Hell's raging in so many places at the moment that it'll take me the better part of this week, and maybe next, to deal with it all -- assuming that I will. East Timor, Afghanistan, and as ever, Iraq, continue to burn and suffer to such a degree that the tappings of a single soul seem grossly inadequate, a tiny water balloon tossed at a rising wall of flame. Makes one want to go into hibernation mode, where the Real World is kept at bay or simply denied by absorbing the many apolitical diversions available to we lucky Americans. But then, that guarantees more criminal insanity will go unchecked, and there's plenty of stateside denial as it is, most recently applied to the Haditha massacre in Iraq.
That we are largely a brainwashed country should be beyond any serious debate by now; yet, being brainwashed, there's very little serious debate to begin with. Still, even in the flurry of justifications and bare-bones ass covering, one can find elements of the larger truth. In a recent NYTimes report on how Haditha is affecting the Camp Pendleton Marine base, Cpl. Michael Miller, who fought in Falluja and Ramadi, observed, "In Iraq, everything you do has to be cleared with a commanding officer. You just can't go clearing houses without the permission of higher-ups."
If what Cpl. Miller says is true, then there goes the "rotten apple" defense. And anyway, we know that someone in the chain-of-command knew this massacre would not play well with many observers, which is why there was an attempted cover-up. Frontline grunts don't have the power or reach to minimize or erase such a grisly deed, so it makes sense that their superiors would be actively involved in trying to divert the inevitable attention that comes when civilians, women and children among them, are executed in their own homes.
But acknowledgement of this reality doesn't necessarily inspire condemnation of the act. Cpl. Miller added, "I just think the marines did what they had to do. I don't know why innocent people are dead, but someone must have seen a gun." This sentiment seems to be the prevailing one at Camp Pendleton, where active duty and former Marines interviewed by the Times appear incapable of accepting the massacre on its face.
"In the heat of combat, you cannot hesitate; he who hesitates is lost," said Marine vet Jerry Alexander. "I would not prosecute these young men because they were just doing their jobs."
Lawrence Harper, another ex-Marine, explained, "When a bullet comes at you and you turn around and half your buddy's head is blown off, it changes the way you think forever."
I'm sure it does. But given who was murdered in those homes, one must ask, how does this translate into shooting a child pointblank in the skull? Is the sense of vengeance so extreme that everyone's a target, regardless of age or possible threat? And how do you execute women and children face-to-face in "the heat of battle"? (Of course, seeing your buddy's head blown off can also change the way you think in the opposite direction, as the growing roster of antiwar vets shows.)
It's somewhat understandable that those so invested in their military identities want to avoid thinking the worst about Haditha, but that doesn't excuse it. After all, this isn't the first -- and sure as hell won't be the last -- massacre of civilians at the hands of US soldiers and Marines in our glorious history. And yet whenever something like this occurs, domestic commentators appear perplexed that young Americans could do such horrific things, while both professional and amateur patriots either deny it, change the subject to "What about the beheaders?", or, if cornered, take pride in mass murder and warn people they'll never meet to not "mess with the US." Meanwhile, the mass of the population go about their debt-ridden lives, doing their best to avoid direct mention of the barbarism and misery that they pay for, wanting merely to be left alone to consume fast food and reality TV, and pretend that none of this really matters. Because if it did, what National Guard remains stateside would be on 24-hour guard outside the White House gates to keep angry, disgusted citizens from rushing it, and local representatives would be holed up in their offices, waving tattered white flags out of broken windows. Jefferson would understand, as would Grant, Twain, Emma Goldman and Malcolm X. But who in this land of endless strip malls would understand them?
MORE: On Haditha (with Geographix!) from Jon Schwarz, who recently went the ringer route by enlisting the help of heavy-hitters Seth Ackerman and Michael Pollak. Kinda like what the Yankees do, though Jon's site boasts a higher batting average.