Opinion: Fallujah sounds familiar
11/20/04Nearly a year ago, Captain Todd Brown of the Fourth Infantry Division told The New York Times, "You have to understand the Arab mind. The only thing they understand is force."
Forty years ago an unidentified U.S. captain told The New Yorker, "Only the fear of force gets results...It's the Asian mind." He was speaking as he was serving in the Vietnam War.
Both U.S. captains were explaining how in guerrilla warfare, the enemy is undefined. A merchant or translator who befriends you one minute, could be revealing your position the next. This culminated in an unspoken doctrine which condoned the use of search-and-destroy tactics, free-fire zones, and a defense which encouraged to shoot anything that moves.
After four decades, a mountain of investigations, and a generation with irrevocable memories, the truth about the Vietnam War is beginning to emerge. It is now apparent incidents such as the massacre of My Lai were not isolated. A 45-man unit, referred to as the Tiger Force, conducted horrific atrocities on unarmed civilians that included rape, murder, and torture. Not one member of the unit was ever court marshaled and some soldiers were able to resign, specifically to avoid prosecution.
This conduct was institutionalized brutality, endorsed retroactively through silence. Conduct in the fight for Fallujah, may be drawing distinct parallels. The military will not recognize the number of civilians who have been killed, even as incidents where U.S. troops kill unarmed or wounded civilians are increasing, the most recent incident being the taping of a U.S. Marine shooting an unarmed and wounded Iraqi prisoner.
The Abu Ghraib prison scandal can be compared to the massacres in Vietnam. American soldiers and contractors at the prison tortured Iraqis physically and sexually. At My Lai soldiers, without just cause, murdered villagers only to later throw their corpses in mass graves.
These instances do not occur regularly within the U.S. military. However, they are a result of new era of war. Young Americans, barely out of high school, are thrown into a tumultuous region and a foreign culture. Both Vietnam and Iraq had an enemy that could not be differentiated from a civilian -- the Vietcong and Iraqi insurgents. These American children can not fight against an indistinguishable and unrecognizable enemy. Many also fail to recognize whether the South Vietnamese or the Iraqis wanted Americans to infiltrate their society and preach democracy to their people.
Fallujah is the microcosm of Vietnam in Iraq. In the streets of Fallujah, Marines stand perched above mosques aiming their M-40A3 bolt-action sniper rifles towards abandoned homes, many of which are hardly recognizable amidst the ruins. The Iraqi Red Crescent society, which is backed by the United Nations Children's Fund and the Red Cross, described the situation in Fallujah as a "big disaster."
Although the United States military has not given an estimate of civilians casualties, a Red Cross official has said over 800 civilians have been killed during the most recent assault on Fallujah. The official also said there could be as many as 50,000 residents trapped within the city, without food, clean water, and medical care. Hospitals have been raided, although, according to the Inter Press Service, the U.S. Ministry of Health had ceased supplying Fallujah hospitals and clinics two months ago. The U.S. military had not allowed any humanitarian groups into Fallujah until recently, which drastically cripples efforts to care for the wounded. Those civilians who are still trapped in the city, cannot leave their ransacked homes for fear of being shot. Even those who dawn white cloths as a sign of peace, are met with resistance, some being the fatal victims of a "shoot anything" dictum.
The U.S. military have claimed they have killed over 1,200 insurgents during the fight for Fallujah. How many of these insurgents were unarmed, were wounded, or were waving a white flag in hopes of surrender. Whether the fight for freedom is to relinquish communism, terrorism, or dictatorship, it is imperative to realize who you are fighting for and who you are fighting against.
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