Why They Fight

Prior to last weekend few, if any, members of the media were concerned about the status of the soldiers in Iraq or those who had returned from the fighting. There were scant reports about lack of equipment and the needless use of Humvees which only acted as magnets for RPG attacks, but overall these were afterthoughts. The main focus has always been to either strengthen the forces that are there, or to bring them all home.

Yet last weekend the Washington Post ran a now infamous story on the state of the Walter Reed US military medical facility which treats veterans of the Iraq war. If you haven’t read it I suggest you find the time.

Since their release much attention has been paid to Walter Reed specifically, but little more to the state of hearts and minds of those still involved in the fighting, or en route to yet another deployment.

Consider the mental anguish a soldier must endure given the nature of the conflict in Iraq, where danger literally hides behind every corner:

A gunman, clutching an AK-47, bobs his head around the corner of an alleyway close to a school.

Once. Twice. On the third occasion a child, a boy seven or eight years old, is thrust out in front of him. The gunman holds him firmly by the arm and steps out for instant into full view of the Bradley’s gunner to get a proper look, then yanks the boy back and disappears.

“That is really dirty,” says Specialist Chris Jankow, in the back of the Bradley, with a mixture of contempt, anger and frustration. “They know exactly what our rules of engagement are. They know we can’t fire back.”

A few minutes and a few hundred metres later the performance is repeated. A woman and three small children emerge uncertainly from behind a building, little more than a shack. They stare at the approaching armour. After a few seconds they retreat from view; then the process is repeated. The third time they emerge, a fighter is crouching behind them with a rocket-propelled grenade aimed at Jankow’s Bradley. The group disappears.

There is a long pause, a moment of excruciating moral conflict for the soldiers and for the gunner in particular.

Not to shoot would be to imperil their own lives or those of their colleagues, both American and Iraqi. To shoot would be to risk killing civilians who have been shoved in front of their guns to shield insurgent fighters.

Consider the impact fighting such as this has on soldiers, driving them to do the abhorrent:

Sgt Paul Cortez, one of five men facing criminal charges for the atrocity, described how he and his comrades discussed “having sex with an Iraqi female” and then selected their target in such a way as to minimise getting caught.

“She kept trying to keep her legs closed and saying stuff in Arabic,” Cortez said. “During the time me and Barker were raping Abeer, I heard gunshots that came from the bedroom. After Barker was done, Green came out and said that he had killed them all… Green then placed himself between Abeer’s legs to rape her.”

Green shot the girl dead too, at which point the soldiers set her on fire. The fire prompted neighbours to contact Abeer’s uncle, who discovered the bodies.

Not to excuse them of their actions, but such examples should resound loudly when we cry for these boys to come home. How will we treat these shattered individuals who gave so much sacrifice when they return, mere shadows of their former selves? Will we treat them with the levels of respect they deserve, or will they be relegated the meager, borderline abusive, treatment as evidenced by Walter Reed?


  1. Posted February 24, 2007 at 3:48 am | Permalink

    And will we take the time to think through the price we ask of individuals the next time a President gets an itch to have a war?

    I think that is where elected officials failed us all the most – no one seemed to say, “Now, let’s think this through. How many incidents of abuse will we likely have? We have them in all wars. How many PTSD cases will we likely have, and how will we treat them? How do we feel about the fact that abuse will happen, lives on both sides will be ruined, and Al Jazeera will publish the stories in grisly detail? What does this really cost?”

    And that’s why I have little patience with Hillary’s refusal to admit it was a mistake.

  2. Posted February 24, 2007 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree more, and whether you like him and his policies or not, you have to give John Edwards some credit for coming right out and bluntly saying “I was wrong” about Iraq.

  3. Posted February 24, 2007 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Indeed we do. I understand the President’s pitch that “the congress had the same information that I did” is partly true. Apparently the factual data were placed in a room in the Capitol for the examination of senators and reps – and only a few took the time to double-check the President’s spins.

    Makes Hillary’s claim even more unreasonable.

    Good to meet you –

  4. Posted February 24, 2007 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure if she’s trying to play the “I stand by my convictions” card or not, if she is that might be unwise given the current administrations use of the same spin-doctoring.

    She really needs to sever any and all policy ties to the catastrophe that is Bushs White House.


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