Sunday, June 04, 2006

Haditha...a Perspective

The mantra of the mainstream media these days is “Haditha,” the town located some 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, where, according to some reports, U.S. Marines murdered 24 Iraqis in cold blood last November. According to the British publication The Guardian, the town is run entirely by insurgents in a sort of Taliban-like manner, and public beheadings are just part of the everyday routine. The matter is under investigation by the U.S. military, but some prominent democrats, such as Pennsylvania Congressman Jack Murtha, have already passed judgment on the Marines, accusing them of the murders.

Murtha’s charges resemble those of Senator John Kerry back in 1971, when he accused American GIs of committing atrocities in Vietnam and even went to Paris, by his own admission before a Senate committee, to parley with the enemy for whatever he considered proper, but actually undercut this country’s effort to end the conflict. More recently, the senator has accused Americans of invading private Iraqi homes in the middle of the night and committing atrocities there. Partisan politics has so invaded the nation’s capital that conduct as unseemly as this on the parts of both men is common.

As soon as this affair – whatever it was – was made an item throughout the world, the mainstreamers went into action, bringing up such terms as No Gun Ri and My Lai, the former connected to alleged atrocities by American GIs in the Korean Conflict, when an unknown number of refugees fleeing northern troops were killed in transit in the area of a railroad overpass, and the latter in Vietnam, for which Lieutenant William Calley was the only American GI to serve time as the result of a conviction.

The Korean War had just begun in July 1950, when American troops were hastily sent from Japan to forestall an attempt by the communist-controlled North to overcome the South. The intelligence concerning the circumstances necessitating the flight of fearful Koreans was not good, although that probably had little to do with what is alleged – and still only alleged – to have happened. The GIs had received the instruction that all natives in hostile areas were considered hostile until definitely proven friendly. This meant that it was possible – or probable – that northern troops could be expected to infiltrate groups of innocent civilians as they fled, the result being the virtual assassination of American and South Korean soldiers.

The My Lai incident in March 1968 has been thoroughly publicized and involved the deaths of some 300 civilians. It came about as a result of the “search and destroy” edict that had been programmed by the U.S. military, and, of course, was promulgated for the same reasons that obtained in the No Gun Ri episode, i.e., that the enemy was everywhere, was undistinguishable, and posed a stab-in-the-back threat to Americans and South Vietnamese troops. If The Guardian account is accurate (no reason to disbelieve it), the affair at Haditha almost exactly paralleled these two events, since insurgents, who looked like all other Iraqis, could be anywhere and posed the same kind of threat.

The loss of innocent life is never acceptable, but it could well be that the current generation of media-types are so inured to relatively small events (or so anti-administration driven), as compared to huge losses of innocent life, that they are unable/unwilling to present anything within the proper perspective. For instance, there has been constant carping on the events at Abu Ghraib prison, for which several American GIs have received punishment (jail) and a brigadier general demoted, even though there was no loss of life there or even personal injuries. The fact that nobody got hurt seems not to register with reporters/commentators when they are in full-attack mode. Abu Ghraib stuff has worn thin, however, so Haditha was a veritable mother-lode of good fortune for the media, even featuring “cold-blooded murder,” as Murtha and probably Kerry would have it.

Of course, it may be that the current generation of media-types are so naïve that they can’t imagine anything untoward happening in situations in which people are attempting to kill each other, or that the best-laid plans in time of war not only often, but almost always, go astray. One has only to think of the surprises (weather and defenses) at Normandy 62 years ago this month, when the allies invaded France and began the end of World War II, terminated just under a year later. In terms of civilian casualties/fatalities, one remembers the decision on both sides in that war to make the bombing of cities not only acceptable but necessary – mostly to destroy military objectives but also to damage morale and consequently hasten war’s end – in the interest of gaining victory. The Germans laid waste to English/Scotch cities – especially London – in the “blitz,” the night bombings from September 1940 to May 1941, resulting in some 43,000 dead civilians and 1.4 million made homeless. While 60,000 civilians died in Britain, 650,000 German civilians died in the bombings. Think of that in terms of Haditha.

The British and American air arms responded in kind. Hamburg, Germany, was bombed 187 times during that war, but was virtually destroyed on just a few days and nights in July-August of 1943 – some 50,000 dead civilians and 900,000 homeless (deadly firestorm-bombing). In February 1945, Dresden, in east-Germany, was destroyed when it was full of refugees fleeing the Russians. Estimates of 35,000 to 100,000 dead were made, and the infrastructure of all the bombed cities was decimated. Indeed, the end of the war was accomplished in August 1945 when the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan – some 130,000 dead in Hiroshima alone.

The Nazis in that war accounted for 11,000,000 civilian deaths, 6,000,000 Jews alone. Some 80 or so American GIs taken as prisoners of war were gunned down by German troops in gangland style in December 1944 near Malmedy in Belgium. At Oradour-sur-Glane, France, the Germans killed 642 civilians in June 1944, herding the men into barns and shooting them, and herding women and children into a church, shooting them and then burning the church and the town. In Lidice, Czechoslovakia, all men and boys over age 16 (172 of them) were killed by the Germans and the women and children sent to concentration camps, where most of the women died. The town was totally destroyed and removed from the map. The atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers against civilians throughout the Far East in the 1930s-40s were stupendous in both number and kind.

None of this is offered as an explanation/excuse/reason for the 24 deaths at Haditha. It is merely to open a window so that everyone can understand that “things happen.” This is true every day in a normal atmosphere such as that enjoyed in this country at present, but it happens in spades and is virtually inevitable in areas and times of profound abnormalities…such as at Haditha, in situations where/when men are expected to use the best split-second judgment possible while trying to stay alive. Media-types need to remember this…if they can…or, if they will. As they report/comment, however, they should remember that their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and great-uncles were forced to respond according to war-plans and in split-second-situations like those at Haditha. Should they call these men murderers…or guarantors of their freedom?

And so it goes.

Jim Clark.

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