Iraqi civilian killed after throwing shoe at u.s. soldiers

Iraqi civilian killed after throwing shoe at u.s. soldiers September 17, 2009

This, from the most “well-trained” military in the world. From Democracy Now!:

In other Iraq news, an unarmed Iraqi man was killed by US forces in Fallujah Wednesday after throwing his shoe at their convoy. The military says the soldiers opened fire thinking the shoe was a grenade. The shooting came one day after the Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi was released from prison after a nine-month term for throwing his shoes at former President George W. Bush.


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  • nan

    Throwing something at a convoy of soldiers plagued by explosive devices aimed their way – hmmmm…. sorry, I think the soldiers made a sensible decision – you might even call it a prejudicial one,i.e. a decision based on experience. Is your point that a better trained soldier would give the “citizen” the benefit of doubt? Or maybe that if the guy was indeed throwing an explosive device, it was too late anyway so why kill the fellow? Maybe, that the soldiers should have just given off a few warning shots or kneecapped him instead? I guess I don’t get your point.

  • My point is that killing innocent human beings is intrinsically evil, yet “our boys” engage in this demonic activity constantly. And most americans, even Catholics, are quick to defend them while mourning the death of an innocent human being is the furthest thing from their minds. You, nan, won the prize today. Congratulations.

  • Pinky

    Good job, mocking the training of the soldiers. I’m glad that someone woke up today, asked himself how he could best serve God, and decided to belittle the troops.

  • Silver medal goes to you, Pinky. Way to go.

  • Magdalena

    Well I don’t think they deliberately set out to shoot innocent people in cold blood in this instance. They thought the guy threw a grenade. It was a mistake.

  • They never deliberately do anything bad. They only deliberately do good things. Magdalena, third place goes to you.

    Thank you all for playing!

  • Pinky

    It’s an honor just to be nominated, Michael.

  • Zak

    Michael,
    I understand you’re a busy student, but I would recommend to you The Gamble by Tom Ricks. It talks about the change in US strategy in Iraq from 2006-2008. There was a dramatic shift away from an approach that considers civilian casualties as “collateral damage” that can be dismissed to focusing on protecting the population, even urging soldiers not to fire back when attacked, if it would result in civilian casualties (in at least some circumstances). Would you consider this change mere window-dressing?

  • Zak – I’d have to see what evidence Ricks presents to support his claim that there has been a “change.” Maybe there’s been a “change” since Blackwater (headed by a rad-trad Catholic) started taking over the massacre duties?

  • People are missing the point here. When Pinky talks of “belittling the troop”, I think we need to point out quite clearly that the American army of occupation has no right to be there. How dare the Americans still occupy a country and brazenly drive their militarized convoys thorugh the streets of Iraqi cities, pushing everything out of the way, and shooting civilians that get too close? How dare they. For many other people, the right “troops” to support are those fighting the American occupation. Good thing I don’t support violence…

  • Zak

    I’m pretty sure Blackwater is almost entirely out of Iraq. At the very least, their role has been curtailed significantly since 07, and most military officers are said to frown on their presence.

    The changes in deployment structure, the changes in patrolling practices, the changes in detention policies, and the declines in civilian casualties (starting Fall 2007) are all in the public record.

    From the Army’s Counter-insurgency manual, written by David Petraeus:
    7-22. Even in conventional combat operations, Soldiers and Marines are not permitted to use force disproportionately or indiscriminately. Typically, more force reduces risk in the short term. But American military values obligate Soldiers and Marines to accomplish their missions while taking measures to limit the destruction caused during military operations, particularly in terms of collateral harm to noncombatants. It is wrong to harm innocents, regardless of their citizenship….

    To combat these efforts, Soldiers and Marines treat noncombatants and detainees humanely, according to American values and internationally recognized
    human rights standards. In COIN [(Counter-insurgency)], preserving noncombatant lives and dignity is central to mission accomplishment.

    This approach is clearly informed by Just War theory, which is not suprising since it is studied extensively by future officers at West Point.

    And Mr. Ricks, whose first book, Fiasco, about the invasion of Iraq and subsequent two years of the war, is a strong critic of the Bush Administration.

