Saturday, July 14, 2007


The "Other War" in Iraq

Below is an excerpt from the first online page of "The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness" by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian in The Nation. The article is the result of the authors' interviews with "fifty combat veterans of the Iraq War from around the United States in an effort to investigate the effects of the four-year-old occupation on average Iraqi civilians." Now, you'd think that Iraqi civilians could actually better testify to "the effects ... on average Iraqi civilians" but, this being America and all, we have to privilege the voices of the perps and their in-theater enablers just as we do in the larger 'peace' movement.

Yes, I know I'm a veteran for peace but I object to the 'patriotic correctness' that drives so much of the pandering to US military veterans and I think that any time a veteran speaks at an anti-war event s/he ought to acknowledge the fact that s/he is a former killer, former would-be killer, or former enabler of killers. The US military is not a social welfare organization, it is an imperial killing machine and "the troops" keep the killing going and, if nothing else, anti-war veterans have a duty to be honest to themselves and others about this reality. My experience is that lots of anti-war vets and others are in denial about this basic fact.

Don't get me wrong I think veterans deserve all the help they need, even the vets who don't have the integrity, knowledge, or moral courage to turn against the machine--they are victims but our suffering can never equated to or elevated above that of the victims of US aggression killed, maimed, or dispossessed in their own homelands. I also think there is a place for vets in the peace movement, perhaps even a prominent one, but that ought to be conditioned on honesty and candor about the US military. End lecture, here's the excerpt:
Over the past several months The Nation has interviewed fifty combat veterans of the Iraq War from around the United States in an effort to investigate the effects of the four-year-old occupation on average Iraqi civilians. These combat veterans, some of whom bear deep emotional and physical scars, and many of whom have come to oppose the occupation, gave vivid, on-the-record accounts. They described a brutal side of the war rarely seen on television screens or chronicled in newspaper accounts.

Their stories, recorded and typed into thousands of pages of transcripts, reveal disturbing patterns of behavior by American troops in Iraq. Dozens of those interviewed witnessed Iraqi civilians, including children, dying from American firepower. Some participated in such killings; others treated or investigated civilian casualties after the fact. Many also heard such stories, in detail, from members of their unit. The soldiers, sailors and marines emphasized that not all troops took part in indiscriminate killings. Many said that these acts were perpetrated by a minority. But they nevertheless described such acts as common and said they often go unreported--and almost always go unpunished.
The Iraq War is a vast and complicated enterprise. ... Fighting in densely populated urban areas has led to the indiscriminate use of force and the deaths at the hands of occupation troops of thousands of innocents.

Many of these veterans returned home deeply disturbed by the disparity between the reality of the war and the way it is portrayed by the US government and American media. The war the vets described is a dark and even depraved enterprise, one that bears a powerful resemblance to other misguided and brutal colonial wars and occupations, from the French occupation of Algeria to the American war in Vietnam and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

"I'll tell you the point where I really turned," said Spc. Michael Harmon, 24, a medic from Brooklyn. He served a thirteen-month tour beginning in April 2003 with the 167th Armor Regiment, Fourth Infantry Division, in Al-Rashidiya, a small town near Baghdad. "I go out to the scene and [there was] this little, you know, pudgy little 2-year-old child with the cute little pudgy legs, and I look and she has a bullet through her leg.... An IED [improvised explosive device] went off, the gun-happy soldiers just started shooting anywhere and the baby got hit. And this baby looked at me, wasn't crying, wasn't anything, it just looked at me like--I know she couldn't speak. It might sound crazy, but she was like asking me why. You know, Why do I have a bullet in my leg?... I was just like, This is--this is it. This is ridiculous."

Much of the resentment toward Iraqis described to The Nation by veterans was confirmed in a report released May 4 by the Pentagon. According to the survey, conducted by the Office of the Surgeon General of the US Army Medical Command, just 47 percent of soldiers and 38 percent of marines agreed that civilians should be treated with dignity and respect. Only 55 percent of soldiers and 40 percent of marines said they would report a unit member who had killed or injured "an innocent noncombatant."

These attitudes reflect the limited contact occupation troops said they had with Iraqis. They rarely saw their enemy. They lived bottled up in heavily fortified compounds that often came under mortar attack. They only ventured outside their compounds ready for combat. The mounting frustration of fighting an elusive enemy and the devastating effect of roadside bombs, with their steady toll of American dead and wounded, led many troops to declare an open war on all Iraqis.

Veterans described reckless firing once they left their compounds. Some shot holes into cans of gasoline being sold along the roadside and then tossed grenades into the pools of gas to set them ablaze. Others opened fire on children. These shootings often enraged Iraqi witnesses.
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