15 Iraqi civilians dead. But we don't know how it happened or what the reasons were.

What we do know is that it is the exception to the rule to find American Marines wantonly murdering civilians. It is rather the rule, however, for insurgents to put those same civilians-- women and
children-- in harm's way.

That is what Terrazas' father says happened that day in Haditha:

Exactly what happened that day remains unclear. Miguel Terrazas' father, Martin, said the Marines his son fought with told him that after the car bomb exploded the Marines took a defensive position around his son's battered vehicle. Insurgents immediately started shooting from nearby buildings, and the insurgents were using women and children as human shields, Martin said he was told.

The Marines shot back because "it was going to be them or" the insurgents, Martin said of what his son's fellow Marines briefly described to him.

It wouldn't be the first time terrorists have shown such disgusting disregard for the lives of children.

We do not know what happened in Haditha on November 19, 2005. When two military investigations and any trials that result are complete, it will become more clear. If Marines are guilty of atrocities, they will be punished severely.

In the meantime, rely on alternative media and bloggers like Mudville Gazette , Sweetness and Light , California Conservative , and this bunch of informed milbloggers to keep level heads about the accusations.

The mainstream media spent a couple of weeks throwing around the "cold blood" and "maybe murder" stories. Now that they're backtracking, it's our job to make sure new corrections and less damning facts don't get lost in the corner of page two.

Mary Katharine Ham is the managing editor for,8599,1174649-4,00.html