  • Pinky

    MM – I believe that the US is justified in being in Iraq. The 1990 invasion of Kuwait was illegal; the UN approved the use of force in the liberation of Kuwait; while Iraq signed a cease-fire agreement, it never signed a peace treaty; Iraq violated the terms of the cease-fire repeatedly. The US and her allies had the moral and legal authority to remove the government of Iraq, and the moral obligation to aid in the establishment of a new government.

  • Zak

    Since we have a negotiated status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government, actually we do have a right to be there, just as we do in Germany, Japan, South Korea, and many other countries. I bet military convoys drive through them regularly. Of course, in those countries, people don’t often strap exposives to mentally handicapped folks and then have them walk towards Americans or crowded markets as a sign of protest against our demonic military forces. MM, you demonstrate how little you understand the nature of the conflict in Iraq if you think the people attacking Americans (and civilians – far more frequently than US forces are) are the considered the “right troops” by many people in Iraq. In 2005, some insurgent groups were still popular among their ethnic communities. Now, those still fighting are seen by almost all Iraqis for what they are – sadistic criminals, not freedom fighters.

  • Magdalena

    I’m sure many of “our boys” do many bad things deliberately. A number of specific instances during this particular war immediately spring to mind. That does not seem to be the case here since it is explicitly stated in the article that they mistakenly thought the guy was throwing a grenade. In fairness that’s not quite a cold-blooded killing.

    I always suggest that my pro-capital punishment friends get involved in a death row ministry. In my own case it was such a ministry that helped change my mind about capital punishment. In your case I think you might find interacting one-on-one in a veterans program deeply rewarding, not to change your mind but to replace perhaps more abstract concepts with real flesh and blood and souls. For theology to be useful it has to spring from authentic, lived pastoral realities and if our national tradition of violence is an area of interest for you I think you should give it a shot. Many soldiers are wounded spiritually as well as physically and emotionally and many of them are anti-war as a result of their experiences.

    Do I still get the third place trophy if I refuse to accept?

  • Zak,

    “There was a dramatic shift away from an approach that considers civilian casualties as “collateral damage” that can be dismissed to focusing on protecting the population,”

    You are correct. There was such a shift. This change is also being applied to the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. The inspiration for this change comes out of the new manual on counterinsurgency, drafted in part by Gen. Petraeus.

    Yet, a shift in strategic emphasis doesn’t always change the dynamics in specific situations. Why? Because of fear. I address this in an earlier post, if you are interested.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/2009/06/10/the-death-mask-of-war-i/#more-7842

    The shortcoming of this shift is that it still allows a military strategy to dominate the scene. What has been lacking all along is a political strategy of civic action.

    Sadly, the new counterinsurgency manual was drafted by the military. It still retains a heavy emphasis on the use of military forces. It violates the lessons learned in the Philippines during the Huk Rebellion (1948-1954). When the U.S. became involved they sent Gen. Lansdale to defeat the Rebellion. He did so without the use of any U.S. military forces whatsoever, using a strategy of total civic action. He coined the phrase “hearts and minds.” His example has been overshadowed by the Pentagon mindset who feel a need to control outcomes with force.

  • phosphorious

    nan, zak, pinky,

    “Many soldiers are wounded spiritually as well as physically and emotionally and many of them are anti-war as a result of their experiences.

    This has come up before. . . but shouldn’t the presumption be in favor of the citizen, rather than in favor of the occupiers with guns?

    Do you honestly believe that the real tragedy here that someone “belittled the troops”?

  • Paul Ross

    [Paul (paul-ross@us.army.mil) when you have a real comment and not a “tough guy” comment/insult, you are welcome back here any time. I’m not interested in your member-measuring nonsense. – M.I.]

  • Zak

    Gerald,
    Plenty of Filipino military forces were used against the Huk rebellion. That seems to have played a significant role in it winding down the fighting. As you say, civil engagement for the dissatisfied population also played a role.

