By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Because “Iraq” begins with “I,” not “V”

Christopher Hitchens, deep into self-parody, writes a piece for Slate called “Why Haditha isn’t My Lai.” He’s absolutely right, of course. This is 2006, not 1968, which obviously makes the two incidents significantly different. And let’s not forget that Vietnam is part of Indochina, whereas Iraq is in the Middle East.

Hitchens, sharp analyst that he is, also notes that the alleged atrocities in Haditha just took a few minutes, whereas William Calley and company spent all day slaughtering civilians in Vietnam. Also, the Viet Cong were much, much nicer than those nasty Iraqi and Islamist insurgents.

You will not be surprised to learn that Mark Steyn is traveling down the same road as Hitchens. Peter Daou captures Steyn and Hitchens perfectly: “Steyn is a self-styled ‘conservative’ worshipped by many on the right for his Hitchens-esque turns of phrase (no, not a compliment) …” But read the whole thing — Daou’s got some classic lines in there.

The charges regarding Haditha have not been proved. But if they’re true, or substantially true, then the analogy to My Lai will be perfect — tragically so.

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  1. Sven

    From the Times:The deaths of those in the taxi, and inside two nearby houses, were not the result of a quick and violent firefight, according to officials who have been briefed on the inquiry.”This was not a burst of fire, but a sustained operation over several hours, maybe five hours,” one official said.

  2. metallicaMobes

    I just wish Jack Murtha wouldn’t take it upon himself to crucify these Marines in the court of public opinion. Nor do I understand why he has done it.I really hope they didn’t do it.

  3. Anonymous

    That’s ridiculous. Murtha has been briefed extensively by military brass. He’s seen stuff we haven’t. He’s not crucifying anyone in the court of public opinion – he is decrying the coverup.

  4. metallicaMobes

    If by “decrying the cover-up” he means pre-empting any sort of public official investigation findings, calling fellow Marines cold-blooded killers and murderers before any of said information is finalized, and using this as an anti-Bush attack, then you’d be right. Ohh, but he’s “been briefed”, my mistake.Even if he does know, it is NOT his place to go trumpet it across the media prematurely.United States Marine Corps motto: Semper Fidelis- always faithful. Murtha should grant his comrades at arms at least the dignity of due process before castigating them publicly. I’m not a Marine-yet- but I know my fair share of them, and none of them are too pleased with Murtha’s “whistleblowing”.

  5. Anonymous

    It’s his job to go trumpeting it when the US military covers it up for a year.

  6. metallicaMobes

    Oh it is? I wasn’t aware that was in the job description.

  7. Anonymous

    What would you suggest a member of Congress should do when confronted with extensive evidence of a civilian massacre and subsequent coverup by the US military?Murtha is not the problem here, bro.

  8. Anonymous

    Metal, just how many Marines have you interviewed, and what are their names?

