Tuesday, April 6, 2010

WikiLeaks Video of US Troops Killing Unarmed Iraqis

If you haven't seen the video on YouTube yet, I've embedded it in this blog post and linked to it here (warning: it is extremely graphic and very disturbing). Glenn Greenwald has a brilliant post today on the video. Money quote:

The WikiLeaks video is not an indictment of the individual soldiers involved -- at least not primarily. Of course those who aren't accustomed to such sentiments are shocked by the callous and sadistic satisfaction those soldiers seem to take in slaughtering those whom they perceive as The Enemy (even when unarmed and crawling on the ground with mortal wounds), but this is what they're taught and trained and told to do. If you take even well-intentioned, young soldiers and stick them in the middle of a dangerous war zone for years and train them to think and act this way, this will inevitably be the result. The video is an indictment of the U.S. government and the war policies it pursues.

Andrew Sullivan compiles some reactions around the internet here and from readers here. Some choice bits:

When people like you (and me) supported a war in the first place, we might have stopped and reflected on the fact that something like this was well-nigh guaranteed to occur - again and again. I would challenge you to find any conflict in the history of war, that occurred on this scale, where an event like what occurs in this video does not happen hundreds of times.


This is what happens when you support a war. War is not and will never be clean and sterile, or even make sense. Upstanding Apache pilots explicitly follow their R.O.E. and yet the story still ends in unspeakable tragedy. ... Instead of getting incensed because we just discovered what war actually looks like, we should continue to channel our rage at the politicians who so were so cavalier with tossing our troops into these situations. Politicians who, conveniently, never had to serve in the combat and be exposed to these things.

See, it's not shocking that U.S. soldiers killed unarmed civilians, particularly unarmed civilians who were trying to rescue a mortally wounded, unarmed civilian. What's shocking is that we don't know about this, or we think this is unusual in any context of war. Soldiers "explicity follow their rules of engagement and yet the story still ends in unspeakable tragedy." This is what war looks like. For my generation and the one before mine, My Lai should have slammed this point home. For those who do not remember or have not studied or read about My Lai, the WikiLeaks video is going to look like a bunch of stupid soldiers who cavalierly dispatch unarmed people with 30-millimeter gunfire, all the while salivating for permission to "engage" the enemy. At one point in the video, while the Apache helicopter's camera is trained on a wounded man who turns out to be a Reuters employee and the van containing civilians and children pulling alongside to rescue him, one of the soldiers whines, "C'mon, let us shoot!" Like this is a fucking video game or something.

Yet, this is what happens all the time, and our government shields us from it in the name of protecting us from the ugliness of war, and the complicit media go along with it because it would generate protest calls, letters, calls for boycotts, if these images were beamed in all their explicit g(l)ory into our living rooms during dinner.

I'm glad to have seen the video, even though it made my stomach turn. I didn't hate the soldiers who killed the Iraqis or the journalists, since I know that their Rules of Engagement result in stuff like this in order to avoid making a mistake that results in unnecessary American casualties. Having spent some time among soldiers in the mid-'90s, I found them to be dedicated men and women doing a tough job. What I hated was that people were going to seize on the release of this video and condemn it for showing us the horrors of war (like when the Bush admin prohibited the showing of flag draped coffins being offloaded military planes at Andrews AFB). We need to see the horrors of war more often, if only to lend some much needed gravity to deciding whether or not to go to war again, especially a war based on false evidence like Iraq.

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