It has become fashionable in the last few years to refer to anyone in the military as being a “hero.” many would say that there is nothing wrong with that. I think there is. First, it places an unrealistic expectation on those in the military. Many feel the need to be a “hero” and aren’t sure what to feel when they fall short. And many are tempted to act in ways far from heroic, just because they feel elevated by the heroic perception. When I joined the Navy it was to get out of small town Idaho, not for King, God, or Country. Could I have been a hero? Maybe. The truth is, war is an ugly beast that once unleashed cannot be expected to be completely heroic. It will produce heroes who go above and beyond what anyone might expect in the performance of their duties. They will inspire us, and give us hope. But war will also bring out the worst in some. Many will react to the horror of war by becoming a horror themselves. They will descend into the pit of war and become it. Atrocities are a part of any war, and we are foolish to think that just because the soldiers happen to be American that they are above it. We are seeing what can happen manifest itself in Iraq. Haditha. Mahmoudiya. Guantanamo. Abu Gharib. The list seems to growing almost daily. And we can be assured that under the secretive watch of the Bush Administration, these acts are the tip of the iceberg. It seems that atrocities are occurring more often than anyone imagined in Iraq.
What are some of the causes?
Overdeployment…..Many soldiers are on their second, third, or even fourth deployment to Iraq. This leads to a fatigue that deadens the senses and the consciences of the soldiers. They see the Iraqis through a lens that lumps them all together as the enemy. This is compounded because they are not fighting an enemy wearing a uniform that can be easily identified. The blurs grows until everyone the soldier sees is the enemy, to one degree or another.
No clear mission or perceivable end to the mission….When the soldiers heard Bush proclaim “mission accomplished” the warfare portion was over, and the occupation of Iraq began. The American soldier is trained to destroy an enemy and to move forward in an aggressive manner. They are not supposed to be permanent occupiers of a country. When the Liar in Chief doesn’t give a clear mission, everything becomes less clear.
Contractors acting like soldiers…Probably the biggest single contributor to the atrocities being committed in Iraq. With no clear chain of command, no clear laws governing their behavior, and no clear recourse to address wrongdoing, these modern day mercenaries act above the law. And it contributes to the demoralization of the soldiers.
And finally, bad leadership…all of these failures on the part of the individual soldiers are also a failure of the command structure above them, all the way to the top. Ultimately, Rumsfeld and Bush must share the blame. It has been their woeful mismanagement of the Iraq occupation that has led to the environment which has allowed the atrocities to occur.
What can be done?
Begin to draw down the forces… Show the soldiers and the Iraqi people that all this will end soon.
Hold all involved responsible… from the foot soldier who commits a war crime, all the way up the chain of command.
Apologize…To the soldiers families, the Iraqi people, and the world. Tell the world that America will no longer tolerate torture or other war crimes and will abide by all of the Geneva Conventions.
Re-institute the draft…this may surprise some, but I feel that it would make the entire chain of command far more accountable. And the American public would be far more likely to demand that soldiers only go to war when absolutely necessary. Not for political capital for an idiot President, not for oil, not for daddy, not for Halliburton and KBR, but only when there is a direct and verified threat to America. When family might be expected to share the burden of war, every family can be expected to want to know why.