The Fallujah Shooting Posted by: Dale Franks
on Tuesday, November 16, 2004
You know, there's a part of me that just doesn't care. These "insurgents" have been booby-trapping bodies. Wounded people have opened fire on our guys. So screw 'em. That's the first thing that comes to mind. These are bad guys, and they're killing our men, so whatever they get, it's better than they deserve.
But, almost immediately, the second thought is that this can't be condoned. This is precisely the type of thing that eats into a units discipline, and changes them from soldiers into a very, very lethal armed mob. It eats into the core of what being a soldier, rather than a simple killer is all about.
Near the beginning of the movie Patton, George C. Scott portrays General Patton arriving in Tunisia to take over at II Corps after the defeat at Kasserine Pass. The troops are in sad shape. Everyone is dressed like it's Friday Casual Day, the dining hall is open for breakfast until 11 am, NCOs casually wave their hands in the vicinity of their foreheads when greeting the general, hairstyles are worn fashionably zoot-suit long etc. Patton immediately orders everyone back into ties and gaiters, fines anyone out of uniform, and generally cracks down on all the trivial minutia of military courtesy. As Patton says, "They don't look like soldiers. They don't act like soldiers. Why should we expect them to fight like soldiers?" Of course, everyone moans and complains about how unreasonable all this is, but Patton is the guy with three stars on his helmet, so they don't have much of a choice.
Now, I don't know exactly how true all this actually was, although Patton's 3rd army was about the only one in the ETO that wore ties in combat, but George C. Scott's line was essentially true.
Indeed, something very similar happened in Afghanistan after the Taliban fell. As soon as the brass got there, it was goodbye to the funny afghan hats, beards, and safari vests and t-shirts, and back into the business of crisp Desert Days, salutes, haircuts.
If you've never been in the military, the purpose of a lot of this stuff is probably hard to understand. The flat little hat has to be worn tilted over to the side, with the brim two fingers above the eyebrow. You have to wear a tie with the long-sleeved shirt, but it's optional with the short sleeved shirt? The ribbons have to be centered above the left breast pocket, touching but not overlapping the top of the pocket flap. You will routinely say, 'Sir,' three times in a sentence to a man who's 5 years younger than you. You will participate in ceremonies with saluting and flags, and marching, and all kinds of tedious stuff.
Why? I mean, what's the point? How does all that stuff help you kill bad guys?
It doesn't. It isn't designed to. It's designed to instill into you some important ideas like discipline, attention to detail, and a sense of belonging to an honorable profession that allow you to stop killing bad guys. It's designed to inculcate obedience to a very specific code of conduct that prevents you from becoming nothing more than an armed mob that plunders your enemies' cities, takes their women in the streets, and leaves piles of skulls behind them as a grim warning.
The grim truth about warfare is that it releases the restrictions that normally govern civilized society. It allows you to sit in a tree and fire a bullet into the brain of an unsuspecting soldier 500 yards away. It allows you to toss a grenade through a window, then burst through a door shooting any person still moving. It allows you to pull the charging handle back on a Mark 19 and dump 20 or 30 rounds of 40MM AP on twelve guys, turning them into hamburger in an instant.
And the one thing, the only thing preventing you from turning into something like a 15th century band of condittieri, randomly marauding the countryside is the discipline the military tries to drill into you from day one of boot.
We ask an extraordinary amount of 18- and 19-year old kids. We tell them to go over to some place, and start killing as many people as they can, but only to kill the people with guns, and to stop killing them when the enemy stops resisting. We make them yell things like "Ambush is murder and murder is fun!" and then we send them out to do it, with the expectation that they will stop doing it in an instant when it's no longer strictly necessary. It's very hard for them to do it with the kind of machinelike precision we demand of them; for a few of them, in the rush of adrenaline, and fear, and happiness just to be alive, and bone-aching fatigue, it's just not possible.
And the hell of it is, the sheer bloody truth of it for the military commander, is that they all know it, and they all know that someone will occasionally go too far. And that person will have to become an example, pour encourager les autres, about the danger of losing control, of letting discipline go for just an instant. It will be necessary because if you let that kind of barbarity take root, it will destroy the ability to control the troops in battle, and such incidents will become commonplace.
We expect men to fight for their lives, and the lives of their fire team and squad, and to butcher the enemy with demonic fury, and then we expect them to just...stop. No, more than that, we expect them to not only stop, but to treat the enemy humanely, to treat their wounded, and to render appropriate courtesy to their officers and NCOs.