    I think the Petreus COIN model does include civic action,but it relies on governments to provide much of it, and the Iraqi and Afghan governments have not done a very good job of it, and the US hasn’t been willing to pay to do it itself. If the Iraqi government would have integrated the Awakening forces its police, you’d see much more security in Iraq. If US politicians didn’t demagogue civilian spending (with Bush’s “free market orthodoxy” and Democrats like John Kerry complaining about “fire stations in Baghdad but not in the US, it’s hard to see any market for an Iraqi WPA or CCC). In Afghanistan, so much of our disappears to the US contractors administering it or (underpaid) corrupt Afghan government employees.

    Regarding your point about fear, I think it’s a valid concern – the huge amounts of PTSD are probably also related to the fact that they spend so much of their lives over there worried about who might be a threat. I think the changed approach can reduce that a bit, because with COIN like this, you know many more of the civilians around you – they’re not nameless potential terrorists. Strangers though, will still be sources of fear. But don’t you think an aid worker, whose friend was kidnapped and beheaded, approaches all strangers in a conflict area the same way? Or a police officer whose partner was shot approaching a driver in a routine pull-over has those worries? They doesn’t mean we stop the aid or the policing. I maintain our soldiers increase the security for civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan (in comparison with the long-term, and maybe short-term alternatives) and every effort should be made to avoid these kinds of incidents, but removing the soldiers isn’t the solution.

  • Magdalena – I do know several veterans, including several who served in Iraq and who would agree with my general perspective on what the military does to people.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    Michael, they obviously are well-trained – they didn’t miss…

    Our brave “men and women in uniform” (does this include bellhops and limo drivers ?) liberating the downtrodden of the world. *#!$ the military.

    Waging war is not “serving your country”, and there’s nothing “brave” about it. Nothing heroic. They are fools at best and murderers at worst. Let’s be honest, military is a sociopath’s dream-come-true. The US spends about 50% of the world’s “military budget” (but no universal health care) and has “a ship in every port.” They don’t hate “you” “because you’re free”, they hate “you” because “you” are there. Now if they took the 2.4 million people in American prisons and made them soldiers, we could really start liberating people.

    What’s this freedom anyway ? The right to freely criticize the American system without being persecuted ? It’s actually the most efficient way to maintain power, giving the people the illusion that they have a say. Violent oppression is the first step in a system’s undoing. Stigmatizing works much better “Support our troops!” or else.

    So, for over two centuries the rich have run everything, high finance in control. Vices have been sold as virtues. Meanwhile, 50 foot flags adorn gas stations, stores and outhouses, just to keep the idiots dreaming the American Dream™. Between Kinko’s and Subway, the recruitment office. Sign on the dotted line, hero. Go to Kinko’s, xerox your butt so you can kiss it goodbye.

    Maybe everyone should have the flag tattooed on their foreheads, lapel pins just aren’t enough.

    How about t-shirts ! “My wife went to war and all I got is this lousy flag”.

    I suggest corporate logos on uniforms, like in NASCAR. Truth in advertising.

  • Zak

    phosphorous,
    No, I do not. The tragedy is the death of the civilian. Clearly. It is a tragedy brought on by our foolish invasion of Iraq. To withdraw from Iraq, where we are still the best guarantor of security, minimal though it is for far to many, would be similar foolishness leading to greater tragedy. It is that point I am trying to make.

    When a cop shoots a civilian, it is not dismissing the tragedy of that person’s death, or the suffering of his family, to argue we still need armed police officers and that the police are not demonic(particularly if consistent efforts have been made recently to prevent such incidents).

  • Paul Ross

    [Goodbye paul-ross@us.army.mil. – M.I.]

  • Pinky

    Do you honestly believe that the real tragedy here that someone “belittled the troops”?

    Phosphorious, it was the only tragedy that any one of us here could have prevented.

  • Zak – I did not say soldiers are demonic.

  • nan

    I didn’t say that, phos. Life is full of tragedy and injustice. The human condition is tragic. I agree with Magdalena’s suggestion of involvement one-on-one with a veteran’s organization.

  • nan

    Gerald – wow – is it just the military you despise or the country in general? There’s spittle all over my computer screen!

