Thursday, January 19, 2012


Now that the buzz and hype about the Marines desecrating the bodies of Taliban dead has subsided, I'm weighing in with my two cents. I've waited until now, because I saw and read a lot of media pundits and bloggers (most of whom have NEVER served in the military) putting their spin on this event. I'm sure it sold a lot of advertising and generated incredible amounts of web traffic. And predictably, this story has faded into the inky blackness that is the public's memory. This event, more than all of the Kardashian's, American Idols, Lindsay Lohan's, and Michael Jackson's, needs to stay in the American conscience. This is because this incident and others are the yardsticks by which the rest of the world judges us. Right, wrong or indifferent. Forgetting about it or shoving it to the back burner won't make it go away.

Oh yeah. And we're still at war.

First off, these Marines need to be punished. No ifs, ands or buts. Dishonorable discharges for each; it'll be stapled to every job or college application they fill out. And not just because the entire world is watching. What they did was downright wrong. They didn't play by the rules. And, we're better than that.

Secondly, no matter what good our country does, no matter how many earthquakes and Tsunami's we respond to, the rest of the globe will only remember the bad things about our country. For example, when I was in Iraq, I saw young American soldiers giving their own bottles of ice water to civilians when the temperature was up to140. During the rainy season, I watched the soldiers in the HUMVEE ahead of me deliberately splashing little schoolgirls on the roadside. My Commanding Officer and I personally made sure they were held accountable.

Being an idealist, I always hoped that the first incident made the most impact. But in reality, the incident with the schoolchildren probably created more insurgents out of the local population. 

In the courtroom of world opinion, America is presumed guilty until the pundits no longer feel like prosecuting.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's examine the lack of outrage when dead Americans' bodies have been desecrated and mutilated on international television. Mogadishu, October 1993. Fallujah, March 2004. The local population took an absolutely perverse pleasure in dragging our soldiers' remains the streets or hung from a bridge for display. 

The taped be-headings of soldiers, reporters, and contractors from OTHER countries, not just the USA; where is the outrage, the justice? 

Every incident which I've described so far has happened in combat, or in some sort of conflict, as an act of aggression or retaliation. Regardless of whom did what to whom, there is one common denominator: Human beings were the perpetrators.

This is what happens to people when they go to war. There are no exceptions. War does things to a person's psyche.As a society, we are bound by law and morality to not kill, even for revenge. We must treat others like we would want to be treated; the Golden Rule.

So, you take someone out of that protected place, train them to kill, with force, and don't be stingy with the bullets. And then, take them to a far away place and cut 'em loose. In the defense of their country or way of life, they're going to do their job. Just until the enemy is annihilated or takes vacation like the Iraqi Army in 2003.

Then, they're put in contact with the civilian population. Suddenly, in a stressful, combative environment, they must be diplomatic and trusting, friendly and kind, all the while trying to protect themselves and their comrades. But the eye chart they used to recognize the enemy is useless now because the line between friend and threat is blurred. 

I'm speaking from experience. 

In January 2004, a mere few weeks before we were slated to return home, there was an incident. Our Civil Affairs battalion had been in charge of rebuilding an elementary school just outside Baghdad International Airport. It was a real feel-good project. All those kids getting a chance to attend school again. We were the only soldiers whose job description was to help others. 

A major TV network showed up to capture the Grand Re-Opening. Just as the crew finished taping, a bomb went off in a pile of construction debris next to our vehicles. Two of the Humvee's were riddled with shrapnel. Besides everyone being deafened, there was only one person wounded: the Commander. He had a fishhook-shaped laceration on his leg. It was so small, he refused a Purple Heart. 

As they were leaving the ambush, they noticed the villagers were cheering.

I wasn't with them at the time. The information came over the radio: they were OK. I mean physically; what happened to them would never be forgotten or forgiven. They were there to help the villagers; there was a mutual trust and respect (or so they thought). But the Iraqis had thrown them under the bus.

For the rest of the day, I hated the Iraqis. Before, I'd hated the oppressive heat, raw sewage, burning trash, and the sand. Now, I hated the people we had come to help, the main focus of my soldiers' efforts, those we'd trusted.

When I saw the Colonel, I could tell he wanted revenge. This gentle, soft-spoken man who was a veterinarian now told me that he didn't care if the whole village was burned.

Even nice guys can only be pushed so far.

I believe that every one of us has the capability inside to treat others badly, to hurt or kill. In war, that demon is allowed to raise its ugly head and strike. It happened in Mogadishu in 1993, it happened to the Marines in Afghanistan last week, and it nearly happened to a doctor.

Thanks for reading. I just wanted to give my fellow citizens an idea of what really goes on where the arrows are flying.