And it can't be any other way. If the men are allowed to slip loose from all moral bounds, there's no end to the depravity they will engage in. They are already in fear of their lives, low on sleep and food, with adrenaline singing through them. And history shows us that any group of people in that frame of mind, if loosed from all moral bonds, will do the most horrific things imaginable. What prevents us from, and someone so famously put it, pillaging in the manner of Genghis Khan, is not that our soldiers are more moral, or are better person than the Mongols. It is that the Great Khan's warriors were allowed to pillage, and ours are not.
And so, here we are. We're left with a young marine who probably has a sterling record. A chest full of medals, including, apparently, a Purple Heart. And despite a couple of years of admirable service to his country, in extreme, austere circumstances, he may spend the rest of his life in jail because in one moment of adrenaline, or fear, or anger, pulled the trigger once when he shouldn't've. It's a tragedy for the marine, for his family, and for the country.
And every one of us who's ever carried an M16 for this country knows that we might have done exactly what that young marine did, and done it without even thinking about it. Sure, we hope we wouldn't, but we can never be sure that in the stress of combat, in a moment of fear, or anger, that we might not let our control slip that tiniest bit, and pull the trigger ourselves. We sit in our comfortable living rooms, far from battle, with the luxury of watching the video at our convenience, thinking about it as we nurse our glasses of port, having all the time in the world to practice what we'd've done in our minds, and coming to a judgment about a decision a young marine made in a split second, 5,000 miles away. And, still, deep inside, we wonder if, at that moment, we'd have done the same thing.
But no matter how much we might want to, how much we sympathize, and how much we feel we understand the stress that young man was under at that particular moment, we can't simply look away, and pretend it didn't happen.
And do you want to know what the worst part of it is? The really dirty secret that we know, but don't talk much about? We'll do it not because it's morally wrong do what this marine appears to have done, or because we are particularly horrified that it occurred, although those things may be true. We'll do it, at least in part, to ensure that we maintain discipline in the ranks, that we can control the troops, that they remain a disciplined and finely honed weapon, so that we can confidently order them out to kill other people tomorrow.
I watched the unedited video and there appears to be some reason why he killed this guy. The marines get kinda vocal about him and then shoot him. But then they go over to some other guy that's alive and leave him alone. That implies there was something special about that guy. Regardless I agree with the killing of this enemey 100%. These are subhuman animals. They chop off civilians heads, video tape it, and dance around screaming "Allah Acbar" in ograsmic ejaculatory glee. Kill them, kill them all, kill them quickly. They aren't covered by Geneva convention as they are not part of a standing military. We need to bring fear and terror right into their face. We need to show them that we are more horrible and terrible than they can possibly imagine. We need to get these damn embedded corrispondents out of there so our military can do their primary job, killing our enemies.
no, no, no; the worst thing we can do is to join the other side and continue to think and believe they are sub-human. As a warrior, I know my opponent wants to, will if given an opportunity to kill me: but I am sure he has very human reasons, which I do not agree with AND THIS DISAGREEMENT IS THE MOTIVE TO KILL ME and since he is trying to kill me and my disagreement, I am going to kill him and hopefully eventually the source of our disagreement. As I post this, this sounds so silly as words, but believe me, words cannot even get closer than a lifetime of what it means.
Remember that the Geneva Conventions apply only where the "insurgents" are "conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war...." Booby trapping bodies, etc. is not consistent with such laws and customs. If the Marine violated his orders, he should be punished for that. But I am not sure that it can be said that his conduct violated the Geneva Conventions.
Oh, speaking of such matters.. did you notice that Margaret Hassan was killed by Islamic Terrorists yesterday? If you didn't, no shock; the press hasn't been playing it up much. Shot her in the face at close range, as I gather it.
Hassan, you may recall was an English woman who had devoted her life to helping Iraqis.
But her death doesn't get nearly the coverage of one Marine shooting an insurgent Terrorist in the head... one who was likely already dead, and if not, was an attacker, waiting for a chance to strike out at said Marine.
Ask yourself; why the different levels of coverage? More, why the different levels of outrage? I mean, here we have a press clearly demonstrating itself to be more concerned over the life of one terrorist, than they are about the life of at least two someones who are dedicated to making the situation in Iraq better.... Ms Hassan, and the Marine in question.
I will not add my voice ot the press's feigned outrage at this Marine.
" We *expect* them--insurgents, terrorists, et al--to do it. They always have"
In that case, is it at all logical for that Marine to take a pre-emptive action?