  • Gerald A. Naus

    The system, nan. The system is not identical with the people. It’s never 100% of people who support something. It’s more of a scale-tilting. And, how can one not be spiteful about it. But, frequently it’s the person pointing out horrors that gets chastised rather than the horrors. And, people tend to get defensive about “their” country. Which, of course, is idiotic, but helps the powerful. The American system is, admittedly, a true masterpiece.

    I do love Apple and baseball 😉

  • Zak,

    You are correct about Filipino military forces led by Magsaysay, Valariano, and Bohannan. But they were Filipino and Magsaysay was so popular with the people that he became the third President. Lansdale acted as advisor. Lansdale always told me that counterinsurgency should be 99% political and 1% military.

    It is my sense that Petraeus places too much emphasis on military forces, using the model of Robert Thompson in Malaysia and not Lansdale.

    I agree with you that Iraq has been a poster child of ill-fated judgments. Oh my God, how bad could it get! I always ask myself WHY? are we acting so stupidly?

    I see your point about aid workers and police. In fact, it is a human reaction that I describe. It is not limited to the troops.

    As far as removing the soldiers, I think, generally speaking, that is part of the solution. But I hasten to add that not being engaged in the circumstances of that predicament, I can say nothing about how that could be accomplished or in what time frame.

    The only question I could address abstractly is whether American troops should be heavily engaged in Iraq or Afghanistan or not. I believe they should not be. Why? Because I judge them to be counterproductive. Others will disagree for a variety of reasons. For the future, this debate should continue and it should do so within the context of building a U.S. Global Strategy.

    Thanks for the comments.

  • nan

    Michael – Today was the first time I visited your website. I see you are listed as a contributor. I don’t understand your response to my first post. I was not trying to be combative, only honestly asking for clarification. I found your response less than instructive, and pretty insulting. I enjoy reading the thoughts of other Catholics on the issues of the day and hope to get some food for thought from them. You are passionate in your beliefs – ok I get that, but in Christian charity you might want to give your posters some credit for wanting to engage in fruitful discussion.

  • Sorry if you did not find my response helpful, nan. You can see from the comments that followed yours the nonsense we get here day in and day out, e.g. Pinky. We are discussing ways to remedy that.

    Welcome to Vox Nova.

  • Pinky

    But, frequently it’s the person pointing out horrors that gets chastised rather than the horrors.

    I’m sure Michael will get over his chastisement. In fact, he doesn’t seem to be letting it get to him at all. But Michael knew what he was doing when he posted this piece. The civilian knew that throwing something at a military patrol could be dangerous. The only innocents who didn’t know what was happening were the soldiers.

  • The civilian knew that throwing something at a military patrol could be dangerous. The only innocents who didn’t know what was happening were the soldiers.

    The soldiers are innocent. It’s the victim’s fault that he’s dead.

    This is truly priceless material.

  • phosphorious

    Phosphorious, it was the only tragedy that any one of us here could have prevented.

    The troops were not belittled, and to ay that they should be held responsible for shootinf a civilian is not a tragedy of any kind.

  • phosphorious

    Pinky,

    The civilian knew that throwing something at a military patrol could be dangerous. The only innocents who didn’t know what was happening were the soldiers.

    And so it is simply impossible that the civilian was blinded by rage and passion and was not thinking clearly?

    Again, the problem is that many Catholics seem to instinctively sympathize with power.

  • Zak

    MI,
    You are correct. I apologize. Would you characterize all their military activities in Iraq as demonic? I could see making that charge regarding Abu Ghraib, or the other attrocities (like Haditha), but this does strike me more as tragic than demonic.

  • phosphorious

    Life is full of tragedy and injustice. The human condition is tragic. I agree with Magdalena’s suggestion of involvement one-on-one with a veteran’s organization.

    Blame the civilian. Blame “circumstances”. Blame original sin.

    But for whatever you do, by jiminy, don’t blame US soldiers!

  • Would you characterize all their military activities in Iraq as demonic?

