Viewpoint: What should we support in war?

“If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?” —Will Rogers

We see them frequently, the magnetized yellow ribbon stickers that adorn many of our cars and trucks. It is a decoration repeated across the country. “Support our troops,” they proclaim.

But no one asks what we should support. April 22, 2004, NFL star Pat Tillman was shot and killed by his own colleagues in a combat zone. The military lied in an effort to cover up what happened and sweep it under the rug.

Should we support that? Does that project honor, duty, country—the kind of alleged American values that are drilled into our recruits when they stand in formation before the drill instructors and the brass hats? The blistering arrogance of Rumsfeld aside, most of the brass hats are shaking their heads at the loss of planning and standards they once knew.

Today, we have the spectacle of the top commander of the U.S. Marine Corps, Gen. Michael Hagee, forced to go to Iraq to investigate allegations that some of his troops, last November, wantonly slaughtered 24 Iraqi civilians after a roadside bomb killed one Marine, Lance Cpl. Miguel “TJ” Terrazas, 20, El Paso, Texas, during a patrol by Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, in the town of Haditha.

Marine investigators visited the scene and took pictures, but Capt. Jeffrey Pool claims a roadside bomb killed 15 of the civilians, and Marines fired on some insurgents, killing eight of them.

An Iraqi journalism student has video of bodies and homes where the civilians died. He gave the video to Time magazine. This was in January 2006. The magazine said Capt. Pool dismissed the video as al-Qaeda propaganda. Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, however, called for an investigation into possible foul play.

After Time magazine doggedly pursued the story, the Naval Criminal Investigation Service began an investigation. Rep. John Murtha, a retired Marine colonel and decorated combat veteran, charges the military attempted a cover-up and accused the Marines of killing people “in cold blood.”

Some of the victims were in their late 70s, the youngest was 2 years old.

Should we support this?

Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment was on its third tour of Iraq. Those boys were burned out and calloused from the 24/7 hell they’ve been facing. Still, if the allegations are true, the law must be upheld.

In March came photos of a row of dead children, part of 13 Iraqi civilians killed in an attack on a home in Ishaqi, near Samarra in the Sunni stronghold north of Baghdad. The military said U.S. troops attacked the house because they believed an al-Qaeda terrorist was hiding there. The military said its investigation of the incident found no wrongdoing by our soldiers.

Issa Hrat Khalaf, according to The Indian Express, lost his brother in the air strike. Khalaf demanded an independent investigation. He said the American troops responsible for the deaths should face execution. “Where are the terrorists?” he said. “Are they the old lady or the kids? It looks like the lives of the Iraqis are worthless.”

Is this incident worthy of our support?

Since then, there have been other killings, most recently the fatal shooting of two women, one of them pregnant. According to CNN, an official of the Joint Coordination Center, Nahiba Husayif Jassim, 35, and Faliha Mohammed Hassan, 55, were headed to a local hospital to deliver Nahiba’s baby.

The AP quoted Jassim’s brother, Khalid Nisaif Jassim, who was driving the car, as saying he drove “at full speed because I did not see any sign or warning from the Americans. It was not until they shot the two bullets that killed my sister and cousin that I stopped. God take revenge on the Americans and those who brought them here. They have no regard for our lives.”

Considering a car speeding toward troops has many times been a suicide bomber, the military claimed the Iraqis were at fault and that is why shots were fired. An investigation of the incident is still in progress. In the interim, a 9-year-old girl who survived the massacre at Haditha, called for the execution of the troops responsible for the deaths.

“We did not do anything to them,” said Walid Abdul-Hameed, who lost her parents, her grandparents, a brother and two uncles in the shootings. Only she, one brother and a sister survived. “Because they hurt us,” she said, “we want the Americans to be executed.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki sharply criticized what he called habitual attacks by troops on Iraqi civilians. He said such violence against civilians has become a “daily phenomenon” by many coalition troops who “do not respect the Iraqi people.”

“They crush them with their vehicles and kill them just on suspicion,” he said. “This is completely unacceptable.” He said such assaults will play a role in future determinations on how long to ask U.S. forces to stay in Iraq.

Haditha was not an isolated incident. It was the beginning of a torrent that threatens to severely shake the U.S. administration in Washington. It also is building outrage at American bullying and brutality among nations around the globe. As one Web site, Buzzflash, put it: “Haditha was not an aberration. It is the rule of conduct in Iraq, not the exception, as was the case in Vietnam.”

Not all U.S. troops are guilty of such excesses, of course, but the heat of combat has brought out a current of racism, anger and hatred among some of our forces. The late Pope John Paul II referred to these traits among our people that show scant regard for life as the “culture of death.”

The Marine commandant, Gen. Michael Hagee, warned his troops in Iraq: “There is the risk of becoming indifferent to the loss of a human life, as well as bringing dishonor upon ourselves. Leaders of all grades need to reinforce continually that Marines care for one another and do what is right.”

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., is very concerned about the allegations of reckless slaughter of Iraqi civilians. Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he felt it his duty to go to Iraq “and personally talk to those Marines in-country to assure them that the highest standards of the Corps are to be kept by every Marine, from private to general.” Warner said he expects no less, and the American people expect no less.

A battalion commander and two company commanders have been relieved of command and reassigned to Camp Pendleton, Calif. Other Marines are facing possible criminal charges in connection with the Haditha killings.

The guilty soldiers should be held accountable, but the ones really responsible for this kind of blood-soaked war hawk adventure are George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice. They put these young Americans in harm’s way for no good or honest reasons. The sticker is true: “Bush lied and soldiers died.”

Gen. Hagee said: “We do not employ force just for the sake of employing force. We use lethal force only when justified, proportional and, most importantly, lawful. This is the American way of war. We must regulate force and violence, we only damage property that must be damaged, and we protect the non-combatants we find on the battlefield.”

We could support that kind of conduct if we could see it, but the record to date is far from encouraging. Our troops are slamming up against crumbling walls, fighting a dirty losing battle, and they know it. They are scared to death every time they leave their compound. They do not know who is friend or foe, necessarily doubting the militias and police we’ve armed and trained. The situation in Iraq has degenerated to anarchy and civil war. Our major media and the administration just won’t report or acknowledge it. Last weekend, more than 100 people were killed in Iraq’s civil war. Our boys and girls are in the middle, and there’s no saving this mess. Torture in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, secret prisons in Eastern Europe, now this. Our nation has never limped so low before the eyes of the world in our entire history. These are outrages. We are only

multiplying hate that will haunt us for decades. Enough death and dishonor. Get our troops out of Iraq; that’s how to support our troops—alive.

Editor & Publisher Frank Schier contributed to this editorial.

From the June 7-13, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!