No Easy Answers

Video: Haditha

June 8, 2006

Hundreds of e-mails continue to pour in regarding the alleged Marine atrocities in Haditha. One of the more interesting ones comes from Jason, who writes:

"I personally know a Marine who was there when the incident at Haditha happened. Those individuals who automatically jump to conclusions and think ill of our troops will be proven wrong again. God bless them."

Many of you have written in support of our troops, and many of you agree with David, who says:
"Do not judge lest ye be judged — or better yet — don't judge another until you've walked a mile in his shoes."

1SG Raymond, USAR, puts it this way:"To judge someone on something that you know absolutely nothing about is doing nothing but showing your ignorance."

Some think even if Haditha proves false, our troops will inevitably do things they shouldn't. John B. writes:

"It's impossible to think that during the fog of war that mistakes aren't going to happen. I can't imagine, that at 19 or 20 years old, after seeing my friend be blown apart by a roadside bomb (that, by the way, the locals knew was there), I would be able to maintain a level of decorum that would prevent the loss of innocent life."

Ken B. adds, "Always remember that war is chaos. And in chaos, unfortunate and often nasty things will happen."

And William reminds us, "War is Hell. This isn't 'Pin the Tail on the Donkey.' They are there so we can be here eating at McDonald's, going to work and driving our cars without fear of IEDs or car bombs."

Many wrote with high praise of our Marines, including hundreds of veterans, some like Neil from Indianapolis who served in Vietnam:

"I can assure you this is not the Corps way of doing things. People who have never been in a war zone have no idea of the mental stress and pressure, especially when you are fighting an enemy with no scruples, uniforms, or conscience."

Retired Air Force Vet Dal R. bets:

"Haditha gets more play in the media around the world than the grisly discovery of severed heads in fruit boxes along an Iraqi highway. How many Iraqis died daily under Saddam's rule and out of sight of the camera and the public?"

And Veteran Larry T. says, "To speak against anyone in uniform while sitting at home is an insult to the entire military."

Vietnam Vet John C, writes, "Nobody should get away with straight out "murder"......but in conflicts like this it isn’t readily defined. I have seen 10-year-olds kill, women kill and old people kill. You have to ask yourself "them or me."

Dan T. is one of several to suggest the importance of historical context, especially in regard to the deaths of "innocents:"

"Gee, I seem to recall reading a book about the most decorated platoon in WW II, during the Battle of the Bulge, and it referred to carpet bombing of the whole town of Berlin, not just the military targets in the city limits. War is hell, and we won. Limited war is an oxymoron."

Jackie C. wonders if future generations will have the stomach for battle.

"Sadly wars always include killing some of the innocent, but more sadly is the fact that because of extreme ideologies of terrorist organizations around the world, we will very likely see war in one way or another for the rest of our lives. With the attitude of many of our American citizens today, who will fight to protect our own children in the future?"

Many say lies and propaganda are rife in Iraq. From Rory F.:

"The kidnapping, torture and execution of politicians, teachers, policemen and civilians barely garners a line at the bottom of the TV screen. The outrage of the Arab/Muslim world extends only out to the troops in the coalition, never to the groups doing the systematic slaughter of innocents in numbers too great to imagine."

From Chuch B.: "No one knows what these men have to deal with on a day to day basis, killing and being killed. Our enemy are nothing but a bunch of cowards, shooting at our troops then running into their houses to hide behind their women and children."

Not all Veterans support the war or it's leadership. Bill M. writes:

"There is no defense for these Marines if proven guilty. Yes, they are under constant fire and stress. That's why they're trained. One of the reasons why our military is supposed to be the best is because we try to spare human life when possible. That's what the tricky ROE is for. If we are in a situation in which are soldiers morality and training is breaking down due to our current strategy then it only makes sense that we should change strategies, and at this point, I'll take any change."

Your e-mails have been thoughtful, powerful and compelling. Keep 'em coming.

June 6, 2006

When I wrote about Haditha, I never anticipated the level of interest and response. It's been a bit overwhelming.

