Four Canadian soldiers were killed by an American bomb dropped by an American Pilot. Those are the facts, but who was to blame?
Having “war games” in a war zone is kind of like having a stickball game on the freeway. Whoever planned these night training maneuvers in the middle of a war, in territory that was open to dispute, that didn’t give enough notice to all combatants, bears some or most of the blame.
Stupid is such a harsh word, but in this case, with four deaths it is a fine term to use. War zones are just that, and any time you fire your weapon, you not only give away your position, but open yourself to both friendly and enemy fire. This loss of four Canadians is not only tragic, it could and should have been avoided. Lack of common sense at the top and lack of war time experience were the major contributing factors.
Major Harry Schmidt of the Illinois Air National Guard will suffer from this mistake for the rest of his life. Charges have been brought that he was told twice not to fire. I can only imagine that those bringing these charges have never been under fire and have never had the loss of clear thinking due to extreme fatigue caused by long hours and constant adrenaline rushes.
Combat is a line of work like no other and to expect a man to jump in and out of “Combat Thinking” is asking more than is possible. Either you are in a war or you’re not. Having your life on the line tends to change the way you think.
Those giving the orders not to fire could not see what Major Schmidt was looking at and they never said “those are Canadians down there. They said “wait,” “hold fire.” If you have never waited in combat, you have never seen time crawl. What Major Schmidt did was wrong, but to place a training exercise in a combat zone was equally wrong and an invitation to disaster.
Retired Canadian General Maurice Baril said, “I said very clearly, there was one cause of the accident here. The decision of the pilot to engage at that time was his sole responsibility and he was the cause of the accident.”
Nobody wants to stand up and take responsibility for any tragedy, but here there is room for many. Whoever moved untrained troops into a combat zone for training, the pilot that dropped the bomb, the US commanders who sent a man with too many hours in the air, into combat, and whoever was coordinating that night’s operations and forgot to tell those in the air that training was going on.
You can bet Major Schmidt is the lowest ranking member of that club.
Jim Glaser [send him mail] is a Vietnam vet and a volunteer in veterans hospitals.