Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Haditha Revisited

I actually wrote about Haditha back in March, when I first came across this story. Since then, Haditha's tragic tale has exploded across the American press, prompting responses from Congress and multiple investigations. The Pentagon is even now confirming details of the worst (via AlterNet):

"Military officials say Marine Corps photos taken immediately after the incident show many of the victims were shot at close range, in the head and chest, execution-style." Women and children were among the 24 civilians murdered: "One photo shows a mother and young child bent over on the floor as if in prayer, shot dead, said the officials. ..."

This incident is an ugly tragedy demonstrating the horror of unnecessary war. While I certainly hope that each and every Marine responsible for Haditha spends the rest of his/her life in prison, I cannot completely lay the blame at their feet. The United States is bogged down in the worst kind of war in Iraq with no real hope of a good outcome left, except in the minds of the war's most fervent supporters. The Bush administration owns a fair share of the blame for Haditha, for placing our soldiers in a situation where these types of atrocities can occur. These Marines should have been home with their families instead of paying for Bush's political capital.

Beyond the horror of the actual incident itself lies the story of how Haditha is being perceived here at home. Democratic Representative Jack Murtha, himself a retired Marine, offered some pointed clarification on Haditha just last week:

Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., told reporters that "sources within the military" told him that "there was no firefight, there was no IED that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood."

What's so interesting about Murtha's comments is the reaction they garnered, particularly from the war's supporters. Many of the rightwing warbloggers immediately tore into Murtha, questioning his patriotism, his loyalty to the Marines and essentially chalking up his comments to a partisan bias or dismissing him as "liberal". That speaks volumes for the pro-war crowd.

It shows that the entire Bush theme of "bringing democracy to Iraq" was just a sham and his supporters know it. In fact, they embrace it as political cover for the perceived "moderate" vote in America. Put another way, Bush's supporters realize that many Americans are willing to support a war when they perceive a dire threat or a just cause, but are very quick to abandon that war once those factors cease to exist. Such is happening today, as the poll numbers show. Most Americans have turned against the war and against the empty suit in the White House that sold it in his State of the Union address. The pro-war folks know they need the political cover for their bellicosity and they embrace a poorly conceived ideology of "spreading democracy" for just that reason. If only the real world were as simple as the minds of Iraq war hawks.

The moral vacuousness of the pro-Iraqi war segment of our society is truly disheartening to behold. At the end of the day, they are more interested in a display of American military power than in the actual goals the war is purported to be advancing. I find it very hard to believe that those supporting the war truly believe that the Iraqi people are better off because of the U.S. invasion and the resulting chaos. Worse, I don't think they really care. They are so wedded to the cathartic rush of U.S. military dominance that it's become a cheap high for them. They support the war because it makes them feel powerful and patriotic, part of something nobler than themselves, and the consequences of the war be damned.

It's difficult as a liberal to get much footing on an issue involving military criticism and I commend Rep. Murtha for taking that step. Murtha, while certainly no liberal, is a very respected Democratic voice on military matters and demonstrates that an incident like Haditha deserves bi-partisan condemnation. Of course, the war-at-all-costs constituency can only paint Murtha as a traitor. They conflate criticism of the military, regardless of how well-vetted the source, as a threat to their pollyannish view of American hard power. They intertwine condemnation of this war and its architects with a completely imaginary liberal hatred of the military. Completely wrong and completely ignorant.

I am a liberal and I don't hate the military. I believe the war in Iraq is a disaster of epic proportions and I believe that the architects of this war should stand trial for what they've wrought. I often question how are military is used, what it's priorities are and even if having a standing military is in itself wise public policy. I wish, as all progressives do, that we didn't need a military. I wish the affairs of the world could evolve to a point where violence was no longer seen as a solution to state problems. However, that's not likely to occur any time soon. I see military power as a necessary evil, where the war's supporters see something to be glorified. It would be only an ideological difference if not for the lives destroyed in the balance.

I see what the Marines did in Haditha, assuming these strong allegations are true, not as something to defend, in the mode of defending our military because it's "ours", but as something to condemn as an attack on our country's character. These Marines committed an atrocity that disrespects the uniform they wear, the Corps in which they serve and the country they represent. They offer nothing but a disrespectful slap in the face to the millions of military personnel, personnel like my brother, who perform their service with class and distinction. The actions of these Marines should not be defended from a nationalistic perspective, but condemned from the same. They have disgraced their country and acted as traitors to its ideals, not Jack Murtha. Yet even so, they are to be pitied as well. Pitied, because they should never have been in Haditha to begin with and will live the rest of their lives with the knowledge and, hopefully, the consequences of their heinous actions.

But they never should have been there in the first place, and someone in the White House needs to answer for that.

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