This Is What Happens In War
by James Glaser
Washington, March 19, 2006"A bloody videotape shot by a local journalism student has prompted the Pentagon to launch a criminal investigation into an incident that left at least 15 Iraqi civilians dead in the city of Haditha."
This report written for ABC News by Jonathan Karl is about what happened in Haditha four months ago. It is just coming to light now, and the only reason this story is making the news, is the video, and the first hand account of the incident it gives.
Four months ago the official press release about what happened that day only said, "A U.S. Marine and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed yesterday from a blast of a roadside bomb." There have been scores of similar reports ever since this war in Iraq started, but this one had a video to go along with it.
Jonathan Karl reports, "Military officials now acknowledge the Iraqis were not killed by the bombbut they now say, by crossfire as U.S. Marines stormed the surrounding homes."
This whole thing started when a roadside bomb exploded killing 20 year old Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, who was in a convoy with twelve other Marines. Aparisim Ghosh, a writer for Time Magazine said, 'We launched an investigation of our own with the help of a human rights group. We spoke to some eyewitnesses and it turns out all the people were killed by the Marines in small arms fire and in a few instances, by an explosive that was tossed into the home by the Marines themselves."
The video shows the dead bodies of three children and a dozen adults, seven of whom were women. One man on the tape says while the film is panning the children's bodies, "These are children, are you telling me these are terrorists?
This is what happens in war. This whole incident is just horrible, but it is not an aberration. Every time another soldier or Marine is killed or wounded, the stress level in their unit rises. As any combatant will tell you, the fear factor keeps you right on the edge, and almost anything can push you over that edge.
Every time a unit is hit with a road-side bomb, every American on the scene has adrenalin dumping into their body, and almost anything, a sound, or an unexpected movement can start one of the troops firing his or her weapon. Our troops are trained to fight, and when one of your comrades opens up, you don't stop to ask what is going on. You open up too, and not until all the firing is over do you start worrying about what prompted it.
It takes one very well trained unit, not to return fire when fired on, but many times you are returning fire in all directions, because you have no idea of where the shots came from. If there are civilians in the line of fire, they become what the Pentagon calls collateral damage. This is what happens in war.
In this war in Iraq American troops are asked to make night raids on suspected terrorist hideouts, and when American troops are kicking in doors in the middle of the night looking for terrorists, they have no idea of what is behind that door. It could be an armed terrorist just waiting to get a clear shot at them, or it might be a cowering child scared out of their minds. Either way that Marine in the lead must be ready to make a split second decision if he should fire his weapon or not.
For sure his heart is pumping, and he is having the adrenalin rush of his life, as is everyone else in his team. If something sets off that first man to fire his weapon, every one else who can safely shoot without hitting their fellow Marine will. Woe to the child in the next room who tries at that moment to bolt.
This is what happens in war. It isn't what happens to just American troops, no it happens to all troops on any side in any war. Mistakes are made, and when a soldier finds that he has killed a child, the child's mother, or both, he keeps that memory in his head until he dies.
We ask a lot of our troops, and they do their best to not make mistakes, but sometimes (more often than we would like) when your wounded comrade is screaming in pain, and you are scared, the only thing you have is the flight or fight response. You can't run because your comrades are holding their ground. So without thinking you open up on whoever is in front of you. And when the shooting stops, you have the time to see what you have done. Most times you did your job the way you were supposed to, but sometimes what you did makes you sick.This is what happens in War.
BACK to the 2006 Politics Columns.