    I’m puzzled as to why you would ask this question. I’ve clearly posted on a particular issue: the u.s. military’s ongoing killing of innocent persons and I have condemned this behavior for what it is. Immediately there is a reaction to defend the soldiers, and for me to give assurance that I am not condemning all of their “military activities” as “demonic”? Why?

    I saw a picture once of a u.s. soldier patting a kid on the head or giving a high-five or something. No, I don’t think that’s demonic. Does that make us all feel a little better?

  • Pastor Wright said it best- our chickens will come home to roost.

    May God have mercy on us all.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    I wouldn’t blame “demons”, those acts are human.

    “Again, the problem is that many Catholics seem to instinctively sympathize with power.”
    To be “fair”, yours is an institution built on hierarchy, obedience and claim to having the truth. A mindset accepting that is probably more susceptible to think that way in other areas of life (and death).

  • To be “fair”, yours is an institution built on hierarchy, obedience and claim to having the truth. A mindset accepting that is probably more susceptible to think that way in other areas of life (and death).

    There is truth to this. A distorted view of Catholicism, such as you describe, will provide theo-ideological justification for inhuman politics. Erik Prince is a good example of this.

    But as you may or may not know, the Church is not merely an institution, and its hierarchy is, ideally anyway, supposed to be quite unlike worldly hierarchies that are founded on mere obedience and absolutist notions of truth.

  • Can’t pass up the chance to throw in my two cents as one who has received some of the most intense indoctrination and training avaible to modern soldiers: the 75th Ranger Regiment and the United States Military Academy (2000-2004).

    Normal warfare is about killing people. What makes a good soldier isn’t tactics or talent, but the will to kill. Kill them all, let God sort them out. Civilians will be killed, and we prepared ourselves to kill them by singing and joking about it. Cultivation of apathy toward human life was not only aimed at the enemy, but at every human being: “Why did the little girl fall off the swing? She had no arms. What’s better than winning a gold medal in the special olympics? Not winning a gold medal in the special olmypics. What did the deaf, dumb, and blind kid get for Christmas? Cancer.”

    This is not to say that soldiers are inhuman psychopaths. This is to say, however, that the spiritual forces at work in the military are powerful, dark, and demonic. I want to praise Jesus for saving me from it. It might have been me there shooting some poor kid. We should pray for him, and for all those in the military.

  • Nate,

    Good to see you back around.

    Let me ask: are there training manuals that guide the indoctrination of which you speak? Are such manuals available somewhere?

    On a related note, I’ve read some of the training manuals for the police. The strategies set forth explain much of the brutality we so often see reported.

    The tendency is to blame bad apples whenever a case of brutality comes into public view. But I believe that is really an inaccurate impulse. More than likely, those who commit brutish acts are acting in accordance with their training. This explains why few are ever dismissed.

    There are a few good apples. But they resist the impulse received in training to overpower and dehumanize the average American citizen.

    We need to look at the structures of sin rather than the more narrow view of singling out the perpetrator.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    “But as you may or may not know, the Church is not merely an institution, and its hierarchy is, ideally anyway, supposed to be quite unlike worldly hierarchies that are founded on mere obedience and absolutist notions of truth.”

    obedience and claim to absolute truth are part of it, even officially. It was the good fortune of the Catholic church though that it lost most its secular power. There still are remnants of it in some parts, but that extends not so much to war but to issues usually relating to sexuality. The times when popes led armies are obviously long gone. I’d say that apart, and it’s a big apart, from those sexuality issues, the more recent popes have been advocates of peace and social progress. Of course it only goes so far, just ask gay people.

    Interestingly, liberal Catholics mostly agree with their church on social issues, conservatives on sexual issues – broadly speaking. Of course, fighting poverty, speaking out against war and such are far more important than sexual ones. Liberal C’s seem to be less apologetic about their “dissent”, whereas conservative ones frequently start to rationalize (“Well, it’s not intrinsically evil”, “That’s a matter of discernment” and so forth. All of a sudden it’s “Pope who?” and the popes’ opinions are replaced by Republican ones)

    When I was still affiliated, I probably used the grandeur and history of “Christendom” to elevate my own self-esteem. A “we” just feels so good mm-mm-mm. I now keep that to Red Sox fandom. Jesus, to me, was downright inconvenient – a sentiment obviously quite common through history. Now, I find him much more appealing (as a man), ironically. I hear he hangs with Buddha and Lao Tzu.

