Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Murder or War and are they different?

A friend posted this link on facebook. If the link does not work, suffice as to say that it shows military personnel responding to a perceived threat and causing collateral deaths and injuries to adults and children.  It's raw and difficult to watch, especially for those that have not been there and don't understand the dynamics of the situation.


This is sad, unfortunate and, from my point of view, not surprising.  Having been in Iraq, worked with soldiers (both good and bad), and watching the video closely, I can completely understand how and why this happened.  This doesn't make the deaths of the apparently unarmed people any less tragic but, consider this:

  • If you are in a war zone, with armed helicopters flying above, maybe it isn't a good idea to walk around with large black items slung over your shoulder.

  • If you are in a war zone, with armed helicopters  flying above, maybe it isn't a good idea to furtively crouch behind the cover of a wall with a long lens jutting around the corner.  As the soldiers said, it looked like an RPG, which have killed many soldiers in Iraq.

  • If you are in a war zone, with armed helicopters flying above, which have engaged a group of men, killing many and wounding others, maybe it's a monumentally stupid (though heroic at the same time) idea to drive into the battle zone in a vehicle to rescue them.

  • If you are in a war zone, with armed helicopters flying above, which have engaged a group of men, killing many and wounding others, why in the hell would you drive the aforementioned van into the battle zone with children in the vehicle?  Why?

    This is tragic beyond words but I'm not surprised that it happened. Soldiers are pretty determined to survive their missions and to protect their fellow soldiers during said missions. They will engage people they perceive to be a threat and they will eliminate that threat as quickly and as efficiently as they can. When engaging those you perceive to be hostile, you only have so much time to determine if that is the case.  You try to make the best decisions you can and only shoot the bad guys. You want to go home and you want your friends to come home too.

    Unfortunately, people who are acting like bad guys (carrying items that look like weapons from that distance, hiding behind walls carrying items that look like objects, pointing said objects around walls -- all the things that photographer was doing) but aren't hostiles, will be treated like bad guys.

    That is the tragedy that happened here.

    When I was in Iraq I faced multiple instances where people who were acting as threats barely escaped with their lives.  Here is one example.

    Just outside the perimeter of our base, the perimeter that was breached by people intent on stealing munitions which they used to manufacture IEDs, was a farmer's field.  There were signs all along the perimeter, in English and Arabic, warning people to stay away at least 100 yards from the perimeter.  That sign said that deadly force was authorized.

    It was near sundown. We got a call that there was a pickup truck about 30 yards from the fence.  There were two men digging behind the body of the truck, hidden from the view of the Iraqi guards in the overlooking security tower.  The guards were nervous as they had been shot at before from near this location.   I arrived to find the truck where they said it was and two men crouching down behind it.

    Now they could have been fixing a flat, tying their shoes, readying an RPG to fire at the tower or setting up a mortar/rocket launch (this had happened just a week before on the south side of camp).

    From behind the cover of the tower, I engaged them with an interpreter.  As he ordered them to stand and raise their hands, I opened the covers on the scope of my M16-A2 rifle and tried to see what they were doing.

    One man raised his hands and stepped from outside the truck.  He started arguing with the interpreter about something while I looked for the other man.  Suddenly the other man stood up and started arguing too.  Then he lunged into the cab of the truck.  My weapon went from safe to burst fire as my cross hairs followed his shape. As I trained my sights on his dark shape, as my finger lay on the trigger of the rifle, he emerged with a long object in his hands. My sights steadied on his center of mass. I started taking up the slack in the trigger.  His buddy and the interpreter were yelling at each other.

    The object was long, dark and glinted of metal in the setting sun.

    He raised it out over the roof of the truck and brandished a *shovel* at me.

    A shovel.

    A goddamn shovel.

    My finger came off the trigger and I put the rifle back on safe.

    Fortunately for him and his friend, I spent $300.00 on a scope for my rifle before went to Iraq. Fortunately for him I was the one who was dispatched there (I was the only one with a 4x scope) instead of one of my colleagues. At that distance, it would have been harder to see the details with the naked eye.  Fortunatly for him, I wasn't in a hurry to kill anyone but also wasn't going to break the promise I made to Denise, Jessica and Sarah that I'd come home.

    In that situation, he and his friend could very well have died at my hands that day.  Like the cameraman and journalist, they may have been found to be unarmed.  They may have been just digging a hole to plant some melons in an areas we told them they couuld not.  But they placed themselves in a dangerous sutiation, didn't comply with orders and acted in a manner that could easily be taken as threatening.

    So, tragic that the deaths of the journalists may be,  I understand why the soldiers in the video engaged those people.  I understand their congratulating each other on what they thought was a good shoot.  I completely get them protecting the soldiers on the ground.

    Let's not forget.  Even if you don't personally support the war, we, as a country, sent them there.

    We sent them there to deal with life and death, to deal out death if need be so they could come home alive to their families.

    We did that.

    We did.

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