Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Winter Soldier-ing

I'm home this morning, which is unusual for me. MSNBC is breathlessly waiting for Barack Obama to give a 20 minute speech explaining how very, very much he disagrees with 30-seconds of speech by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. They have several black pastors and Pat Buchanan standing by, all convinced this is the most important issue in the world today, and that Obama must satisfy them in this speech, or his candidacy is over.

And I realize it's all about power with them; that they all relish the chance, as a congregation does when it turns on its pastor, to stick forks in the person on the pedestal, and bring them down at least "a notch or two."

On Democracy Now!, while I'm waiting, I'm listening to the Winter Soldier hearings, only this time it's Iraq, not Vietnam. But in this anniversary week of the My Lai massacre, it might as well be Vietnam redux. In more ways than one.

During the course of my three tours, the rules of engagement changed a lot. It seemed like every time we turned around we had different rules of engagement. And they told us the reasons they were changing them was because it depended on the climate of the area at the time, what the threat level was deemed to be. And the higher the threat level was, the more viciously we were permitted and expected to respond.

And, for example, during the invasion, we were told to use target identification before engaging with anyone. But if the town or the city that we were approaching was a known threat, if the unit that went through the area before we did took a high number of casualties, we were basically—we were allowed to shoot whatever we wanted. It was deemed to be a free-fire zone. So we would roll through the town, and anything that we saw, everything that was saw, we engaged it and opened fire on everything. And there was really—I mean, there was really no rule governing the amount of force we were allowed to use on targets during the invasion.

I remember one woman was walking by, and she was carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was heading towards us. So we lit her up with the Mark 19, which is an automatic grenade launcher. And when the dust settled, we realized that the bag was only full of groceries. And, I mean, she had been trying to bring us food, and we blew her to pieces for it.
In another instance, it was actually a mayor of a town in our AO near Haditha that got shot. Our command showed us pictures from the incident. They had gathered the whole company together, and they were showing pictures of all of this, you know, what everything looked like, and pointed out the—that the reason that they did this was because there was a really nice, tight shot group in the windshield, and he announced to the company that this is what good Marine shooting looks like. And that was the mayor of the town. And it was actually my squad that was, after that, tasked with going to apologize to the family and pay reparations. But it was kind of like, basically, all we did was go there and, you know, give them some money and then leave. You know, “Oh, well” is the way it seemed they wanted us to apologize to them. It was really a joke.
Yesterday on Democracy Now!, Seymour Hersh recalled investigating the My Lai massacre. He went to the home of one of the soldiers involved, to interview him. There he met the soldier's mother:

And then this woman, this sort of uneducated, very rural woman from on the banks of the Wabash River and very south of southern Indiana, she looked at me, and she said—very angry and very low—she said, “I gave them a good boy, and they sent me back a murderer.” And, you know, you hear those stories. I’m right there. It’s a moment you’ll never forget. And I—no matter how much I write about it, I still think about it. And we’re just hearing it today all day, again and again. And the bottom line is, this is what war is.
But the bottom line in America today, is what Barack Obama has to say about something his pastor said in 30 seconds, out of almost 208,000 minutes of sermons. The reality of war? What war is? We'd rather play political games and get our faces on the TeeVee. Nobody wants to talk about the reality of war; we want to talk about the reality of our ability to make politicians jump through hoops of our own devising.

As of the time I write this, Google has 41 articles under "News" for "Winter Soldier." Only one of them, the Boston Globe, is a major news outlet. None of them are NPR or a major broadcast or cable network. If a war crime happens and no one reports on the telling of it, is it a war crime?

Barack Obama gave an excellent speech on racism and how he distances himself from his former pastor, and now all the talking heads on MSNBC are falling all over themselves to congratulate him on it, and almost no one is talking about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's 30 second soundbite which, apparently, was enough to almost bring down the republic. Good on him; Obama did what he needed to do. Overlooked in the commentary will be the fact that Mr. Obamaa specifically distanced himself from these comments by the Rev. Wright:

We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant. Because the stuff we have done overseas has now brought right back into our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost.
He discarded them by dragging out an analysis of the Middle East worthy of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney: that Israel is our "stalwart ally" and our problems in the Middle East are due to "hateful ideologies." It's a good political position, but a damned poor foreign policy position, ridiculous on its face analysis, and a comforting lie because it, too, plays into the clear desire by America, as evidenced by its broadcast media, to ignore the atrocities recounted by the Winter Soldiers of Iraq, just as we have discarded Abu Ghraib as the product of "a few bad apples." But that's okay; Barack Obama has made the subject of race safe for public discussion in America, now.

The question of why "they" hate us, can be postponed for yet another day. I understand, too: politicians stand on the shoulders of prophets like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but they only do it a generation or so later, when the prophet is safely dead. Thus does this "more perfect union" get "perfected," in Mr. Obama's words.

Hoo-rah, the Marines say.

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