Thursday, June 01, 2006
Such a hard topic to write about. I can taste the bile in my mouth after reading so many descriptions of the events and I expect not to sleep too well tonight.
Violence is a dangerous weapon. When we release it in the form of war we are playing with fire. In a sense, then, I agree with those who say that atrocities happen in wars. They do, because violence coarsens its users, because war wears people down and makes them scared shitless, all the time, in all the places, and even more so when the people are in the land of the enemy, always on duty, always frightened.
But war is not a license for atrocities of the kind that have taken place in Haditha, and apparently also elsewhere in Iraq. Professional soldiers are supposed to be able to control their killing ability, to channel it into those avenues that the war machinery indicates as desirable. But professional soldiers can't always do this, and so we have My Lais and Hadithas, especially when the upper echelons of the military and the politicians who run the war effort ignore the human problems on the ground. How many of the alleged participants in these massacres had mental and emotional problems beforehand? How many had been on duty for months if not for years? How many had proper equipment, rest and moral support?
I'm not making excuses for the killers. There are no excuses. But it's always useful to understand why atrocities happen, because such understanding might allow us to decrease their future numbers. (And no, the way to achieve this is not by giving the military ethics lessons. If the troops don't already know that two-year old Iraqis are not proper targets for violence no amount of ethics lessons will teach them different.)
Still, the best way to prevent atrocities is not to go to war carelessly, not to search for reasons to attack someone. War is not a computer game or a football game. War is not something to use to win elections. Yet sometimes I think there are people who see wars as no different from football games or as useful political tactics, and some of these people initiate wars for those very reasons or at least cheer when wars are initiated by others. Now those people, to me, are as bad as the the alleged killers in Haditha. Maybe even worse, because they have not been driven to the edge of insanity by months or years of relentless pressure.
Nothing justifies massacres. What about the attempts to hide massacres? It looks like this is what the military tried to do, and I can see why they would try to hide what went on. But all they ended up was a situation worse than anything that might have followed from being open about the events in Haditha from the beginning.
I'm weary of the arguments that it's a few bad apples who go and shoot little babies in the head or that the enemy is even worse, cutting off the heads of innocent civilians while videotaping the whole thing. Yes, all this is disgusting, and makes me want to resign my membership in the human race. But armies are not supposed to ignore their "bad apples" and atrocities by the enemy are not an excuse to fall to the same level of violence.
I'm weary of all the debate about Haditha and other massacres. I marched against this war before it started, the first time I ever marched for anything, and I wrote letters and made phone calls and so on. I didn't do all this because I hate America. No. The reason for all that resistance was my fear of what it means when we wind up the clicking and clacking and slowly rolling mechanical monster of war, and what it means are dead people, suffering people, people alive but damaged for life. What it means are atrocities like Haditha and My Lai and worse, a generation of children without parents or with sick parents or warped parents. Pain and suffering.
We shouldn't wind up this monster without very good reasons for doing so, reasons so good that the alternative of not waging war would cause even more pain and suffering.