Michael's Essay: Murder in the name of war

In July, 1968, in the South Vietnamese village of My Lai, U.S. troops of First Platoon, Charlie Company, Task Force Barker, ordered the residents out of their homes. They were pushed and shoved at gunpoint down a road alongside which ran a shallow trench. Then the platoon leader, Lieutenant William Calley, ordered his men to open fire. Between 347 and 504 civilians were killed.

In November, 2005, a battle-hardened Marine Staff Sergeant, Frank Wuterich, led his men in an attack on civilian areas of Haditha in Iraq. He and his rifle platoon killed 24 Iraqi civilians. A Marine colonel said that such things happen "in the cauldron of war."

Now again, this time in Afghanistan, murder in the name of war. Apparently a seasoned combat Marine, serving his third rotation in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, on his own and in the middle of the night, attacked some houses in the province of Kandahar. Sixteen men, women and children were killed in the rampage.

Tim O'Brien, the author and Vietnam War veteran has written:

"Bullets can kill the enemy but bullets can also make an enemy - they can manufacture an enemy. And I felt at times during my stay there, that we were cranking out enemy soldiers or sympathizers by the way we treated the place."


 


In July, 1968, in the South Vietnamese village of My Lai, near Da Nang, U.S. troops of First Platoon, Charlie Company, Task Force Barker, ordered the residents out of their homes.

They were pushed and shoved at gunpoint down a road alongside which ran a shallow trench.
Then the platoon leader, Lieutenant William Calley, ordered his men to open fire.

Exact figures of the dead were hard to come by, but between 347 and 504 civilians were killed.

Most were old men, women and children.

The U.S. high command in Saigon tried to cover-up the story, as did the general staff at the Pentagon.

In November, 2005, a battle-hardened Marine Staff Sergeant, Frank Wuterich, led his men in an attack on civilian areas of Haditha in Iraq.

He told his men to shoot first and ask questions later.

He and his rifle platoon killed 24 Iraqi civilians.

At first, the US military tried to cover up the murders, and then it lied about the number of Iraqi civilians killed.

It wasn't until TIME Magazine published a story detailing what happened, that the military admitted the massacre.

A Marine colonel said that such things happen "in the cauldron of war."

Now again, this time in Afghanistan, murder in the name of war.

Apparently a seasoned combat Marine, serving his third rotation in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, on his own and in the middle of the night, attacked some houses in the province of Kandahar.

He gunned down the sleeping civilians and then tried to burn their bodies.

Sixteen men, women and children were killed in the rampage.

The soldier is now in a military prison in the U.S.

War is all about killing. The ultimate aim of any military is to kill more of their soldiers than they can kill of ours. Peace then is supposed to ensue.

But there has always been something of an understanding that unarmed civilians were excluded from premeditated and deadly attack.

If anything, the deaths of civilians have always been characterized as unintentional and, in the grisly phrase, collateral damage.

It's important to note that while Canadian troops have been deployed throughout Kandahar province during the Afghan war, they have never been involved in the death of civilians.

In prolonged wars, after a time, it can become difficult to determine who precisely is the enemy. Is a quiet civilian compound hiding enemy soldiers waiting in ambush? 

Are these civilians asleep in the houses actually terrorists planning to attack in the morning?

The question of who is the enemy, inevitably leads to attacks and even murder of non-combatants. Such assaults, in turn, create more enemies.

Tim O'Brien, the author and Vietnam War veteran has written:

"Bullets can kill the enemy but bullets can also make an enemy - they can manufacture an enemy. And I felt at times during my stay there, that we were cranking out enemy soldiers or sympathizers by the way we treated the place."

The murders of the Kandahar villagers, when set alongside the burning of the Korans and the photos of U.S. troops urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters, makes it a safe bet that whatever progress U.S. forces had made in Afghanistan has been erased.

My Lai inflamed anti-war protests in the 1960s. The  murder of Haditha civilians and Abu Ghraib undermined U.S. prestige in Iraq. 

We should recoil in horror at the murders of the Afghan civilians. We should be angry. We should be appalled.

But we should not be surprised.

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