Tuesday, May 30, 2006

War crimes at Hadithah: not unique, inevitable

This I too believed before I read Arkin. I suspect it's what wise military leaders also believe about the marine revenge killings that occurred at Haditha [emphases mine]...
Early Warning by William M. Arkin - washingtonpost.com

...The truth of the matter, I hear from military sources, and an explanation I suspect is completely true, is that what happened in Hadithah that day has happened more times than the Marines and the Pentagon would like to admit, and more times certainly than the American public would like to admit.

And that's the issue.

American volunteer soldiers are fighting a frightening and frustrating battle against a never depleting and highly motivated enemy. The enemy is not in uniform, chooses to fight on a civilian battlefield, intentionally using civilians as fodder and shields to manufacture enough blood and chaos to drive the conventional army from the country.

The fog of war in Iraq, and part of the inhumanity particularly of the current situation on the ground is that the enemy chooses to look like everyone else on the streets, thus eliminating the fundamental element of "distinction" between civilian and military that is so essential to fight any kind of a just and humane war.

We are left then with the U.S. military, the finest conventional military force on the planet, a force that does more to train and prepare and comply with the law of war than any other country, a force that is uniquely accountable not just to the American people but to the entire world.

I suspect in this impossible war there are hundreds of incidents of accidental and intentional killings of civilians that have gone by without an investigation of any sort.

This is not to say that I am excusing what happened in Hadithah in any way. Bu Hadithah happened as much because war never follows the predictable script, and war can never be fully controlled. No matter how grave the justification for war, no matter how grand the experiment, the unleashing of human beings to justifiably kill other human beings exposes an animal instinct so basic and horrifying that training and leadership and uniforms can only tentatively arbitrate.

When killing in war become murder, we can delude ourselves into thinking that a few bad apples have stepped out of the "uniform" code and need to be punished. Right now though, we should be honest with ourselves and admit the hopelessness of our endeavor and the impossible situation we have created for our soldiers.
I am 100% certain that allied forces fighting in WW II committed many similar atrocities.

The difference between then and now is that our standards are higher than they were 70 years ago (progress happens), the battle conditions for US troops are consistently worse (occupation and insurgency) and the stakes are far lower.

Time to withdraw, and I believe the US military decided that some time ago.

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