Monday, March 27, 2006


I'm not liking the stories out of Iraq, the accusations and--occasionally--officially confirmed instances of atrocities by American troops. The marines who lose a man to a roadside bomb and retaliate by murdering a family of 15 inside their house. Soldiers who tie the hands of another family and shoot 11 of them dead. It's inevitable, really, given enough combat patrols in a situation with zero security where the bad guys are either long gone by the time the bomb goes off or melt into the crowd immediately after, where there will still be guys defiant enough or just ignorant enough, after all this time, to still drive up to the checkpoint without stopping, to walk into the perimeter without stopping, to brandish an AK in the general direction of a jumpy marine.

The guys over there, "on the ground," to borrow one of W's favorite phrases, are increasingly pissed off with every day. Rules of engagement change. The reason for being there changes. Some are connected enough with the outside world to understand the futilty of their mission. A whole assload still think they're deployed because Saddam sent the jets into the World Trade Center. They don't know where the next IED is going to explode, or when the next guy on a motorcycle is going to lob a grenade in their direction. They're surrounded by carnage and a whole lot of people who hate them. Put a 19-year-old with a red state high school education behind a machine gun in that situation and see how long it takes before he decides opening up on a crowd of people is the best option.

Funny how the outrage has a different flavor, at least for me, when the innocent family dies because a jet targeted their house with a Hellfire missle by mistake instead of dying because a marine fire team wanted revenge for a buddy's death. Both are deplorable, and the inaccurate airstrikes have surely caused more unjustified deaths in the past three years than individual soldiers breaking the rules of war. But it's more direct, more visceral, when the death is dealt up close and personal. We can almost excuse it, or at least pretend we understand it, when a pilot flying at 10,000 feet pushes a button that sends a missle to a target determined by somebody else and it mistakenly slams into the wrong house. When the al Quaeda cell meeting turns out to be a wedding reception instead--oops!--we feel more anger, but still absolve the pilot who can't even see what he's shooting at but follows radioed coordinates.

It's damn hard to absolve the soldiers who stare at their victims as they put a double-tap into their heads. I will never claim to understand combat and the split-second decisions that are made under fire. I don't question much that happens in the kill zone when our guys are the targets and they go on the autopilot provided by all their training so they can get themselves and their squadmates out alive. I even cut a lot of slack to guys like the marine who shot the wounded Iraqi who had been left unattended by another patrol--where there's no security, erring on the side of staying alive is a given. But the new stuff? It's damn hard to support these guys, no matter what led to them taking down the house, walking in, handcuffing the people (including the kids), and shooting them.

The vaunted "commanders on the ground" W lionizes must be aware of what is happening to their units' morale and discipline. Their failure to aggressively investigate and punish war criminals can only lead to more and more instances of abuse and murder. Want to put it in lofty terms? They're compromising the mission by allowing this atmosphere to fester. Three years and we have come up with no solution for the IED problem. The randomness of those fucking things, taking brilliant, conscientous, well-trained veteran soldiers along with cherries straight out of AIT who are twitching to kill theyselves some A-rabs, is maddening. Hell, if I were over there I'd have lost it by now too. We owe our guys more than simply tossing them into this cauldron where the situation and our non-adaptiveness virtually ensure they're eventually going to sink to the level of the monsters we're supposed to be fighting.

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