Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Women and the Children

There is a view in the West that assumes the moral high ground and in some ways it is hard to shake that off. Stories of stoning adulterous women and cutting the hands off thieves sound so very much like the Dark Ages which we, as a Western society, feel that we left behind long ago. The barbaric acts that constitute parts of Sharia law leave us shuddering at the brutality some Arabs seem to be capable of.

In the Iraq war, much has been made of the beheadings that took place mainly in 2004 and 2005. They served again to reinforce our image of the uncivilized indigenous fighters compared with our troops who regularly try and avoid civilian casualties. With the advent of alternative media possibilities such as U-Tube, the general population began getting a glimpse behind the scenes of the Western allied war machine and it probably surprised many, that pilots, for example, ask permission to engage a target and await confirmation before they destroy it. It was an indication of the laudable lengths the military goes to, to try and ensure that as few civilian casualties as possible occur. At the same time, we, as the public, are shown just how vastly outmatched the local fighting force is compared to the arsenal and technological sophistication demonstrated by the U.S. Military.

So we have on the one hand, a rag-tag group of insurgents who stop at nothing in their attempts to sway politics, public opinion or sheer terror and on the other, a super-advanced fighting force that has all the means at hand for targeting and destroying enemy targets with the ever-ubiquitous ‘pin-point’ precision. This makes us feel good. We haven’t got people on our side murdering women and children willy-nilly which puts us in the right and the enemy, where our governments want them, morally in the wrong. So why don’t the Iraqis love us?

The problem is two-fold. Firstly, there is the subjectivity of morals. I’d like to think of ethics as objective rules for living. The truth however, is that an Iraqi mother who’s child was killed by an American soldier cannot be expected to think “well they didn’t mean to kill my son.” She is angry and rightfully so. 429 people were shot dead at checkpoints by U.S. forces during the past twelve month period as reported by
McClatchy Newspapers.

Those are 429 people to add to the list of Iraqis accidentally bombed, burned and otherwise killed by the coalition troops. Not a single relative of those killed will have any understanding for the presence of foreign fighters on their soil and given the nature of the Iraqi family demographic, we are talking about a lot of angry people. But still, we hold firm to our moral compass and proclaim that these ‘regrettable incidents’ could not be avoided and we are very sorry.

The second factor is that of the willful deaths of Iraqis caused by coalition troops. This again is split into those who died as insurgent fighters defending themselves or attacking Western forces and those who were murdered in cold blood. The latter of course are the ones who will sink the neo-Conservative crusade. It does not matter that we are talking about a few bad apples and it does not matter that the incidents are few and far between. Haditha is a black mark on the United States’ military occupation of Iraq. Haditha is the nail in the coffin of the ‘good guy’ argument.

The Washington Post has reported on the latest in the Haditha scandal in which marines opened fire and killed several civilians in cold blood. There is fresh evidence to suggest that the marines also knowingly murdered women and small children.

One of the
Marines charged with murdering civilians in Haditha, Iraq, in 2005 knew that only women and children were huddled in a back bedroom in a house there, but he opened the door and shot them anyway, a squadmate testified Tuesday.

"I told him, there's women and kids in that room," Lance Cpl. Humberto M. Mendoza said of Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum. Tatum's response was, "Well, shoot them," Mendoza said.

The problem for the United States is, that it doesn’t matter if you kill three children or three thousand children. You become a child murderer. Just as those who are generally wont to label other groups for the actions of a few, the Iraqis will label the U.S. forces based on the actions of the marines. I have repeatedly heard the insurgents referred to as “beheaders” although surely the small number of beheadings that took place, were carried out by a few bad apples. But in our minds, from our Western perspective, many see them that way, in the same way as they will see us in the dark light of the Haditha killings, as those that came and murdered their children.

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