Bit-why do you suppose we run them through live-fire exercises with pop-ups that depict non-combatants? To train and discipline them into making split-second decisions and making the proper ones. Why do you suppose we give them classes on the laws of land warfare? Again so they`ll understand the constraints under which they operate and work within those laws. To pretend this is some special case in which you had to be there and if you weren`t you can`t understand is simply BS. There were a myriad of other actions that could and should have taken place before that marine pulled the trigger. He did none of them. Now I understand the arguments for extenuating and mitigating circumstances, but when all is said and done, the man he killed was wounded and unarmed regardless of what the marine thought at the time he pulled the trigger. Call it a mistake. Call it an error in judgment. Call it being plain scared. All weigh on the situation. But again, the bottom line remains the man was wounded and unarmed ... and that makes the murder regardless of the extenuating or mitigating circumstances. The only thing to be deicded is in what degree.
Why do we adhere to the Geneva Conventions at all?
The legal point seems to be that there is some imagined "super-authority" which overrides US authority on international matters. This is essentially the "international law" argument, and such law is implemented in bodies such as the UN and the ICC. However, the problem with the legal argument is that treaties are not really enforceable, nor in perpetuity. If the US negotiates a treaty with a party of nations, presumably each nation ratifies the treaty because they get something out of it in return for something they put in of equal or lesser value. If the US pulls out, then the remedy available to the other parties is to "take back what they put in." Nothing more, nothing less.
Take the ABM treaty for example. When the US pulled out of this agreement with Russia recently, the reprecussions were merely that the Russians could also now work on ABM technology without added fear that the US would do the same (because we already are.) Yet some critics reacted as if the US had "broken a law" and was subject to sanctions beyond the natural consequences of returning to a status that existed prior to the treaty in the first place. It is simply not true.
This segues nicely into the moral argument for the Geneva conventions. which is roughly that if we pull out of the Geneva conventions, then our soldiers would be at greater risk of torture and maltreatment in the field. However, after observing the enemy hacking off heads of civilians, as well as the behavior of brave Arab fighters shooting at us from behind the skirts of mosque-bound women and children, I would propose that maybe there is no current benefit to our staying in the Geneva convention. Following on the legal argument, that is to say that the "other side" has "pulled out" and now we are entitled to the natural remedy of pulling out ourselves.
This is not to advocate torture. The US is a moral nation of laws and would develop its own codes to punish wrong behavior on the part of our armed forces. Abu Ghraib has been handled in this way, and so should the soldier who allegedly shot a wounded Irqi fighter recently. He should be judged according to our military codes and our standards. Above all, he should not be judged by a bunch of self serving NGOs and made a scapegoat for the worldwide opponents to the Iraq war.
Until the NGOs and antiwar governments stop their consistent willful ignorance of atrocities commited by groups whose politics they happen to agree with that brings me to conclude that the Geneva conventions should be scrapped; and let the NGOs whine to the four winds. And maybe that will motivate them to remember why there were Geneva conventions in the first place.
Based on the video I saw, I would not prosecute him. If there's more info, and it points to him blowing it, fine.
Again, based on what I saw, his hands were out of sight, and he appeared to move when the Marines shouted. Under the circumstances they're dealing with, I'd have shot. Maybe by the official rules thats wrong, but it's what I'd do because I don't know what's in his hands, if anything, or what he's about to do, if anything.
As far as all the 'we can't be like them' stuff, these troops didn't go looking for someone to murder, they were in a battlefield situation dealing with people who had already been wounded because they were trying to kill our guys.
McQ: "... but when all is said and done, the man he killed was wounded and unarmed regardless of what the marine thought at the time he pulled the trigger. Call it a mistake. Call it an error in judgment. Call it being plain scared. All weigh on the situation. But again, the bottom line remains the man was wounded and unarmed ... and that makes the murder regardless of the extenuating or mitigating circumstances."
I would say you could not be more wrong: What the marine in question was thinking is the ONLY thing that matters. Whether the (now) dead guy had a weapon or not is completely irrelevant -- if it appeared for even an instant that he was a threat then he was a legitimate target.
I am not claiming the guy actually was a threat -- just that whether he was a threat or just appeared to a threat but was actually harmless is not a relevant distintion. The case has to judged by how it appeared to the marine on the site and ONLY by how it appeared to him -- NOT by how later examination under safe conditions determined it to be.
I'll tell what eats into a combat paltoon's discipline the fact that some goon on a bar stool will Monday morning quarterback his every move without the slightest idea of what it is facing.
Shined shoes, ties, and pressed shirts don't make an army, only pale immitations of soldiers. The Patton analogy misses the point of what Patton did. Patton held men accountable for their actions. He rewarded results and punished the failure to achieve results.
Anyone who has ever seen action will tell you ultimately that you aren't fighting for mom and apple pie but the guy on your right and left. And anything that threatens them had better look out. Civilians won't understand this. How could they when the greatest threat most will ever face is the threat of a flat tire at rush hour.
The Marine did good. I'm sure all of them will stand by their buddies and send thejihaddies to their paradise. Their critics be damned.