    I can’t imagine a figure more inconvenient to Christianity than Jesus. (on an institutional level and to “imperial” Christians). Imagine him running into Erik Prince (of peace). “So, what do you do for a living” – “When I am not attending the Tridentine Mass – I just love the Mass in your language – I’m making a killing.”

  • Gerald A. Naus

    (I should amend this by saying that this “imperial Christianity”, the “praise the Lord and pass the ammunition”, is mainly a phenomenon of the USA. Very few Catholics, let alone priests, in Europe think like that. The last to have belt buckles saying “God with us” were the Nazis. Here, Jesus almost is the mascot of the Air Force Academy. Wonder if they paint him on their jets ? “Bombdrop Jesus”, nice complement to “Touchdown Jesus”, no?)

  • Matt Talbot

    Nate – good to see you back, and to hear you validating some of my own experiences.

    The military can be a dark place indeed. There were troops in my unit who (literally) worshiped Satan. There was a guy named James who prayed for war so he could kill as many people as he wanted with no consequences. He hated blacks and kept a loaded .357 in his wall locker.

    Some of the guys in my unit would make a game of tossing rations to kids when we rode in our tracks through villages: as time went on they’d throw the rations closer and closer to the front of the track, and the risk of crushing the children increased. The guy that got a kid to grab a ration the closest to the front of the track “won”. (I told the guys in my track that if I saw any of them doing that, I would personally throw that troop in front of our track myself.)

    Here’s the thing: if you’re going to have a military, especially one that is sent to fight as many wars as ours is, you need to desensitize soldiers to the value of human life, so that they will kill without hesitation or reflection.

    There is a very strong, intrinsically human revulsion to killing. You can talk all day about “it’s ok because it’s war” and “it was you or them” or any of the other nonsense Mother Culture tells you about killing in the particular instance of war, but unless you are a sociopath, the reality of what it is always trumps that, somewhere inside.

    Sending young men to commit warfare is a monstrous thing to do, when you peel away the rationalizations, legalisms and veneer of nationalist triumphalism. War and real, agape love cannot coexist together: you either do one thing or the other, never both.

    There was a saying half a century ago in the protests against Vietnam: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” In other words, if you have the world’s most powerful military, then it will tend to be the card you reach for first: it is your strongest suit.

    I don’t ultimately blame the soldier who blew away that civilian: I’m sure he was a frightened kid who reacted instinctively (but tragically) to a perceived threat to his life. I ultimately blame the power structure that put him there; a power structure that uses violence to maintain its power in the world.

    I think it’s a scandal when Catholics hear all this and then wave it off with some lame excuse like “Well, what is one to do? It is a fallen world and war will always be with us…”

    Well, no. War is there because we support it, at least tacitly.

  • Matt Talbot

    Nate – good to see you back, and to hear you validating some of my own experiences.

    The military can be a dark place indeed. There were troops in my unit who (literally) worshiped Satan. There was a guy named James who prayed for war so he could kill as many people as he wanted with no consequences. He hated blacks and kept a loaded .357 in his wall locker.

    Some of the guys in my unit would make a game of tossing rations to kids when we rode in our tracks through villages: as time went on they’d throw the rations closer and closer to the front of the track, and the risk of crushing the children increased. The guy that got a kid to grab a ration the closest to the front of the track “won”. (I told the guys in my track that if I saw any of them doing that, I would personally throw that troop in front of our track myself.)

    Here’s the thing: if you’re going to have a military, especially one that is sent to fight as many wars as ours is, you need to desensitize soldiers to the value of human life, so that they will kill without hesitation or reflection.

    There is a very strong, intrinsically human revulsion to killing. You can talk all day about “it’s ok because it’s war” and “it was you or them” or any of the other nonsense Mother Culture tells you about killing in the particular instance of war, but unless you are a sociopath, the reality of what it is always trumps that, somewhere inside.

