The Grinning Deathhead has a question:
How can you say with a straight face that you support the troops while advancing legislation that would undercut their mission and strengthen their enemies?
The Middle-Aged Lady in New Jersey sometimes likes to answer questions with questions: How can you say with a straight face that you support the troops when you contemptuously dismiss the real, actual experiences of real, flesh-and-blood American soldiers who are put into situations where they are forced to do terrible things, and pay for it with emotional pain and psychological trauma that will never be more to you than just words in a dictionary?
Here is an atrocity committed by a U.S. serviceman against an Iraqi family, which was witnessed by another serviceman, 23-year-old Philip Chrystal of Reno, Nevada:
“So we get started on this day, this one in particular,” recalled Spc. Philip Chrystal, 23, of Reno, who said he raided between twenty and thirty Iraqi homes during an eleven-month tour in Kirkuk and Hawija that ended in October 2005, serving with the Third Battalion, 116th Cavalry Brigade. “It starts with the psy-ops vehicles out there, you know, with the big speakers playing a message in Arabic or Farsi or Kurdish or whatever they happen to be, saying, basically, saying, Put your weapons, if you have them, next to the front door in your house. Please come outside, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And we had Apaches flying over for security, if they’re needed, and it’s also a good show of force. And we’re running around, and they–we’d done a few houses by this point, and I was with my platoon leader, my squad leader and maybe a couple other people.
“And we were approaching this one house,” he said. “In this farming area, they’re, like, built up into little courtyards. So they have, like, the main house, common area. They have, like, a kitchen and then they have a storage shed-type deal. And we’re approaching, and they had a family dog. And it was barking ferociously, ’cause it’s doing its job. And my squad leader, just out of nowhere, just shoots it. And he didn’t–motherfucker–he shot it and it went in the jaw and exited out. So I see this dog–I’m a huge animal lover; I love animals–and this dog has, like, these eyes on it and he’s running around spraying blood all over the place. And like, you know, What the hell is going on? The family is sitting right there, with three little children and a mom and a dad, horrified. And I’m at a loss for words. And so, I yell at him. I’m, like, What the fuck are you doing? And so the dog’s yelping. It’s crying out without a jaw. And I’m looking at the family, and they’re just, you know, dead scared. And so I told them, I was like, Fucking shoot it, you know? At least kill it, because that can’t be fixed….
“And–I actually get tears from just saying this right now, but–and I had tears then, too–and I’m looking at the kids and they are so scared. So I got the interpreter over with me and, you know, I get my wallet out and I gave them twenty bucks, because that’s what I had. And, you know, I had him give it to them and told them that I’m so sorry that asshole did that.
“Was a report ever filed about it?” he asked. “Was anything ever done? Any punishment ever dished out? No, absolutely not.”
Specialist Chrystal said such incidents were “very common.”
Here is what happens when U.S. troops conduct house-to-house raids:
Sgt. Dustin Flatt, 33, of Denver, estimates he raided “thousands” of homes in Tikrit, Samarra and Mosul. He served with the Eighteenth Infantry Brigade, First Infantry Division, for one year beginning in February 2004. “We scared the living Jesus out of them every time we went through every house,” he said.
Spc. Ali Aoun, 23, a National Guardsman from New York City, said he conducted perimeter security in nearly 100 raids while serving in Sadr City with the Eighty-Ninth Military Police Brigade for eleven months starting in April 2004. When soldiers raided a home, he said, they first cordoned it off with Humvees. Soldiers guarded the entrance to make sure no one escaped. If an entire town was being raided, in large-scale operations, it too was cordoned off, said Spc. Garett Reppenhagen, 32, of Manitou Springs, Colorado, a cavalry scout and sniper with the 263rd Armor Battalion, First Infantry Division, who was deployed to Baquba for a year in February 2004.
Staff Sgt. Timothy John Westphal, 31, of Denver, recalled one summer night in 2004, the temperature an oppressive 110 degrees, when he and forty-four other US soldiers raided a sprawling farm on the outskirts of Tikrit. Sergeant Westphal, who served there for a yearlong tour with the Eighteenth Infantry Brigade, First Infantry Division, beginning in February 2004, said he was told some men on the farm were insurgents. As a mechanized infantry squad leader, Sergeant Westphal led the mission to secure the main house, while fifteen men swept the property. Sergeant Westphal and his men hopped the wall surrounding the house, fully expecting to come face to face with armed insurgents.
“We had our flashlights and…I told my guys, ‘On the count of three, just hit them with your lights and let’s see what we’ve got here. Wake ’em up!'”
Sergeant Westphal’s flashlight was mounted on his M-4 carbine rifle, a smaller version of the M-16, so in pointing his light at the clump of sleepers on the floor he was also pointing his weapon at them. Sergeant Westphal first turned his light on a man who appeared to be in his mid-60s.
“The man screamed this gut-wrenching, blood-curdling, just horrified scream,” Sergeant Westphal recalled. “I’ve never heard anything like that. I mean, the guy was absolutely terrified. I can imagine what he was thinking, having lived under Saddam.”
The farm’s inhabitants were not insurgents but a family sleeping outside for relief from the stifling heat, and the man Sergeant Westphal had frightened awake was the patriarch.
“Sure enough, as we started to peel back the layers of all these people sleeping, I mean, it was him, maybe two guys…either his sons or nephews or whatever, and the rest were all women and children,” Sergeant Westphal said. “We didn’t find anything.
“I can tell you hundreds of stories about things like that and they would all pretty much be like the one I just told you. Just a different family, a different time, a different circumstance.”