Dale, Excellent post, I served most my time in the 'peace time' army and always wondered why all the chicken-sh*t. That is what I used to call the dress right dress, but know I see the point. Excellent post!
Dale is right to say we sit at home and wonder if we would have done the same thing. But I think he has it bakwards. As a former soldier I wonder if I could have done the same thing and hope that I WOULD have. I hope that I would have been able to supress my natural compassion for a wounded human being and be able to blow his head off in the three seconds it took this Marine to conclude that t enemy posed a threat to himself and everyone in that room.
On the disciplne issue I think Dale is off-base. The one thing that comandemrs do not want to do is instill any hesitaion in the trigger pullers. That costs them the lives of their men, which they hold dear. That is why nothing happenned to the Mmarine sniper that kiled a fellow Marine last year because the guy climbed onto a roof without wearing his helmet. Instead they busted the dead man's superior for letting him take his helmet off (there is your reson for spit and polish standards right there).
Dale mentioned Patton shaping up the troops. But he ignores the fact that his most famous example was to draw his gun and point it a "wounded" (shell shocked) soldier and tell him to get back on the front lines or he would shot him right there in the hospital. He got a lot of flack for that. But he ended up with one of the finest fighing forces we have ever fielded in war and an honored place in our history books. DF
I think the point of this post is that the reason for the Army is to defend the Constituion, and that means defending the rule of law as well. We can't have the soldiers go off into the land of unjustified shoots.
I think there is going to be a very close look at what happened here. From where I sit, I am sure he was justified. I am releived that this video showed a terrorist getting his, rather than a Marine being blown up by a booby trap.
Dicispline wins wars. Discipline protects our freedom. The Rule of Law is fundimentally what he is fighting for, and the Rule of Law will protect that marine.
In these days of instant misinformation and miscommunication, I find that in spite of the video, and all the many words of commentary added, I still really don't know what happened that day. Was the man that was killed a danger? I don't know. Was he involved in the battle that week? I don't know, but his location, and the apparent fact that he was already wounded would lead me to suspect that he was. I find that I must wait for the results of the investigation that is surely going on now. What I have no doubts about is that without the guiding principles on which this nation that I love is founded, a uniform is just a bad suit of clothes, and a flag is just a piece of colored cloth. I trust that the Marine Corps will discover the truth of that day's events, and deal with it in accordance with those principles.
In the rhelm of all things military, it's easy to sit back in our easy chairs, watching MSNBC, CNN or the like, and decide the guilt or innocents of one Marine who did what he was trained to do.
We can't possibly begin got fathom the diress this man may have been under. He was shot in the face, saw his buddies hurt or killed, and hadn't slept in days.
Having not slept in five days is enough reason alone for him to have acted in an irrational way. Lacking sleep for that long is almost identical to being legally drunk. If the U.S. Marines want to place blame for this, place it on the people keeping these soldiers in this type of condition.
Plus, as I believe someone else has already posed on this site, the Marine shot only one of the five insurgents in the mosque. If this was a war crime, why not shoot them all. In Vietnam, when war crimes like those that occured at Mylai and My Kai, The U.S. Army's Company C, Bravo and the 11th Brigade slaughtered hundreds. This Marine shot one of five men. The parity simply doesn't exist enough to make sense.
However, and this is a big however, the answer is not to throw out the rules of the Geneva convention. The answer is not to condone this type of behavior.
The insurgents slice the heads off of innocent Americans, Iraqis and anyone in the country who opposes them. If we do the same, who are we rescuing, and from what. Replacing one terrorist with another doesn't help simply because the second terrorist wears the uniform of a U.S. Marine.
I do believe the Marine shot an innocent man. I do believe this is a war crime. Is it murder? Hardly. Should this man be punnished? We must do something to prevent this from becoming the norm, and that is the only answer I can think fair to justify my opinion, having not been there to witness the event myself.
We must do something. As angry as I am that the insurgents booby trap bodies, murder innocents and trick our soldiers, one of the most important lessons of war is to be able to empathize with the enemy. To be able to see things from his point of view. Only then can we begin to fight him.
The insurgents want despratly to preserve their way of life, right or wrong. And furthermore, they are up against the most intimidating and powerfull military force the world has to offer. We should only expect that they must use unconventional means to beat us.
They thing we must do to win, is understand that those are THEIR techniques, and THEIR objectives, and that stooping to that level will only make the war impossible to win for us.
We need the support of the native poeple of Iraq. This is a lesson we learned in the hardest way possible after we suffered defeat in Vietman.
As a future member of the press, I am glad they covered the event. I feel that, for the most part, it was covered well and to the point. When our press stops covering atrocities, real or precieved, then we have taken a step backwards in our goal of bringing democracy to Iraq.