    Sending young men to commit warfare is a monstrous thing to do, when you peel away the rationalizations, legalisms and veneer of nationalist triumphalism. War and real, agape love cannot coexist together: you either do one thing or the other, never both.

    There was a saying half a century ago in the protests against Vietnam: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” In other words, if you have the world’s most powerful military, then it will tend to be the card you reach for first: it is your strongest suit.

    I don’t ultimately blame the soldier who blew away that civilian: I’m sure he was a frightened kid who reacted instinctively (but tragically) to a perceived threat to his life. I ultimately blame the power structure that put him there; a power structure that uses violence to maintain its power in the world.

    I think it’s a scandal when Catholics hear all this and then wave it off with some lame excuse like “Well, what is one to do? It is a fallen world and war will always be with us…”

    Well, no. War is there because we support it, at least tacitly.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    Matt, my wife’d agree with you, among her clients are people with PTSD – the old term “shell shocked” is more apt and less clinical.

    A mercenary army is a government’s dream, imagine if there’d been a draft for Bush’s Iraq adventure. You get a “filtered” group when it’s a volunteer military. It’s not like Europe never had this spirit, it’s just been a long time since excited young men went to war (World War I footage has creepy images like that, men waving from trains heading to the front, smiling broadly – they didn’t smile anymore in the trenches). The USA simply hasn’t suffered enough. When 50% of your city is destroyed in a war(Vienna, e.g.), you kinda lose the taste for dutyhonorcountry.

  • Zak

    But my point is that for COIN, you do not want soldiers who have been desensitized to killing. You want soldiers to stop and say, “wait a minute, is this right?” The military knows that. Petraeus has been pushing hard for a new mindset. McChrystal is changing the approach in Afghanistan on airstrikes. Even though more soldiers were killed in Afghanistan this summer than last year, airstrikes are down by more than two thirds. In the Ricks book I recommend above, he quotes an airman who says the Iraqi army called in an airstrike and he didn’t do it. He talked about how that’s a difficult urge to resist, but he and many other American soldiers are learning to. I fear if we leave Iraq and Afghanistan without achieving general security, it will empower those in the US military who argue, contra the Petraeus COIN approach, that armies are meant for killing, and that’s all, and civilian protection just ties their hands and prevents them from doing what needs to be done (COIN Russian style: http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/09/17/counterinsurgency_the_brutal_but_effective_russian_approach).

    Read this story from the BBC (not notoriously pro-US military): http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8261612.stm. Especially this line: “Gen McChrystal vows to measure success not by the number of insurgents killed or captured, but by the numbers of Afghans that are protected.”

    There’s a good argument that people trained to kill aren’t the ones we should have doing the kind of policing needed for COIN. But since to protect the Afghan population, they have to deal with people with no reservations about slaughtering as many civilians as possible, we don’t have many alternatives. Sure, US soldiers could all come home and let the (mainly Northern Alliance) Afghan Army fight the Taliban and its allies, but you’d see as bloody a civil war as Afghanistan saw in the early 90s, where military commanders of almost every ethnicity were willing to launch repeated rocket attacks on completely civilian targets.

    DarwinCatholic had an interesting post about health care(http://the-american-catholic.com/2009/09/08/bad-luck-vs-bad-design/). He referred to a statement from Megan McArdle: There’s another intuition that at least libertarians have, which is that it is not as bad to have undesirable things result from an impersonal process than from an active decision.”

    It seems to me that for many of our progressive commenters here, they would prefer a worse outcome where the US is not involved (an Iraqi or Afghan equivalent to the Congolese civil war) to a situation where American troops unfortunately make the mistakes like that illustrated in Michael’s original post.

  • I suggest that everybody relax and keep your shoes on.

  • digbydolben

    Zak: a minor correction of something you said earlier, much farther up: The U.S. and British troops garrisoning certain bases in Germany near me NEVER drive convoys through populated areas; they wouldn’t dare, because the German authorities would never permit it, and German civilians would be enraged.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    It’s time for the US to get out of Germany, period.

