I protested the Iraq war, way before it was cool to do so — back in the days when the Dixie Chicks were being censored. I kept a printout with the number of people who had died so far above my computer. Clearly, I’m no war hawk. But even I will concede that there are some wars you can’t avoid. The Iraq War, however, was not one of them.
The Wikileaks Video of “Collateral Murder” demonstrates exactly why I was against this war. Anyone who reads history knows why war should be a last resort, rather than a preemptive strike — especially one based on a lie.
However, I also spent a week embedded with training soldiers, watching them train and listening to their every word as they took on the exhaustive task of preparing for battle. I spent a week in another world, one that most Americans never get to see.
It was hot that week (the heat index was 128 degrees), the sand blew into our faces and made it hard to breathe, and the packs added another 20-65 pounds of extra weight with body armor (depending on their job). One soldier passed out.
I could hear their heavy breathing as they ran through one house and into the next, being shot at and shooting. I watched as they faced people dressed as civilians suddenly ambush them. A Blackhawk circled above, trying to help, and the chopper kicked up even more sand. In addition to the threats circling them, they were dealing with new sights and sounds, a language barrier, and a completely different landscape than we know at home. Chaos and confusion reigned.
After the exercise, they were quizzed on their decision to use deadly force. They discussed the rules of engagement and in each instance, verbally explained why the circumstances had warranted their escalation of force. Each one of them was earnest about trying to get it right. Many of them were just kids.
We can hear them on the video:
One soldier says, “Ha, ha, I hit ’em.” Another says: “Look at those dead b#####s.”
Monsters, right? They’re laughing and joking about killing people. It’s appalling. But what’s more appalling is that we made them this way. We turned them into Warriors for America.
Imagine the kid you grew up next door to, now piloting an Apache in Iraq. He was a good kid. He’s been there for months. He’s not even 19. He’s seen all kinds of tragedies by now. He’s seen his buddy die because he didn’t shoot first. He’s seen his other buddy rape a female soldier. He’s seen things that are slowly eroding his soul. His girlfriend back home just told him she has been cheating on him with his best friend. He’s eating MREs and he doesn’t get to sleep regularly. He’s mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. He’s not even 19 yet.
He becomes hardened. He has to turn off his humanity in order to survive. He makes jokes because that’s the only comfort he has now. And one day, he shoots first.
What turned the earnest kid we met in the training exercises into the chilling voice we heard on the Wikileaks video?
War is what happened. War destroys souls when it isn’t claiming irreversible collateral damage. The quiet suicide of a returning soldier speaks to this truth.
If you haven’t been to war, you can’t imagine it. If you have been to war, you are alienated from the rest of humanity by an inescapable and haunting knowledge: things no one wants to know.
I wonder at the privileged hypocrisy of a nation that ships young people off to war after indoctrinating them during training that they are doing the right thing by picking up an AK47 and shooting the “bad guys” and then judges these same people when they — perhaps inadvertently — murder innocent people.
Did we really expect anything different?
I can’t help but wonder how different it would be if everyone were exposed to a video like this BEFORE allowing a puppet in a cowboy hat to declare war on a sovereign nation.
Americans’ whitewashed version of war is exemplified in the right’s current outcry against Obama’s START treaty. This attitude is the result of not seeing the war on our own soil. Europeans, for example, can’t escape seeing the result of war every single day.
This war never should have happened. George W Bush and his cronies should be in jail for this. Their blood lust knows no bounds. Their children are not being shot at and destroyed physically, mentally and emotionally. The outrage, my fellow Americans, isn’t what you saw in that video. The outrage is that we allowed this to happen and then pretended innocent people would not be targets. We pretended that our wives and husbands, our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters would not be forever changed. We pretended that there was a way to win.
Every single one of us who did nothing when Bush was appointed — who sat by when he invaded a sovereign nation, who let Bush steal our freedoms one by one and did not have the courage to stand up — we are all to blame. Where were we then? The Teabaggers manage to make a huge stink, protesting healthcare, claiming it is unconstitutional, and yet, when W was decimating the constitution right in front of our eyes, where was the Left? We allowed the Right to slander us and smear our objections until we were effectively silenced from shame. We must never let this happen again.
Progressives need to stop closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. We need to stop cowering in face of right wing nationalistic propaganda. We shouldn’t just point our fingers outward at the soldiers, who were doing the job we trained them to do.
We are all complicit.
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.