With the Iraq War well over three years old, we are seeing an increasing number of reports involving the torture, rape, or murder of Iraqi civilians by U.S. soldiers. This should not surprise us. War is ruthless, cruel and dehumanizing—almost by definition. Those of us who wish to support this anachronistic instrument of foreign policy should be aware of the heavy price it extracts. War brutalizes, and the damage it inflicts on nations penetrates deep into the social fabric of the victors as well as the victims. War does not build nations; it destroys them. Democracy and war are not compatible.

“While caught up in the dizzying cycle of violence, of retaliation and counter-retaliation, we will find that we are not always the good guys we like to think we are.”

Younis Salim Khafif pleads for his life. “I am a friend,” he cries. “I am good.” The Marines shoot him anyway, along with his wife and daughters. Only 13-year-old Safa is spared, as she faints and is left for dead, covered with the blood of her mother who was trying to shield her from the bullets.

The Marines had already slaughtered the family next door. They had pumped nine bullets into 76-year-old Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, leaving his intestines spilling out onto the floor. Twenty-four unarmed Iraqis would be gunned down in Haditha that day, the victims of U.S. soldiers on a rampage.

Don’t look so shocked. This is the nature of war.

When we first invaded Iraq, public pride and optimism were sky-high. We saw ourselves as liberators and heroes whose mission was to bring freedom and democracy to the Middle East. Our leaders led us to expect a quick, clean “conflict,” with smart bombs and “surgical strikes” where only the “bad” guys got hurt.

When we were slapping our now-faded SUPPORT OUR TROOPS decals on our SUVs, no one told us the occupation would last for years. No one told us thousands of U.S. soldiers would die, along with tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. When we were waving our flags and ignoring the warnings of our experienced, war-shy European allies, it did not occur to us that tragedies like Haditha and Abu Ghraib were sure to happen.

But now reality has intruded on our little national fantasy. We are rediscovering the truth about war--that it is brutal, and it brutalizes both sides. Torture, rape, murder and the wholesale slaughter of innocents will always remain inherent elements of war, no matter how we may try to “civilize” it with “rules.”

When we choose this path, we must accept the horrendous destruction of human life and dignity that it inevitably brings. While caught up in the dizzying cycle of violence, of retaliation and counter-retaliation, we will find that we are not always the good guys we like to think we are.

There are no good guys in war. There may be good causes, but all participants tend toward barbarianism on the battlefield. The line between right and wrong blurs when men and nations are caught in the web of war. Some of us opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, not because we rejected the specious assertions made by the Bush administration, but because of this very fact. There is no good war.

In the logic of war, everything is acceptable except losing. And if losing is acceptable, then waging war in the first place was the wrong decision.

When U.S. Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee speaks about the danger of troops becoming “indifferent to the loss of a human life,” he is being disingenuous at best. The military mission is to kill people. Modern soldiers are trained using special techniques designed to ensure they pull the trigger when the time comes. A soldier who cannot dehumanize the “other” will not be able to perform on the battlefield.

“As military professionals, it is important that we take the time to reflect on the values that separate us from our enemies,” says Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the number-two U.S. military officer in Iraq. The fact is, on the battlefield there isn’t much that separates us. War can turn both sides into monsters. There is a fine line between blowing up a car in a crowded marketplace and dropping 500-pound bombs on a farmhouse full of people because some of them might be insurgents.

At its heart, war is a series of atrocities. We only hear about the ones that get media attention. Don’t blame the soldiers for atrocities; blame war. Blame the macho politicians and militarists that continue to promote this failed institution--and its inevitable brutality--as an instrument of foreign policy.

Graffiti is scrawled across one of the now-deserted homes in Haditha: “Democracy assassinated the family that was here.” You can’t win hearts and minds with bombs and bullets. Nation building can’t be accomplished by war, unless you plan on holding the nation together with authoritarian leadership and the instruments of violence. Functional nations require trust, dialog, compromise and mutual respect--all the things that war negates.

When the politicians try to sell us the next war, we need to stop and think carefully about the consequences before we so easily offer our support. Despite their smooth assurances, we should know that the success of the mission will be uncertain, its duration unpredictable, atrocities inevitable. Because this is the nature of war.

July 29, 2006






Falluja Atrocities Expose True Face of U.S. War
Some thoughts about the massive civilian casualties during the siege of Falluja, Iraq.

Atrocities in the 'Good War': A Tract for Today
This piece features a short excerpt from a 1946 article by a veteran, who writes about cruelties and atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers during World War II.

Massacres and Atrocities of World War II
Dozens of atrocities described, mostly committed by the other guys.

Swift Boat Atrocities and Why War Always Sucks
An opinion piece written in the context of the Bush-Kerry presidential campaigns, when Republicans were criticizing Kerry for his 1971 Senate testimony about atrocities in Vietnam.

Baghdad Burning-Tuesday, July 11, 2006
This blogger from Baghdad rants about the rape and murder incident in Mahmudiyah. Look for the July 11, 2006 entry.

For Iraqis, American Atrocities Are Old News
The author of this article maintains that the murder of civilians by U.S. soldiers has become routine in Iraq.

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