The irritating sound of a ringing phone brought me roughly back to reality. I had been lost in the serenity of the snow-covered peaks of the La Plata and San Juan Mountains of Southern Colorado. At first, there was no immediate response to my hello. I thought it a call from a telemarketer, but after the pause, was delighted to hear the voice of a damn good soldier I have known for over two decades, who is on his second tour in Iraq. His response to my question of what was going on over there now, still assaults my conscience: "Well, this morning our unit went out and shot up a bunch of civilians and our commander is writing it up as a great military victory."
This is not the first report of unacceptable military and civilian leadership as it pertains to the war in Iraq I have received from this soldier. He continued telling me of the insane actions of his commander: "He has a whole new definition of u2018recon-by-fire;’ he picks out a building in our area of operations, then tells his soldiers to u2018fire it up.’ It makes no difference we have no Intel of enemy activity, nor have we received any enemy fire from that building. His purpose is to continue to shoot into buildings until someone shoots back."
When asked what was the reaction by most of the soldiers in this unit to such actions by their commander, I was told there are basically two types of soldiers in most units. There are the career guys who have more than a decade invested and have seen so many commanders like this they believe them to be the norm rather than the exception. Then, there are the young soldiers who have fallen for the line about killing as many of these "rag heads" as possible because of 9/11 and protecting "the folks back home." Soldiers, who see this war for what it is and voice those thoughts, are reported up the line as malcontents and enemy sympathizers. The vast majority of soldiers would rather live through the lies and atrocities than be labeled a traitor and the ramifications of that label once they return home. So, many just hope to survive and get the hell out of the military and away from the madmen who lead them.
This nation, its political leadership and the vast majority of its religious leaders, have thrown away their moral compass and replaced it with a rabid nationalism unseen on the world stage since Germany in the 1930s. Torture and murder of hundreds of thousands are readily accepted, as long as it is done for the graven image called the State. Eventually, unless we take a different path, the number of those tortured and murdered will include those in this country who refuse to submit to the State as it pursues its "mission from God." The venom readily spews forth from the shills for the State now, building a hate and resentment in the masses for any who would challenge the official position of perpetual war for peace.
Since our nation and its civilian leaders have lost their ability to judge right from wrong, why should we expect anything different from our military?
Many military officers see this war as the open door of opportunity to the stars of a general and all the attendant trappings: power, money and prestige. Like the perfumed princes of the Vietnam War, they believe, "it may not be a good war, but it is the only war we have." Success in war is a simple equation: how many people can you put in a body bag? An immoral leadership cares little if they are combatants or civilians. Military leadership follows the lead of its civilian leadership; if they lie, it is an acceptable practice, if they condone illegal war, they do the same, if killing and torturing innocents is ordered and then covered-up, then it must be OK. Why should we even question this or this when it comes to our military leaders seeking to move up the career ladder?
Those in the military see two separate but distinct choices: embrace illegal war and the actions necessary to "succeed," or do what is right and suffer the ridicule, humiliation, and possible imprisonment of others who chose that path.
Tragic are those who choose to support illegal war and then have to deal with their consciences once they are away from the false bravado and macho support. Just another casualty of war, they say.
Most of the military officers, who excel at unconstitutional, aggressive war, will move into positions of higher authority once this war is over and will dictate military policy in the future. They will remember the path they took to attain the lofty status of general and so will those who are younger and seek to emulate them. They will have learned that to follow the lies of unprincipled civilian leadership is indispensable to success, and conscience and morals will never take you past colonel — if that far.
None of these officers will consider their oath of enlistment and its mandate of obeying the Constitution over unconstitutional, illegal orders. After all, following the Constitution is not a step on the career path to the inner ring at the Pentagon. They will never allow the thought to enter their minds that anyone issuing an unconstitutional order, military or civilian, is, in fact, the domestic enemy referred to in the enlistment oath.
Michael Gaddy [send him mail], an Army veteran of Vietnam, Grenada, and Beirut, lives in the Four Corners area of the American Southwest.