Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Atrocities in Iraq

I’m saddened and frustrated at the apparent atrocity in Haditha, Iraq. I know that (now that the apparent cover up has failed) there will be individuals held to account. But I think this will miss the issue entirely. Blaming the troops for this - or for abu graib - or for any of the thousands of other hairtrigger accidents, retribution beatings, mistaken identity arrests, and collateral harms over the past few years that our soldiers could sadly not avoid - is ultimately useless. The real criminals are the ones who’ve forced these scared, untrained 18 year-olds with guns into this confusing, *hot*, pressure cooker for years under the political guise of “helping” the Iraqis, whom they don’t know or understand. Even when armies WANT to help - even when they TRY to help… the potential for tragedy is always there. We who send troops overseas have to accept this reality and this responsibility.

We must stop sending our armies around the world believing that they are precise, controlled, moral instruments. I have lots of respect for all our troops and what they've had to endure, but regrettable, and even illegal acts are - tragically - not as aberrant as the media makes it seem. That’s a part of war that no amount of care and technology and moral righteousness can get around. War is messy, nasty, heartbreaking, horrifying stuff, despite the best intentions and the most patriotic talk.
Our response, though, to these events when they are brought to our attention is exasperatingly naive. It's like being appalled when a football player makes an late hit: after all, it’s against the rules. But everybody involved knows it’s part of the game, and it's impossible to play football without it happening now and then. When we pretend these terrible events aren’t part and parcel with war, like penalties are a part of sports, we simply make it easier for our leaders to commit our troops to more situations like Iraq - and be “shocked” when more mistakes happen. Supporting a war without acknowledging its reality is the real crime.