HADITHA – SOME PERSPECTIVE
By Warner Todd Huston
June 1 2006
The media spins up for an attack swarm against the US military…
By now I am sure you have heard of this incident between US Marines
and Iraqi civilians in Haditha? It absolutely must be foremost in
our minds that all the facts are not in. Still, the MSM are falling
all over themselves saying that, when one of their own was killed by
an IED and several more were injured, a squad of Marines lost their
collective minds and murdered some two dozen Iraqi civilians.
If this really happened it is a horrible incident. It just should
never have happened. And, further, those who did this deed will be
tried and punished appropriately if found guilty. It is a black mark
on the Marines and the USA. The criminality of this incident must
not be diminished.
But, even if true, it is just one of some very few such incidents in
this war. However, while regrettable, shameful even, it just cannot
be said that this incident is indicative of a general US policy in
Iraq. Nor can it be said to represent any kind of policy of the US
We need some perspective here that is lacking with what we are getting
from the instant, faux media outrage storm that is building.
We need to look at the totality of our conduct in Iraq instead of
focusing on one or two incidents. And we also need to understand the
nature of war, the general youth of the soldiers we send into them,
and the history of other such outrages and their frequency in other
wars to properly assess this incident and put it in its proper context.
It must be recognized that, for the great preponderance of our military
personnel, their conduct is and always has been exemplary.
We do not have day after day of such outrages being reported not have
we in the past. In fact, we only have Abu Ghraib and Haditha to point
to as such breaches of discipline and conduct to date in Iraq.
Certainly there have been other lesser such breaches, to be sure, but
these two have grabbed the most attention. As a direct policy, though,
our military has gone out of its way to try and make “collateral
damage” as little as possible, more so than any other force in history.
While awaiting the investigation of this particular incident, we need
to remember that our troops have been in Iraq every hour of every day
for over three years. And in all that time, with the many thousands
of troops we have there, very few such incidents have occurred. It
is often difficult for our troops to tell the good guys from the bad
in a situation such as Iraq where insurgents might so easily pass
unnoticed among the common people walking the streets. This makes
for a soldiery that is constantly on edge, wondering when that next
passerby might conceal a bomb under his garments or worrying that the
next truck ride they take could end in a fiery explosion from an IED.
The tension is ever present.
The personal reactions of our men aside, one can also not legitimately
say that winking and nodding at such conduct is institutional US
military policy nor can we go further and say it is any kind of direct
policy to abuse and torture Iraqi civilians.
The conduct of our troops has sometimes been bad in past wars,
to be sure. During the Civil War the US Army mistreated Southern
civilians by the thousands, their property destroyed wantonly, many
imprisoned with but the least suspicion. In the Philippines during
the Spanish American war we treated the Moros horribly, torture
was sometimes used against them. There is a story of American troops
raping a concentration camp victim in WWII. In both Korea and Vietnam,
civilians were sometimes badly mistreated, even killed, by American
troops suspicious of their loyalty to the enemy. There are many,
many recent stories of soldiers mistreating woman of the countries
in which they were stationed, as well.
But all this can be said of soldiers of other countries, in other wars,
in other eras. But for Americans, such incidents are rarely perpetrated
by more than a small group of soldiers, or even single soldier, proving
that it is hardly possible to considered such conduct military policy.
Additionally, since the dawning of the 20th century, the US military
has professionalized itself until it is one of the few armed forces
that so polices its own, ferrets out the guilty, and prosecutes them.
We treat these incidents with far more gravity than any other force
in history, even up to today.
By contrast, we can see more incidents from other countries than we
could ever read through of whole armies acting like maddened animals
with the governments those armies represent approving of their
conduct. The Rape of NanKing in the 1930s where Japanese soldiers
killed thousands of civilians, many who were raped first before being
hacked to death with swords is an example the likes of which one can
find few parallels in American history. Today the situation in the
Sudan can also be seen as such an example of a government sponsoring
the type of mass murder not to be seen from American troops. Not to
mention the murder factories created by the Nazis in WWII, or even
Saddam Hussein of the 80s and 90s. Who remembers the how badly the
Armenians were treated by the Ottoman Turks when the Turks massacred
upwards to 400,000 in the early part of last century? We can even
go so far back as to remember the many Scots that were murdered by
English invaders in quelling Scotland for the British Empire, or what
happened in India perpetrated by the English, for that matter. Even
the French have a few things to be ashamed of from WWII, Vietnam and
the Ivory Coast today.
In any case, there is no need to belabor the point to show that
government sponsored massacres in huge dimensions are commonplace in
man’s harsh history from the earliest days right up to the present.
But, the United States has but one incident of government-sponsored
abuse and that was in the horrible way in which we treated our own
indigenous peoples in the 1800s. The point is, saving for one horrible
policy, it has not been a general American policy to mistreat civilians
in time of war, especially civilians of other countries. We just don’t
have that history and do not constantly ignore abuse as is the habit
of so many other military forces and governments the world over.
American policymakers have always been highly cognizant of treating
foreign civilians with respect. It has not been a general US policy to
mistreat anyone. Yes incidents have happened as they have with every
other army in all times in history but it just cannot be legitimately
said that it is somehow a common US policy to mistreat our hosts when
comparing our conduct to that of the rest of the world.
As they say, “Context is king.”
One more thing must be remembered and taken into account when
considering such incidents. We are sending thousands of young men,
and now women, too, into situations where only the most mature and
level headed person could easily endure and forever keep their cool.
Many of these troops are in their 20’s and have not had the time to
grow mature in years or outlook. One cannot expect many thousands
of 20 year-olds to conduct themselves like mature 40 year-olds all
the time when placed in the harrowing and taxing situations in which
they are placed. Sometimes these young people are going to make some
bad decisions. Sometimes things will go awry. It is simply bound to
happen. They are just humans after all.
The duty of the Armed forces is to train these men to understand the
situations they are going to face. They are to explain to the troops
how to handle themselves and what is expected of them. If a soldier
should violate that duty, that trust, he will be punished appropriately
and should be made aware of his fate should he so badly fail.
Yes, we should hold these incidents as horrible occasions, as a
breach of the faith we place in those particular men that perpetrated
them. But to transfer the guilt of a few to the whole of our armed
forces as the left and the MSM wish to do? Well, that violates our
own duty to support our troops as well as simple common sense.