Monday, July 31, 2006
"I came over here because I wanted to kill people"
At the time, the soldier's matter-of-fact manner struck me chiefly as a rare example of honesty. I was on a nine-month assignment as an embedded reporter in Iraq, spending much of my time with grunts like him -- mostly young (and immature) small-town kids who sign up for a job as killers, lured by some gut-level desire for excitement and adventure.
Spending months keeping your head down, waiting for that one shining moment when you can make the military look like a bunch of psychos, just like your personal heroes did back in the glory days of protesting the Vietnam war. John Kerry will notice you now! But wait, shit ...there's one last molecule of integrity remaining in this poor hippie wannabe's soul, and the poor guy can't help himself telling the rest of the story:
When I met Green, I knew nothing about his background -- his troubled youth and family life, his apparent problems with drugs and alcohol, his petty criminal record. I just saw and heard a blunt-talking kid. Now that I know the charges against Green, his words take on an utterly different context for me. But when I met him then, his comments didn't seem nearly as chilling as they do now.Let me just remind everyone that the reason the Post printed the story in the first place is that the US military, unlike the majority of others in the world, arrested Pvt Green and his companions and charged them with the horrific murder of an innocent family in Iraq. Setting aside everything else, that's something to be proud of. Something we Americans can honestly point to and say that's part of what makes us special. Something this reporter and 99% of his colleagues just plain don't get. You wonder why I avoid the MSM??
Maybe, in part, that's because we were talking in Mahmudiyah. If there's one place where a soldier might succumb to what the military calls "combat stress," it's this town where Green's unit was posted on the edge of the so-called Triangle of Death, for the last three years a bloody center of the Sunni-led insurgency. Mahmudiyah is a deadly patch of earth that inspires such fear, foreboding and uneasiness that my most prominent memory of the three weeks I spent there was the unrelenting knot it caused in my stomach.
Anyway, I think you are overstating the "difference". We make an example out of a few to make it look like we are doing something, but the simple fact is America has killed more innocents than Al Queda ever has or ever will. And many of these were purposeful murders.
Yea, this guy got arrested -- and you heard about it. Confirmation bias. There are plenty who never get caught and it is a "known unknown" (I still can't resist an opportunity to speak in Rumsfeldian) as to just what that number is.
"the simple fact is America has killed more innocents than Al Queda ever has or ever will. And many of these were purposeful murders."
I doubt the numbers round out that way, and in any case the fact is that most of the time if the US kills an innocent person it's by mistake, where AQ, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc deliberately kill civilians. I am still not going to morally equate US troops with thugs and terrorists.
Also, if it's confirmation bias on my part that the one soldier was arrested, why isn't it also confirmation bias on your part that you found out a soldier committed a crime? The law of averages says there are criminals in the military just like other segments of society, so yes it's a known unknown*. So, maybe I overstated the difference, and maybe not. But I insist that there is an unmeasurable, but large, moral and behavioral difference between US troops and terrorists.
*Side note: Rumsfeld has many failings, but that's a good side of the guy. How many higher-ups are there who will admit and discuss that there are things they don't/can't quantify? Meaningless metrics are the bane of my professional life, and yours too I bet.