Monday, May 29, 2006

The Road to Haditha...

While details are sketchy on a holiday weekend when we pause to remember our war dead and those whose service has taken us, as a nation, to where we are today, one thing is certain, the road to Haditha is a dirty one that is not without painful precedent.

What we now know is only this: sometime in mid-November, a group of marines who appear to have been acting to avenge the murder, by an "insurgent," of one of their comrades days earlier, took it upon themselves to go into this small, yet perilous farming town, in Iraq, and perform wholesale slaughter upon 24 innocent men, women, and children. One woman was described, in a New York Times article, as bending down, and begging for mercy as she was shot "in cold blood," and at close range, by a marine. Even the most hard hearted, indeed those with lead running through their veins, cannot help but be moved by this image, as well as that of a young boy watching his parents brutally murdered arbitrarily, hunted down in a moment of fury, victims of war and the cruellest impulses that characterize human nature.

Arguably, it is this same mean instinct that drove military vehicles to plow into a crowd of civilians in Afghanistan earlier today prompting mass rioting, looting, and cursing of America, and Americans by the Afghan people.

Already the pundits are lining up to predict whether Haditha will be the most audacious, and miserable. act committed by our military, to date, in the name of a war on terror, or if Abu Ghraib will come in first. Already members of Congress are being asked to brace for investigations not only into this lurid affair, but into a most repulsive effort to cover it up, i.e., the report that high ranking military officials approached survivors of the blood bath at Haditha, and handed them checks for $2500 each. What would you consider fair compensation for the loss of a brother, a father, or grandmother? Such an attempt to placate, and appease victims of this tragedy is almost as dreadful as the murder itself. What's more, if the brass knew enough to try to conceal evidence of this senseless act of brutality, then they knew enough to prevent it from happening in the first place.

There are some who will contend that every war has its massacres, that combat fatigue leads to irrational, and random acts which would be unthinkable in times of normalcy. Others might say we may expect more blood to be shed in the name of "new Normal." Some might point to the My Lai massacre, as well as the horrors of Cambodia, to show that even the most horrific crimes are ravages of war, but something is different here. Something dangerous, and deadly, is happening to the men and women we send to combat, starting with Vietnam, when they can smoke dope, listen to Metallica, and blow away an entire village without remorse and, in many cases, without recrimination. When the line of demarkation between fantasy and reality becomes blurred, for whatever reason, and there is confusion as to what is right and wrong, the battlefield swells to the size of human consciousness.

For every obscenity committed by our military like the one, in Haditha, that comes to light, there are dozens more, on larger and smaller scales, where no one has survived to tell of it, and we must look with the furtive glance of one condemned upon those transgressions that cut to the core of what it means to be civilized, after all. For condemned we are, all of us, whether we participated in the massacre or not; we are condemned by our capacity for such unspeakable barbarism. We are condemned, too, by whatever desensitization arises from video game warfare, from growing up around toy soldiers, and plastic guns; from hiding our caskets as our crime of mystifying the wrenching, gutted dying that is war.

Moreover, in some huge way, those who occupy a modern military theatre still confuse the shadow on the wall of a cave with the sun not unlike the warriors of ancient Greece who also thought their Republics could not bleed. Ours is bleeding, and if we persist in living with the lie that we are not all responsible for healing this egregious wound, then we are no less guilty than any marine in the killing field that was Haditha last November.

So it is, then, that the road to Haditha is a long, and twisted path that speaks to the darkest cavity of the human body, the heart, as in the words of Joseph Conrad: 'We have lost the first of the ebb'...The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky-seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness." (Heart of Darkness.) Oh, "The horror, the horror" when a member of the human race commits such an atrocity, they gravely diminish us all, and the best way to honor our veterans, especially those who have paid the ultimate price, is by telling the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, and loud enough so that the entire world can hear it.