For Sergeant Westphal, that night was a turning point. “I just remember thinking to myself, I just brought terror to someone else under the American flag, and that’s just not what I joined the Army to do,” he said.
Does the Grinning Deathhead have any kind of coherent response to Sgt. Westphal’s concerns, or would he prefer to tell him that what he saw and heard and did were just isolated instances, not representative or typical? Maybe GD can reassure Sgt. Westphal by agreeing that it is unfortunate Sgt. Westphal had to scare that poor Iraqi man, but most U.S. troops still agree that the war is both necessary and noble?
Well, let’s see:
With the ongoing progress of the surge, and the obvious fact that the vast majority of the troops want to fight and win the war, the “support-the-troops-but-oppose-what-they’re-doing” position has become increasingly untenable. How can you say with a straight face that you support the troops while advancing legislation that would undercut their mission and strengthen their enemies?
You can’t. So those on the cutting edge of progressive opinion are beginning to give up on even pretending to support the troops. Instead, they now slander the troops.
Two progressive magazines have taken complementary approaches in this effort. In its July 30 issue, the Nation has a 24-page article based on interviews with 50 Iraq veterans. The piece allegedly reveals “disturbing patterns of behavior by American troops in Iraq”–indeed, it claims that the war has “led many troops to declare an open war on all Iraqis.” Needless to say, the anecdotal evidence in the article comes nowhere close to supporting this claim. There are a few instances of out-of-control behavior, some routine fog-of-war and brutality-of-war incidents, and much that is simply trivial. The picture is unpleasant, as one would expect–but it comes nowhere close to living up to the authors’ billing: “The war the vets described is a dark and even depraved enterprise.”
Since the Nation has held this view of every American war (except when we were fighting side-by-side with Stalin’s Soviet Union), and loves nothing more than accounts of American war crimes, its story is no surprise. At least they interviewed real soldiers on the record. The New Republic, in its July 23 issue, takes a different tack. Its slander of American soldiers appears to be fiction presented as fact, behind a convenient screen of anonymity.
Ooops. Oh, well. Let’s ask GD another question. I know that, supporting our troops as he does, GD is aware of how important it is for veterans to get medical care that treats the emotional and psychological wounds they have sustained, in addition to any physical injuries they may have. I know that GD knows that those less visible wounds that fester in soldiers’ minds and hearts take much longer to heal than the physical wounds, in many cases — and that often they never heal.
So, with that in mind, here is Spc. Jeff Englehart, 26, of Grand Junction, Colorado:
Veterans said the culture of this counterinsurgency war, in which most Iraqi civilians were assumed to be hostile, made it difficult for soldiers to sympathize with their victims–at least until they returned home and had a chance to reflect.
“I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi,” said Spc. Jeff Englehart, 26, of Grand Junction, Colorado. Specialist Englehart served with the Third Brigade, First Infantry Division, in Baquba, about thirty-five miles northeast of Baghdad, for a year beginning in February 2004. “You know, so what?… The soldiers honestly thought we were trying to help the people and they were mad because it was almost like a betrayal. Like here we are trying to help you, here I am, you know, thousands of miles away from home and my family, and I have to be here for a year and work every day on these missions. Well, we’re trying to help you and you just turn around and try to kill us.”
He said it was only “when they get home, in dealing with veteran issues and meeting other veterans, it seems like the guilt really takes place, takes root, then.”
Here is Spc. Michael Harmon, 24, from Brooklyn, NY:
“I’ll tell you the point where I really turned,” said Spc. Michael Harmon, 24, a medic from Brooklyn. He served a thirteen-month tour beginning in April 2003 with the 167th Armor Regiment, Fourth Infantry Division, in Al-Rashidiya, a small town near Baghdad. “I go out to the scene and [there was] this little, you know, pudgy little 2-year-old child with the cute little pudgy legs, and I look and she has a bullet through her leg…. An IED [improvised explosive device] went off, the gun-happy soldiers just started shooting anywhere and the baby got hit. And this baby looked at me, wasn’t crying, wasn’t anything, it just looked at me like–I know she couldn’t speak. It might sound crazy, but she was like asking me why. You know, Why do I have a bullet in my leg?… I was just like, This is–this is it. This is ridiculous.”
So, GD: Do you support the right of U.S. troops to talk openly about this type of occurrence and how it affects or changes their view of the war? I already know you believe our troops should not be questioned, criticized, or held responsible for what they do. And I can agree that we need to listen without judging or condemning. But are you also willing to listen to Spc. Michael Harmon tell about how he can’t view the war as a noble enterprise anymore because of hundreds of incidents like the two-year-old Iraqi toddler with a bullet in her leg as the result of a trigger-happy American soldier? Are you willing to listen without denying, minimizing, trivializing, or dismissing the truth and validity of his experience, or is it only the scenes of U.S. troops handing out candy to Iraqi kids that are real and important to you?
Think carefully before you answer, GD. Because if it’s only the candy and not the bullet in the leg of a toddler; or the yelping, wounded dog shot in front of its owners; or the thousands of Iraqi families terrorized in the middle of the night by screaming, gun-wielding, door-kicking U.S. troops, then don’t tell us that you support our troops. Because you don’t. Perhaps you support some fantasy in your head of heroic, noble American soldiers killing the bad guys and protecting the weak and innocent, but you do not support the actual American men and women trying to carry out an impossible mission in a foreign country, among people who hate and resent them, and being traumatized by the horrors they are forced to see and participate in.
Cross-posted at Liberty Street.