Saturday, June 3, 2006

Dereliction of Duty

Somebody’s going to have to take the rap for what has happened in Haditha. If history is any guide, it will be the soldiers who have been accused of the incident and perhaps the commanding officer on the scene, but that’s it. It won’t go much further up the chain of command and certainly won’t be laid on the people who are truly responsible for what happened in that town last November.

Of course the soldiers are entitled to a presumption of innocence, but in a sense they’re also entitled to an accounting from the people who sent them to war unprepared for what they would face once they got there. Nothing can truly prepare someone for the battlefield and it is dangerous to try to predict how an individual will respond, including what will happen when that individual changes from a man alone into a soldier in a platoon. But given all that, there is still the responsibility that lies not in the understanding of what goes on in the metaphor-laden world of the fog of war and the heat of battle; some of it must be placed at the feet of the men who sent them there in the first place.

Maureen Dowd notes,

American troops are under spectacular emotional pressure. They go out every day, not knowing Arabic, not understanding the culture, not knowing who the insurgents are, not knowing when they can go home or which of their buddies will be blown up before their eyes by an unseen enemy.

The troops were not trained for a counterinsurgency, because Bush hawks ignored the intelligence reports that predicted an insurgency and civil war. These kids were turned into sitting ducks because the neocon con to sell the war needed a gauzy prediction of Iraqi gratitude and a quick exit.

It is admirable that the Marine commanders want to morally sensitize the troops while they are in such a hostile environment, but it also seems a bit absurd, sending them to summer school in “core values.”

There’s no way to teach someone not to shoot an unarmed woman or child. If somebody doesn’t already know why they shouldn’t murder a baby, it’s not clear that a refresher course will help.

The problem with brushing up on core values is that if you don’t know them by a certain point you can’t learn them. You can’t teach remedial decency, any more than you can teach remedial ethics to White House officials who vindictively leak information about critics of the war after vowing not to leak.

So if the men of this unit are to be tried for the crimes of Haditha, one of the charges should be dereliction of duty. Not against them but against the people who used them as their pawns in a game of politics to win elections, chasten the world, and ensure that every nation became freedom-loving democracies, even if we had to blow them up to do it.