Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Marines & Morality in Haditha

I was recently asked about my thoughts on the alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians by Marines in Haditha last November. I think we all can agree that current US policy is not to target non-combatants, and certainly not wantonly as is alleged here (I for one think justice demands the investigation be concluded before flying off the deep end).

Nevertheless, here are a few observations:

1.) There is no charge of a cover-up, like there was in My Lai during the Vietnam War. The top Marine commanders seem resolute in finding out exactly what took place in Haditha, determine if it was a crime, and prosecute those responsible.

2.) What does bother me, is if the charges do prove true, this incident indicates a severe loss of moral in at least one Marine unit in Iraq and a general disrespect for the commander’s intent. No one has authorized the massacre of civilians as retaliation for the death of American forces. Marines must understand what their commanders seek to achieve on the battlefield and follow their lawful orders to the letter, even if their rage and contempt for the enemy gets in the way.

3.) That said, I deeply disagree with the idea of an enemy “non-combatant” under the so-called “law of land warfare;” that is, a policy that separates the enemy’s fighters from the civilian population that makes the war against us possible. The insurgents don’t exist in a vacuum; they move freely in the towns and villages and are given comfort and aid by the local populations. Why then should the Iraqi “non-combatants” who support them be exempt from the full effect of this war, if by targeting them, the war would end sooner, and American lives would be saved? If the Iraqi people are guilty of action against the United States, why shouldn’t they pay for it until they chose to surrender? I can think of no honest reason—except the view that the US must sacrifice its men to utter savages.

4.) And that’s why although I would disagree with the actions of the accused Marines if the charges against them prove true, I can understand why it happened. One can only suffer savagery (and the seeming indifference to savagery) to a point. Beyond that point, one does become susceptible to rage and the unjustifiable conduct that comes from rage. If there was a practical plan for victory in Iraq, I don’t think men would be driven to massacre innocents. I wonder then if this alleged incident indicates a sense of hopelessness on the ground in Iraq, and if that’s the case, I hold that it would be us back home who would be to blame for that.

At root (and I’ve said this several times before), the population in Iraq that opposes our troops should feel as much of the horrors of war as did those Southerners who opposed the Union during the American Civil War. If we are to fight in Iraq, I believe America ought to let lose a modern day General Sherman to break the back of the civilian population that supports the insurgents. Let the jihadists come to learn that fighting against the US equals death to everything they hold dear—and a pointless, futile death at that. The men we ask to fight on our behalf deserve nothing less.

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