Tens of thousands of you read the story, and hundreds of you have e-mailed comments, all of which I’m reading. The majority of you are passionate in your defense of our military men and women and the job they're doing. Most of the current or former members of the armed forces who wrote in are confident that if crimes were committed, punishment will be swift, appropriate, and well deserved. Some of you wrote equally passionate criticisms of the war, and some of you were critical of my perceived defense of the Marines in question.

I can't respond to all of the e-mails individually, but please know I appreciate the feedback, no matter what flavor it is.

Here are excerpts from some of the more compelling e-mails in my inbox:

From Major J.B. USAR:

"Two months ago I finished my third tour in Iraq. The tension is very high 24 hours a day. Until we engage an enemy that wears a uniform and doesn't hide behind women and children, women and children will continue to pay the price. They kill their own people without hesitation and it wouldn't surprise me if they conducted the executions themselves."

From an unidentified reader, who quotes this portion of my blog:

"There is no excuse for the murder of innocent, unarmed civilians, especially women and children, even in a war zone."

I couldn't agree more. According to your statement, the entire war is an atrocity.

From a Former Commanding Officer of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment (the unit that was involved in the alleged wrongdoing in Haditha):

"We should not be surprised by this incident. We are involved in a war and specifically, a counterinsurgency war that, by its nature, is fought in and among the civilian population. The stress and challenges for small unit leaders is enormous. Squad leaders are called upon to make decisions that most Americans, comfortable on their TV couch or peering into Internet computer screens, sipping lattes, cannot comprehend and should not judge without all the facts."

Wilton writes, "Civilians must know where the IEDs are stored and where they are placed. If they standby and let our soldiers die they are equally guilty of murder. If people throw rocks and hurl insults or laugh and jeer at our soldiers as they die, then they deserve no mercy."

David writes, "If history is our guide, and it is, the behavior the Marines are reported to have committed are not unique — it is a byproduct of all wars. Please do not be surprised when it occurs."

Mike, a U.S. Army Vietnam Veteran, writes, "It is my understanding that some of our military members are on their third and fourth combat tour. A soldier or Marine can only handle so much combat for so long, after seeing their buddies getting blown apart, time and time again. After some of them get shot they then return to combat... How much can a human take before we start acting predatory (and) animalistic? ...U.S. citizens and especially our elected officials should be ashamed of themselves for asking so much of these individuals and then acting astonished when something like this takes place."

Molly, the mother of THREE Marines, writes that media coverage of Iraq and our troops is consistently too negative, suggesting, "...a weekly report about the most heroic act of the week (in the war zone), or maybe who's received a Navy Cross this week, or Silver Star, or Medal of Honor recommendation and why? ...It would serve our troops well, and maybe teach American kids a positive thing or two about what it means to be a member of the American military."

What do YOU think?

June 1, 2006

This doesn't qualify me as an expert, and I have no additional information about the incident, but I’ve been asked to make some observations, so here goes:

1. There is no excuse for the murder of innocent, unarmed civilians, especially women and children, even in a war zone.

2. We are all presumed innocent until proven guilty, even in a war zone.

The Marines in Haditha, and elsewhere in the al Anbar province, are under daily attack. The unit I was embedded with discovered more than 30 IEDs (improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs) in the two months preceding my visit. These are IEDs that DIDN'T explode. Many other bombs did, claiming the lives of Marines, including four killed in two separate attacks while I was there.

Eyewitness accounts almost always vary, and are often wrong or exaggerated, especially in places where there is great distrust or hatred of authority, or in this case, of Americans.

Every Iraqi is allowed to own one AK-47 assault rifle and 30 rounds of ammunition, and most people own more than one weapon. Iraqi citizens are among the most heavily-armed in the world. Do we know if the Marines were fired on by people inside any of the homes they entered? Is it possible they faced resistance? Is it possible innocents were killed during an overreaction to hostilities?

As a group, Marines are among the most impressive people I’ve ever met. They are dedicated, motivated, tough, polite, and responsible.

The allegations of atrocities attributed to the Marines in Haditha are more than troubling; they’re completely out of character and downright despicable — but we should all use caution in rushing to judgment.

There are at least two sides to every story, and the Haditha case is far from closed.

E-mail Rick
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