Troublemaker's Journal

Heroism, Murder and the Mission

Jun 28, 2006 at 2:06 pm

Over the past two months U.S authorities have accused several units of American soldiers of murder in Iraq, in one case a murder of women and children.

Seven Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman face charges of premeditated murder of an Iraqi civilian. The U.S. Army in June charged three soldiers, members of the 101st Airborne, with murdering three men in their custody near the Thar Thar Canal in Iraq. U.S. Marines reportedly killed 24 Iraqi civilians — men women and children. In one home the Marines reportedly murdered girls ages 14, 10, 5, and 3.

While each of the accused deserves a trial — and we withhold judgment on them as individuals until they have it — it's quite clear something has gone very wrong. How could this be happening? The answer is that it's not only the men; it's also the mission. The mission is manufacturing murderers.

The soldiers grew up in loving families, went to church or temple, attended school and joined the Army, Navy or Marines.

They joined for the variety of usual reasons: The 18-year-old's desire to prove his manhood, the unemployed kid's need for a job, the ambitious boy's hope for higher education after service, the dreamer's wish to see the world or patriotism and the desire to serve the country. The news media call these men and women who serve in the military and sometimes risk their lives and die for their country "heroes." So let us call them heroes too. But then let us ask what is making these heroes into murderers.

We have to put it into context. In the case of Haditha, several Marine units had suffered casualties in recent attacks: six from an Ohio reserve unit killed in one attack; in another, 14 dead in an amphibious track that hit a mine. They saw one of their buddies killed before their eyes. Who wouldn't be driven to a frenzy? So the Marines, according to reports, went berserk and killed civilians.

Such things, we are told, happen in war. So they do. Every time. In every war. Haditha represents not some terrible anomaly but rather part of a pattern. America's imperial wars have a long history of turning heroes into murderers.

Haditha turns our minds to the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. On March 16, 1968, U.S. soldiers of the Americal Division killed over 300 and perhaps as many as 500 Vietnamese women and children. But My Lai was only one of many such killings by U.S. troops. The Toledo Blade won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for its series "Buried Secrets, Brutal Truths," detailing the role of the Army's elite Tiger Force in killing many civilians, including children, in Vietnam. Some U.S. veterans admitted their role in the killings. The U.S. Army, which knew the truth, covered up the facts for decades, and the truth was only revealed by the journalists.

Before Vietnam there was Korea. Veterans of the 1st Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army admitted to journalists and the U.S. government later confirmed that from July 26-29, 1950, U.S. soldiers killed over 200 Korean civilians at No Gun Ri, a town about 100 miles from Seoul. Other investigations have indicated that the massacre was no isolated incident; there were reportedly 60 other incidents where the U.S. military killed civilians in Korea.

We needn't go back to ancient history to see that these violations of human rights form part of a pattern. The pattern is clear in the events of the past few years in the war on terror.

We have the torture of those arrested and held at Abu Ghraib. We have the prisoners at Guantanamo being held in violation of the U.S. Constitution, without habeas corpus, without charge or trial, subjected to torture — and in three cases driven to suicide. We have the U.S. military's arrest and mistreatment of thousands in Afghanistan, described by various human rights organizations. We have the CIA's system of secret prisons in foreign countries, described by Amnesty International and documented by The Washington Post. We have the CIA's practice of "extraordinary rendition," kidnapping individuals in one country to be tortured in another, denounced in a report by the Council of Europe this month.

What becomes clear is that such violations of human rights form a pattern that is the war itself. The war began with "shock and awe" and had within a year killed 100,000 Iraqi civilians, according to a study by epidemiologists published in the prestigious English medical journal, The Lancet, in 2004.

The killing of civilians by soldiers, sailors and marines is not an aberration; it clearly grows directly out of the tactics, strategy, policy and ultimately of the mission.

The mission — the war in Iraq — ostensibly forms part of a war on terror. But, though the president continues to repeat it, virtually no one believes that any more. We all know Iraq wasn't allied with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, there were no weapons of mass destruction and there was no threat to the United States from Saddam Hussein.

The mission's real objectives are found in U.S. strategic documents: The United States intends to dominate the Middle East, and many other regions of the world, both for oil and for broader geopolitical reasons. In pursuit of that mission, the United States must subjugate Iraq, Iran, Syria and others.

Because human beings anywhere will resist, in order to conquer nations you must break their spirit through terror, and you can't do that if you aren't prepared to kill civilians. Policy drives the war and generates the strategy and the tactics that produce the incidents in which heroes are led to murder.

If they murdered Iraqi civilians, the soldiers, sailors and Marines must be held accountable, and so must their officers. But if they did, it wasn't a moral failing, lack of judgment or issue of training. It's the U.S. mission, the drive to dominate world resources and markets that has turned heroes in to murderers. Above all, the President and the Congress bear responsibilities for these atrocities, for these crimes against humanity, and should be made to pay for them.

Dan La Botz is a writer, teacher and activist. His column appears the fourth Wednesday of each month.