  • Magdalena

    Gerald, European cities have been destroyed in wars over and over again over a period of more than a thousand years. Some of these conflicts were nastier than World War II in some of their characteristics. Vienna herself is no stranger to armed battle.

    The only thing more naive than assuming World War I was “the war to end all wars” is thinking World War II was “the war to end all wars.” Every generation thinks its experiences are unique or that it has managed to square the circle. It is just this gullible over-confidence that leads to conflict. The sins that lead to war (pride, avarice etc) exist in European hearts just as much as in Russian, American, African, etc.

    It’s also naive to think that sixty years is enough to erase a thousand years of virulent anti-Semitism and aggression. Privately some of Germany’s neighbors are probably not unhappy to have a large amount of American troops garrisoned there.

  • Zak

    Digby,
    Thank you forthe correction. I’m curious how they move vehicles around, although it mightnot be as much of an issue since quite a few bases have closed since the end of the Cold War.

    In South Korea, where exercisesare still conducted, convoys do move around. There was an incident, leading to protests (although not MM-sanctioned terrorist attacks on the American “occupiers”) after an armored in such a convoy ran over two girls a few years ago.

  • I have been against the war on Iraq since day one, but the blame for this tragic death lies not on our boys, whose lives are in constant danger, but rather on President Obama, who failed to end President Bush’s illegal occupation of that country.

    Let’s follow Russel Kirk’s counsel and hang both war criminals on the White House lawn.

  • Zak

    In what sense is it illegal? It was authorized by Congress and legitimized first by the UN (after the invasion) and then by the Iraqi government (with the SOFA). The invasion may have been illegal (I’m agnostic on the arguments about enforcing previous Security Council resolutions without a subsequent explicit authorization to use force) but the occupation and subsequent situation are not.

  • Zak, illegal in the sense that Catholic tradition regards unjust laws not as laws, but as acts of violence. That’s my third cent. 🙂

    Matt, thanks for sharing your story. I didn’t know you were in the military. Are you in Veterans for Peace?

  • Matt Talbot

    You’re welcome, Nate – and no, I’m not in Veterans for Peace. I’ll give them a look.

  • Matt Talbot

    You’re welcome, Nate – and no, I’m not in Veterans for Peace. I’ll give them a look.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    Germany has one of the strongest peace movements. In general, the anti-Iraq-war demonstrations were biggest in Europe. It may not last forever, but it’s certainly an achievement to have a peaceful continent, to be able to drive from Amsterdam to Barcelona without borders. There are many peace-loving people in the USA as well, it’s just that the scales are tilted sufficiently for warmongers to go unpunished. Right now, the USA is the problem, not Europe. I am just as appalled at things that happened in my own country, it’s a sickening feeling to walk the streets Jews were forced to “clean” with toothbrushes as onlookers cheered and jeered. Not to mention visiting a concentration camp, I remember it as if it was yesterday, I was there twice as a child and an adolescent. But, equivocation is pointless. (not to mention that the genocide against the Native Americans and slavery wouldn’t exactly make the US great anyway) The present is what counts, and it’s the USA that’s the cause of much bloodshed.

    I also thought the other day that the huge size of the USA is an obstacle to resistance. Getting a couple million people on European streets is a lot easier than having to get to D.C. from San Francisco.
    —–
    Nate, you were an Army Ranger, right ? That’s quite the change ! We still disagree on violence in self-defense (I’d still shoot someone posing a possibly lethal threat), but I agree with you on the military. Maybe you should write a book on your journey – “From Hooah to Hallelujah – an Army Ranger finds peace”

  • Gerald Naus,

    Well said.

  • Thanks for the comments. Some were good, some were predictable.

    I post these stories as often as I can to keep in front of us the reality of military service, so we stay grounded in real life and so that we do not fall for the myth of the ideal soldier. This is what our soldiers are taught to do, as two veterans, Nate and Matt, affirmed for us.

    I post these stories, not to demonize soldiers, but so that we will stop dehumanizing soldiers by teaching them to dehumanize others. Let us all pray for an end to war and an end to all preparation for war, and especially that soldiers have the courage to put down their arms, leave their nets, and follow the Master.