  9. Anonymous

    if they’re true, or substantially true, then the analogy to My Lai will be perfect — tragically so.Dan, though I hate to disagree with you I must disagree: I hope to convince you that the analogy is terribly flawed, as is the term “Cold Blood” (used irresponsibly or ignorantly by Murtha and others). My Lai fits the definition of “Cold Blood” quite well. Haditha far less so — I don’t expect civil journalists or other citizens without military experience to instinctively see difference, so I don’t criticize you, Dan — but Murtha, as a Veteran, should know better. I aplaud him for “decyring the coverup” but not for this inflammatory and WRONG phrase “Cold Blood”.ASIDE — How soon we forget — Vietnam was much messier, My Lai was much more brutal, than our hygienic memory recalls. Iraq is not Vietnam; the US bodycount to date is equivalent to one MONTH in 1968. (Since we’re not using the Draft, the burden is falling dispropotionately on the career soldier and the Guard, so unit losses ARE BAD, so it IS bad to Army post towns.) Iraq/Afghanistan could yet turn into a quagmire of Vietnamesque proportions, but it is not yet. [Each is more appropriately viewed as a Hot Spot in the Long War of the day — the Cold War v International Communism,or the Cultural War between Judeo-Christian quasi-Secular neo-Liberal West and the Islamicist proto-Hegemonists or whatever this new Long War will be called.]– END ASIDEThe proved crimes in the Massacre at My Lai and the alleged crimes in the response to the Ambush at Haditha are very different. (Though crimes they may yet be proved, per our military Rules of Engagement, our code of conduct, and International Law.) The cover-up will be the most damning part, as it was after My Lai (though less so for My Lai, as the crimes at My Lai were so much more horrible). But the alleged actions at the site are very very different.At Haditha, allegedly* 1 US dead, 2 injured (0 My Lai)* 24 Civilian Dead (347 to 504, disputed, at My Lai)* The troop reportedly took small-arms fire from the village (unlike My Lai, none)* indicating definite presence of armed hostiles in dwellings (unlike at My Lai, only suspected in hiding)* before the IED explosion (none at My Lai)* a Sweep of houses with grenades and volley fire is standard procedure for clearing hostile buildings of suspected ambush or clearing an ambush under fire (unlike at My Lai, where SOP was diverged from with mass executions)* No reports of lined-up executions of unarmed elderly/women/children in the open (unlike My Lai)* No reports of Rape (unlike My Lai)* Use of human shields by insurgents would be a war crime by the insurgents, if they are subject to the Laws of War. At My Lai, the troops merely suspected enemy might best sheltered among the civilians.At Haditha, they knew enemy were (initially) in the houses, they’d taken fire. In the short ensuing fire-fight, the troops may not have noticed a lack of return fire after the insurgents withdrew leaving their human shields to take the return fire. The troops may be found guilty only of covering up a tragic but undestandable tactical error within Rules of Engagement (RoE), or they may be found to have exceeded RoE and perhaps contravened Laws of War as well. My Lai was a crime against humanity. Haditha is tragedy of war.Both cover-ups were crimes.IF it becomes proved that a few or most victims were shot several hours after the initial firefight ended, simply to silence witneses, THAT would be a serious crime. (I am not willing to assume Murtha knows this will be proved.)(It is possible the INTENT of the insurgents in attacking with small-arms before igniting the IED (to cover their retreat) was to incite the troops to slaughter the human shields in the village. If so, it is a crime against humanity … by the Insurgents.)Sorry to rain on your parade. The possible Cover-Up is important … but — even assuming ALL allegations are true — to compare what the troops did here with My Lai is looking at history through the wrong end of the telescope. Bill RDislaimer — IANAL … I am not even a veteran, just better read in military matters than a politically correct long-hair greybeard Liberal ought to be.

  10. Dan Kennedy

    Bill — I’m sorry, but those are all details. The moral similarities between what happened at My Lai and what allegedly happened at Haditha can’t be denied.

  11. MeTheSheeple

    Bill, you can’t cite “SOP” when the actions were clearly against ROE. And then very against ROE. And then very, very, very against ROE, as well as international law.Nor can you fall back to international law violations by the insurgents. No guerrilla force has ever followed that — including the ones we have supported.Both are examples of mass executions.Executions are executions. I hate that some guys had had a very, very bad day, but that’s no reason to make sure dozens of people don’t have any more days.

  12. MeTheSheeple

    I found the “SOP” in FM-90 circa 1998 or therabouts:”The primary consideration when planning counterguerrilla operations is the effect operations will have on the populace. Commanders must attempt to win the active support of the population for the government. At a minimum, counterguerrilla activities must eliminate incidents which the guerrilla may exploit in his psychological operations.”Bill, I’m not quite clear where “mass executions” fit into that theory.Dan, for the record, this was my first FOIA. I don’t collect these things. Really.

  13. Anonymous

    Bill,remember, little things I disagree with-“details”little things I agree with, precision!

  14. Bill Baar

    Imagine My Lai happening in a Vietnam –united North and South– and with a single elected government includng the Communist Party.That’s what we have in Iraq today and never had in Vietnam.Two crimes committed by the military but happening in wars conducted under vastly different poltical circumstances.We have the politics right in Iraq. We never got them right in Vietnam.The difference we trust in Democracy in Iraq in a way we never trusted the outcomes of Democratic elections in Asia.It makes in a difference on how these two crimes will impact the outcome.

  15. Anonymous

    Bill, that is truly bizarre. The “Iraqi government” isn’t running Iraq. It cannot even secure its own capital.And I doubt it makes much difference to the victims and their loved ones.

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