“We Were Fighting To Make It Home Alive”
Okay, I wasn’t going to blog on the WikiLeaks video again, but Glenn Greenwald’s conversation with a former soldier, Spc. Josh Steiber, who served in the same company (Bravo 2-16) at the same time as the ground troops who were involved in the July, 2007, engagement shown in the video — is too important to pass over.
Stieber compellingly explains how the incident depicted there — from the initial killing of the Reuters journalist to the shooting of unarmed rescuers to the language used by the pilots — was anything but rare; it was extremely common.
The overriding takeaway from the interview is that U.S. soldiers are taught in basic training, in all kinds of ways, to dehumanize the enemy (and that very phrase “the enemy” is one such way), to hate the enemy, and to kill without emotion. When they get to Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever they’re being shipped, the reality of combat, and of being in the midst of a war where the entire country is the battlefield and “the enemy” — literally — is the entire local population, reinforces that training quite effectively. And whatever a person’s original motivation was for enlisting in the military — liberating oppressed people from brutal dictators, paving the way for democracy, protecting the American “way of life,” payback for 9/11, making the world safer by taking out the bad guys — when they actually are in the midst of the reality of the American Way of War, the “mission” boils down to this: Complete your tour of duty without getting killed, and get home alive. That’s why those U.S. troops are there, in Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever “there” is: to complete their tour of duty without getting killed, and get home alive. That is the mission.
The complete interview transcript is here.
Audiotape and podcast of the interview are here.
And I highly recommend that you read this other piece by Glenn Greenwald, which is also linked in that brief quote above. Glenn wrote it the day after the Pentagon video was posted by WikiLeaks, and he addressed many of the points raised later in the interview with Stieber. Here is one clip (emphasis is Glenn’s). And please take particular note of the last paragraph in the clip. That is the bottom line, and it’s what is so consistently and thoroughly misunderstood by apologists for this kind of thing:
… Shining light on what our government and military do is so critical precisely because it forces people to see what is really being done and prevents myth and propaganda from distorting those realities. …
But there’s a serious danger when incidents like this Iraq slaughter are exposed in a piecemeal and unusual fashion: namely, the tendency to talk about it as though it is an aberration. It isn’t. It’s the opposite: it’s par for the course, standard operating procedure, what we do in wars, invasions, and occupation. The only thing that’s rare about the Apache helicopter killings is that we know about it and are seeing what happened on video. And we’re seeing it on video not because it’s rare, but because it just so happened (a) to result in the deaths of two Reuters employees, and thus received more attention than the thousands of other similar incidents where nameless Iraqi civilians are killed, and (b) to end up in the hands of WikiLeaks, which then published it. But what is shown is completely common. …
A major reason there are hundreds of thousands of dead innocent civilians in Iraq, and thousands more in Afghanistan, is because this is what we do. This is why so many of those civilians are dead. What one sees on that video is how we conduct our wars. That’s why it’s repulsive to watch people — including some ”liberals” — attack WikiLeaks for slandering The Troops, or complain that objections to these actions unfairly disparage the military because “our guys are the good guys” and they act differently “99.99999999% of the time.” That is blatantly false. …
As the video demonstrates, the soldiers in the Apache did not take a single step — including killing those unarmed men who tried to rescue the wounded — without first receiving formal permission from their superiors. Beyond that, the Pentagon yesterday — once the video was released — suddenly embraced the wisdom of transparency by posting online the reports of the so-called ”investigations” it undertook into this incident (as a result of pressure from Reuters). Those formal investigations not only found that every action taken by those soldiers was completely justified — including the firing on the unarmed civilian rescuers — but also found that there’s no need for any remedial steps to be taken to prevent future re-occurence. …
The WikiLeaks video is not an indictment of the individual soldiers involved — at least not primarily. Of course those who aren’t accustomed to such sentiments are shocked by the callous and sadistic satisfaction those soldiers seem to take in slaughtering those whom they perceive as The Enemy (even when unarmed and crawling on the ground with mortal wounds), but this is what they’re taught and trained and told to do. If you take even well-intentioned, young soldiers and stick them in the middle of a dangerous war zone for years and train them to think and act this way, this will inevitably be the result. The video is an indictment of the U.S. government and the war policies it pursues.
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