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Friday, December 28, 2007

The Good Soldiers

IED explodes in IraqMoral clarity. It's rare in Bush's Global War on Terror, where people argue in favor of torture, where wars are fought against people who never attacked us, and where the ideas of justice and the rule of law are ridiculed by right wing pundits more concerned with their party than their nation. Moral clarity has become wishful thinking, with candidates competing to see which can portray themselves as the most Holy, which loses the most nights' sleep crying over the fate of the unborn, which prays the most often. These same candidates also compete over which is the most merciless, the most bloodthirsty, and the least concerned with civil liberties. On the question of constitutional rights, we're told, "The Constitution is not a suicide pact" -- as if a bunch of lunatic cultists can erase the United States from the map. Where there was once moral clarity, there's now cognitive dissonance. The US is both very, very strong and very, very weak. We're asked to believe that we can use our military to rebuild the world, but that a bunch of wild-eyed terrorists can kill us all at any minute.

Our moments of moral clarity seem strange. Wise decisions become oddities. Bush's GWoT demands that we act, now, immediately and, for God's sake, never, ever take a moment to breath and think. Because when someone takes that moment, the logic of the whole thing falls apart. We see war for the sake of war and everything we were brought up to believe called unamerican and unpatriotic. The Constitution is, after all, just a goddamned piece of paper and the great men who now stride the Earth are allowed to ignore it.

For US citizens, our nation and our world have become very alien to us. We end this year where we ended the last, in a seemingly unending madness without purpose.

The Army Times tells us of one moment of moral clarity, one wise decision. In our present time, this is referred to as a "mutiny."

As they started loading into the Bradley fighting vehicle to roll out of Combat Outpost Apache, the soldiers laughed as if they weren’t afraid. As if each, at least twice, hadn't felt the shocking heat and been deafened by the roar of roadside bombs. As if they hadn't already lost eight friends to improvised explosive devices and snipers and grenades.

These soldiers of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, laughed because it gave them courage to step back into the Bradleys. If they didn't go, somebody else would have to.

"Somewhere on that street there's an IED," Sgt. 1st Class Tim Ybay told 2nd Platoon on June 20, briefing them just before they patrolled the streets of Adhamiya, Iraq, as they had been doing for 10 months.

There wasn't that day, but there was the next. Five soldiers found it, "when an IED flipped their 30-ton Bradley upside-down like a cheap toy and set it ablaze." Those five died.

The surviving platoon members comforted each other that their friends died looking out for their brothers. They told each other they would have done the same. They cried and beat their fists into walls. They knelt in the sand and bent their heads and tried to convince themselves Iraq was worth it.

But that was hard because they no longer believed they were fighting for Iraq. They had, once, a long time ago. Before they had seen the Iraqi bodies with their heads dipped in acid, before the children tossed grenades at them. Now the locals refused even to acknowledge dead neighbors sprawled on their sidewalks.

The soldiers of Charlie Company had given up fighting for the Iraqis. They fought for each other.

And that was the trouble -- they were fighting for each other. The war had become a mission of revenge for the platoon. Charlie 1-26 were making war for the sake of war -- or, at least, on the verge of it.

AT reporter Kelly Kennedy told Democracy Now's! Amy Goodman what happened after the platoon lost those five. "...I got a couple of emails from the guys saying, 'We just lost four more men, and they want us to go out on patrol, and we're not going to do it,'" she told Goodman.

And then, they were supposed to go out on patrol again that day. And they, as a platoon, the whole platoon -- it was about forty people -- said, "We're not going to do it. We can't. We're not mentally there right now." And for whatever reason, that information didn't make it up to the company commander. All he heard was, "2nd Platoon refuses to go." So he insisted that they come. They still refused. So volunteers went out to talk with them, and then he got the whole situation. In the meantime, it was called a mutiny, which is probably a bigger word than should be used for it, but that's what the battalion called it.

The platoon realized that they were suffering from PTSD and were a danger to the people around them. They were afraid of committing war crimes. "Several platoon members were afraid their anger could set loose a massacre," reads DN's! report. Their moment of moral clarity and wisdom was considered mutinous.

For myself, I consider it heroic. It's amazing that they were all able to recognize where their heads were at and defer to their better judgment. Especially when you consider how other soldiers had reacted to their situation.

First Sergeant McKinney was well loved by his men. He was Bravo Company. He was considered intelligent. When they had a question, he was the one they went to, because he could explain things. Everyone thought he was a great family man. One of the soldiers, Ian Nealon [phon.], told me that he used to ride to work with him every day and that he just loved him.

And one day, he went out on patrol with his guys, and they had just been called back into Apache, which was the name of the combat outpost where they were in Adhamiya, and he apparently looked -- said that he had had it. He looked at a wall, he fired a round, and then he took his M4, and he put it under his chin, and he killed himself in front of his men. It left a lot of people just saddened and horrified. And then, the next week, Bravo Company was hit by an IED, and they lost four guys, too.

I suppose they realized that any one of them could be First Sergeant McKinney. That serving with honor had become impossible in their circumstance. Given the options of suicide, massacre, or mutiny, they made the only wise choice. "They're -- I need to say this: they are good guys," Kennedy said. "I mean, I saw them take care of each other. I saw them take care of Iraqis." They made the only decision good guys could make.

For the Army's part, they just wanted to make it go away. Spc. Gerry DeNardi told AT, "Captain Strickland read us our rights. We had 15 yes-or-no questions, and no matter how you answered them, it looked like you disobeyed an order. No one asked what happened. And there's no record -- no article 15. Nothing to show it happened."

It's not surprising that the Army would want to make this go away. A story of a platoon who's only moral option was to refuse to fight wouldn't make Bush's GWoT look very good. It would give us that moment I mentioned earlier, the moment to breath and think, where we see the logic of the whole thing fall apart.

Charlie 1-26 represents what we should do -- recognize our descent into madness and stop it before we descend further. Whether we will or not is an open question.


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