In Context, a Shameful Story with Two Sides,
I ordered this book when I first heard that the Marines had gone bezerk and killed several families in cold blood in Iraq, an action that caused me as a former Marine to weep silently for a time.
I certainly recommend that the reviews titled War Crimes and WAR CRIMES, and Hatchet Job, be read, for they have at least two good points that must be remembered and respected:
1) Indiscriminate air strikes are vastly more of a war crime than isolated incidents of ground forces going bezerk.
EDIT of 16 Jun 06. I met a really fascinating individual in Louiseville, Kentucky, H.C. (Bud) Meyer, ex NASA, now Advanced Systems Integrators, who in a very active retirement is doing everything he can to help fire fighters not die at an average age of forty. It turns out that heat stress on their hearts over the course of twenty years is killing them. He developed a new suit that uses the backback (lessned in weight) to both feed them oxygen and to cool their suits, and the preliminary results are nothing short of sensational. I'be been a Marine and seen combat but never had to “do” combat with a full load and all the body armor, in the desert. I am absolutely convinced that a “heat stress defense” would be plausible. As much as I believe that Marines should be punished for indiscriminate murder of civilians, I also believe that Bud had brought forward an objective factor that is both relevant to to ground troop war crimes evaluation, and relevant to national-level leaders looking for ways to increase discipline by lessening the stress of combat in heat with a full load.
2) The failure of Pentagon, theater, and service leadership to investigate and prosecute may be understandable from a total force morale perspective, but is unconscionable in the larger global hearts and minds or “Information Operations” perspective. We have lost the moral high ground in the Middle East for many reasons, but Abu Grahib and the indiscriminate Marine executions of several families shame America and make it more likely that more America soldiers will die than otherwise.
A few things jumped out at me:
1) Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, then serving as President Ford's Secretary of Defense, refused to investigate and prosecute this matter. We should not expect him to be morally aggressive with respect to atrocities committed by Americans in Iraq and elsewhere.
2) There are clear signs when troops are beginning to “lose it” and are more likely to go bezerk, including body mutilation, and bodies without weapons (and very little bodies, such as the beheaded baby featured in this book). It should be possible for our generals to keep a pulse on the troops by having medical forensics and simply “paying attention.” Just as genocide has eight stages and can be predicted, I believe that ground force war crimes can be anticipated and personnel rotated and calmed.
3) Finally, I share the author's concluding view, that writing this book and bringing these atrocities to light, is valuable as a vaccination for the future. I believe in retrospective indictment and retospective impeachment, not necessarily in the serving of sentences past the statute of limitations (although war crimes have no such limitation). There are in my view three levels of war crime: strategic (elective wars, lying to the public); operational (indiscriminate air campaigns, focusing on nuclear proliferation instead of the control of small arms); and tactical–indiscriminate murder without honor, especially of women and children.
It merits comment that this book could not have been written without the emergence of a new file following the death of a key person. I believe that we will see a great deal of historical information come out in the next ten years that will, with the power of distributed processing, allow the people to judge their elected and appointed officials, in detail. I sense a new passion for justice and accountability being made possible by books such as this, and the Internet, and it is my hope that this will overtime reduce the “culture of cheating” as well as the likeliness of “going bezerk.”
The war crimes in this book were isolated, and are vastly surpassed in evil by things we are doing now and are planning to do, but I cannot shake the feeling that the men in this book are “us.” This is not a war story for wanna-be warriors (some of the reviews really cause me sadness, as if this book were entertainment)–it is an ethics lesson for future and present leaders of all ranks, because there but for God's grace go I, or you.