Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Monday, May 29, 2006


When I wrote the blog about Memorial Day and honoring our soldiers, I had already read about a possible horrendous misuse of force November 2005 by a few US Marines in Haditha, an Iraqi town where insurgents are known to be plentiful-- Time with the story. There are more newspaper articles out there-- especially overseas. Do a search under Haditha if you want to know gory details I won't go into because they aren't the point of this piece.

For those who don't do links and have no interest in long accounts that often are contradictory, the gist, as I understand it now, is Marines, who had just stopped a taxi for questioning, were hit by a roadside bomb which killed one of theirs. It was determined it had to have been detonated locally. The unarmed men in the taxi ran and were shot dead. The Marines then searched two nearby homes. What happened next is what is being investigated. What is known is when the entire incident was over, 24 civilians had been killed (one of whom did have a gun but whether it was used has not been stated). Some of the victims were women and children as young as one year old. At first the official report declared it to be a firefight. It was not until March, with more questions being raised by accounts of nearby Iraqis that it was cold-blooded murder, as well as photographs, that a full investigation was launched-- which is still ongoing. As so often happens with such stories, there are as many questions about whether there was a cover-up as the triggering event.

The people who defend our government being in Iraq will mostly fall in lockstep by saying we shouldn't even discuss this right now as we do not yet know what happened. Following that would come-- if anything did happen, the Iraqis in that area caused it. Finally if it is proven the victims were truly innocent, it was just a few out of control Marines and not the fault of anybody else (as they said about Abu Ghraib).

My discussion is not aimed at settling what happened that day, as it might never be known, but about the situation our soldiers are facing that could lead to such incidents. I am not trying to excuse violence but simply looking at the factors behind it.

One of the things people speculated about Iraq, before President Bush decided to invade, was it would be another Vietnam. During Desert Storm, the main reasons the first President Bush gave for not invading Iraq came down to two things. First was the lesson we supposedly learned from Vietnam-- never get into something where you can't define victory, and second the words of Colin Powell-- if you break something, you own it. The first Bush didn't want the United States to own it.

The Neocons, led by people like Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, who had been in that first Bush administration and some even serving back in the Vietnam era government, believed it'd not be the same as Vietnam. There would be minimal cost and loss of life. The troops would be greeted with flowers. The people would be liberated. Nobody talked much about liberated for what.

Putting aside what is best for the Iraqi people, although that might be worthy of a blog all on its own, I just want to look at what our soldiers face. How do you know who your enemy is when you do not speak the language, and the people are a very different culture than yours? How do you decide who harbored an insurgent and who just lived nearby? How do you condemn the citizens for not telling you who is your enemy when they may be killed if they do tell?

I just read Peggy Noonan's column about Memorial Day. She wrote of heroic soldiers. She was right. In war men and women do heroic deeds. The very act of going into a place you might be shot at seems heroic to me. We have been told the soldiers in Iraq are volunteers and well trained for what they face. We don't want to think what can happen when people are sent to war and they don't know who their enemy is. How would anyone deal with a situation where the person you talk to might smile at you one moment and blow your friend apart the next? How does it affect morale when you have no idea when victory will come or if it ever will? Doesn't this sound like Vietnam to anybody not filled with a need to defend what the Bush administration started there?

I have heard some say soldiers are trained to break things and kill people-- that is their job. Now we are saying their job is to patrol roads where their patrols seemingly accomplish nothing-- except for some to get blown up, and where there is no way to know who is the bad guy. When individuals over react, they are at fault. But was it just them? Or is it the fault of those who sent them, those who want a tidy war, and then have to blame someone when war is not tidy? When innocent women and even toddlers and babies are murdered in a rage, it's easy, sitting in our living rooms to judge their actions, but why are our soldiers facing this?

The reasons given for being there have changed continually. First it was for WMDs which the administration (if not the president) had every reason to know were not likely still there. The government said all along it was not the oil even though the oil administration was said to be the first thing secured when the military went in. There was supposed to be a shadowy connection between Saddam and bin Laden-- only there never has been any proof of that and given the ideological differences between secular and religious Muslims, seems unlikely. Somewhere along the line, it became about establishing a democracy that will spread peace like a sweet fragrance across the Middle East. Something is spreading all right, but it's not sweet. Religious extremists have their own aim-- to take people's freedom and lives if they don't obey. Bush and his defenders say we went in to save the Iraqi people from a brutal dictator who murdered innocents. How do we do that if we are ending up doing the same thing to innocents?

It doesn't hold water with me when someone says; we are fighting there, so we don't have to fight here. In the first place, that's ridiculous. We now have several totally different enemies. Secondly even if it was so, does that mean you could overlook a three-year old Iraqi child being murdered to avoid one being killed here? Could you truly help a country if you felt that way about their people?

Some will say if we punish the Marines who committed the atrocity (assuming that is what happened) it's all we have to do. I think we all need to be thinking why we have those men there, what are we expecting from them, and is it worth the price in blood?

I would never say no war is worthwhile, but what are reasons that justify one? For the soldier, if they know what they are doing is for a noble cause, it has to help them with what they are going through, but what if it turns out they don't know why they are doing it but they are just following orders and trusting? There is a poem about that-- 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.


robin andrea said...

Rain-- dpr and I almost posted that poem today. It seemed so much to capture the essence of what soldiers face today, and yet it was written so long ago. Nothing changes in war. We ask so much of young people, train them for a few weeks, put them in uniform, give them weapons, send them to a foreign land. The rationale for their efforts keeps changing, but they are there, having to believe that what they do is right and righteous. I don't know why civilians die in such fights as this, but I do not look at the soldiers, I look at their leaders for failing them.

Thank you for writing about this very serious issue.

RavenGrrl said...

amazing long post well written, Rain. I get so sad thinking about and seeing the ways our society encourages us to numb ourselves to death, pain, violence. Thanks for what you wrote.

Mary Lou said...

When I was a young girl, and watching WWII movies, I remember my Mom getting terribly upset at the atrosities that the Enemies did to civilians. And she said Thank God we dont do that. Then came Vietnam and the same things were done by BOTH sides. and she was appalled at the thought that Americans could do that. Now we have Iraq, and the same things are being done.

I would like to think that even though I know better, that it was a very few marines who committed these war crimes, and they will get their trials for Murdering civilians.

I am not by any means naive enough to think that it will never happen again. War at any time has it's horrible crimes, and Testosterone being the aggresive hormone that it is, takes over, and reason goes out the window.

I am hoping that a good honest investigation comes out of this and the wrong doers are brought to justice! I dont care which side you are on, wrong is wrong! Isnt that why we brought Saddam down? because he was brutally murdering innocent people?

sad! so very Sad!!

good post as usual!!

Parapluie said...

What can we expect of kid soldiers? New fangled weapons are no substitute for the disapline of warriors with years of training. Our weapons have made us less civilized and give me a break even the little Iraqi children know how to deligate respect and can not truely be won over by candy.

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