Killing Civilians — Nobody Wants to Talk About It

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It is hard for a country like ours to talk about our brave young Soldiers and Marines killing unarmed civilians. We hold our troops up to such a high standard, many Americans refuse to believe that they could do anything wrong.

Americans believe the myth that our military is somehow different than every other army in history. Part of that myth has been produced by Hollywood, with movies where our Soldiers are killing only the evil enemy and any contact with the civilian population is purely humanitarian or romantic. Also then, there are the many war movies where the hardened American fighting man becomes the positive role model for some orphaned child.

The Pentagon knows the truth and that is why they insisted that American troops, in fact all foreign troops, diplomats, or contractors charged with killing Iraqi civilians are immune from any prosecution in Iraq and are only subject to the legal jurisdiction of their home country. We made sure that law was passed by the previous US-led occupation authority.

America’s media gives little time or space to report civilian deaths caused by our troops in Iraq, but it gives lots of coverage to the insurgent’s killing of these people.

The UK Observer-Guardian in a report by Peter Beaumont, states, "Farah Fadhil was only 18 when she was killed. An American soldier threw a grenade through the window of her apartment. Her death, early last Monday, was slow and agonizing. Her legs had been shredded, her hands burnt and punctured by splinters of metal, suggesting that the bright high-school student had covered her face to shield it from the explosion."

After reporting another civilian death, Beaumont makes his point with, "What is perhaps most shocking about their death is that the coalition troops who killed them did not even bother to record details of the raid with the coalition military press office. The killings were that unremarkable."

I am not writing this as a criticism of the American troops fighting in Iraq, but rather to tell you that the killing of innocent civilians is a byproduct of all wars. Because few if any in the current Bush administration have personally witnessed any sort of combat in their lives, out leadership in Washington probably has not a clue of the scale that this is happening nor why. We have been told over and over again that we no longer count the bodies of those we kill, so we have no idea of the impact of these deaths on the Iraqi population.

Many Americans hold those countries that refused to participate in Bush’s War in disdain, but many of those countries have first-hand knowledge of what war really involves. We are fortunate, America has been safe from ground combat for over a hundred years, but there is a price to pay for that. Because of our lack of knowledge, we have come to the point that war and warriors are glorified, while countries that have seen war think of both, either as a necessary evil or with horror, depending which side of the conflict they were on.

Anyone who has served any amount of time in a combat zone will tell you about that Soldier or Marine, who killed a civilian, so they could claim they killed an enemy in the war. I heard that story many times and even though I saw many Americans treat Vietnamese civilians with cruelty, I only saw one, out and out execute an unarmed civilian. The number of troops doing that is extremely small, but the stories spread making it sound like it happens all the time. Troops who kill for "sport" are shunned by their comrades, but like the police having a code where an officer does not report a fellow officer, soldiers do not turn in their own, unless they really run amok and continue killing.

Most unarmed civilians deaths are caused by fear. Troops on a patrol or an operation in the combat zone are on a hair trigger and will start firing at the drop of a hat, especially after they have seen others killed or wounded in their unit.

You could be walking along with thoughts of your children or your wife in your mind, knowing how much you want to get back to them in one piece. You start thinking of the guy who was killed last week or yesterday and what is going to happen to his children and all of a sudden someone shouts or fires and you open up before you really know what is going on.

You and your unit are called upon to break into a house at night. You know there are Iraqis in there and that they are suspects, but you don’t know much more than that. You have heard stories of booby traps and guys getting killed on this same type of raid and the adrenaline is pumping through your veins when you break down that door. A child screams, there is commotion behind a door and somebody opens up and nobody stops to think, they all open up too and you find more children or a mother and child huddled behind the door you have exploded open with your weapons. Sometimes miracles happen and nobody is hurt and other times it is hard to identify what you have shot. Everyone talks about the miracles and no one talks about the deaths. Your officers don’t want to hear about them, because that takes a lot of paper work and looks bad on their record. The troops all try and tell themselves that the others did the killing and they were aiming high, but that only works for awhile.

Most people the world over have seen what invading or "occupying" armies can do. Millions of people the world over have lost loved ones, unarmed loved ones, to people who said they were trying to set them free or bring them liberty. It is reported that in South Vietnam alone, a million civilians were killed while we were at war in that country. Sure the VC and NVA killed many, but it was the Americans with the extreme fire power. We even had special programs like the Phoenix Program, set up to assassinate civilians who were suspected to be playing both sides. I have no doubt we do something of the same in Iraq; it is part of warfare and has been throughout history.

Americans don’t want to think about things like killing civilians, it just doesn’t seem right. We hide the facts about how cruel and horrible war really is and paint our troops with goodness and glory, but those who have been to war know it is not about being good, it is about staying alive and if a few or even many civilians get killed…well that is too bad.

Jim Glaser [send him mail], a Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran and Commander of VFW Post 3869, works to educate the American public on the consequences of war. His personal website is James-Glaser.com.

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