Rep. Murtha, Marines and Haditha

As a veteran, I fought to protect our Constitution, not just for one party, but, for all Americans.  As a veteran, I also believe that veterans who have put their lives on the line have a special place in voicing their opinions.  While we are all Americans, I simply believe that the people who put their lives on the line deserve the right to push that envelope further than anyone else.  Also, as a veteran, I know that our service members try to protect their own no matter what.

Rep. Murtha is a 37 year veteran of the Marine Corps.  He stated that, “Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood”, after the killings of civilians in Haditha, Iraq, by American Marines.

Now, a former Marine, Shawn Bryan, has said that he didn’t put his life on the line for his country, “just so some fat little bastard can come back and run his mouth”, at a rally for Bill Russell who is challenging Murtha for his seat.

Who is right and who is wrong?

First, we must look at the evidence.  Time magazine reported:

But one morning last November, some members of Kilo Company apparently didn’t attempt to distinguish between enemies and innocents. Instead, they seem to have gone on the worst rampage by U.S. service members in the Iraq war, killing as many as 24 civilians in cold blood. The details of what happened in Haditha were first disclosed in March by TIME’s Tim McGirk and Aparisim Ghosh, and their reporting prompted the military to launch an inquiry into the civilian deaths. The darkest suspicions about the killings were confirmed last week, when members of Congress who were briefed on the two ongoing military investigations disclosed that at least some members of a Marine unit may soon be charged in connection with the deaths of the Iraqis–and that the charges may include murder, which carries the death penalty. “This was a small number of Marines who fired directly on civilians and killed them,” said Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican and former Marine who was briefed two weeks ago by Marine Corps officials. “This is going to be an ugly story.”

From what I have read, all of the eyewitness accounts support the fact that the Marines went on a rampage that resulted in the death of civilians.  That all of the Marines involved but one were “cleared” of any wrongdoing is not surprising to me.  Once you make the distinction in combat that a soldier must, in the blink of an eye, know the difference between friend or foe, combatant or noncombatant, you open your entire military up for prosecution and frankly, no commander wants to do that.  The problem here is that we expect that exact standard from our law enforcement officers.

As many who have read me knows, I am not only a veteran who has been to a warzone twice, I am also a former law enforcement officer.  I have had to live under both standards, so, I know that you can make that decision in the blink of an eye.

In this case, it isn’t a matter of right or wrong.  

Rep. Murtha was right to denounce the killing of civilians.  Mr. Bryan is right in the fact that during wartime, you don’t want to hold your soldiers to a “think first shoot last” mindset.

The problem here is the circumstance.

There is a clear difference when you are in the heat of a firefight when the combatants you are engaging become intermixed with noncombatants and when a unit goes rogue and simply starts killing everyone they come across.  We learned this difference with the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam and Tiger Force which went on a seven month killing spree in Vietnam.  And just like those instances, we’ve learned that our military is loath to prosecute those who commit such crimes.

For those who are involved in combat, your first thought is of your safety and damn everyone else.  You want to go home alive.  For those who are involved in combat, you feel a special connection to the men who endured it with you.  You survived a hell few could ever understand or ever relate to, and, anytime someone criticizes that, no matter who it is, you react.

The problem here is the training.

As a law enforcement officer, you are trained to react on what you see.  You are trained, in that split second, to distinguish between combatant and noncombatant.  As a soldier, you are trained to kill, and, oh yeah, try not to kill any civilians.  Oh yeah, btw, they are all “gooks”, “ragheads”, so, you really don’t see a civilian do you?

As a former law enforcement officer, I know, for a fact, that a person can make that distinction in the blink of an eye.  As a former veteran who has been to a warzone, I know that when the shit hits the fan, many simply start shooting at whatever is around them in order to survive because simply, you have no clue where the next combatant is at.

It is two different worlds.  However you try to justify it, killing a civilian is just that; the death of an innocent.


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