Spinning Haditha

W. Thomas Smith, Jr
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Posted: Jun 26, 2006 3:00 PM

So I receive a phone call from a reporter at ABC News. They are working on a story about Haditha, and the reporter’s comments to me go something along the lines of; “I am particularly interested in your recent pieces on Haditha [here and here] in which you say that in order to understand what happened, we must first understand the men involved, the dynamics of the system in which they operate, and the realities of ground combat.”

The reporter’s referencing of my own comments are somewhat paraphrased, but his following questions are clearly etched in my mind verbatim:

“Don’t you think the killings at Haditha [November 19, 2005] are the result of a wrong war and a failed policy?” he asks. “Much like the tragedy of My Lai [the killings of unarmed civilians by U.S. soldiers in the village of My Lai, Vietnam in 1968] was the result of a wrong war and a failed policy?”

I was taken aback for about as long as it takes to silently mouth the words, “This is going to be too easy.” After all, it’s one thing to read and listen to politicized versions of news stories spun by the various national news organizations. But to actually experience the machine as it begins to process what they plan to feed the masses is quite another. It wasn’t a first for me, nor will it be the last I’m sure. But I was temporarily surprised by the reporter’s lack of perspective, his obvious agenda, and his attempt to put words in my mouth. And by the way, this was no recent J-school grad. This guy was seasoned.

My response was quick.

“Of course not,” I said. “What happened at Haditha has absolutely nothing to do with what is or is not a good or bad war, or a failed or successful policy. In fact, no war is good. We’ve certainly had tremendous strategic success in Iraq. And Haditha has nothing whatsoever to do with politics.”

I went on to explain that Haditha had everything to do with the war in Iraq being a counterinsurgency. And every student of military science understands the ugly nature of insurgencies; where insurgents are un-uniformed, unconventional fighters who move freely throughout the community during the day, and become bushwhackers at night. They routinely use women and children as human shields, and often coerce the latter into the service of operating guerrillas.

This is particularly effective against U.S. forces, because the enemy knows that no matter how much stress they may be under, American soldiers will go to great lengths to avoid killing women and children; and even hesitate (at great risk to themselves) when they see women and children shooting at them.

However, I was wrong on one account: The bit where I said Haditha is not about politics.

It is every bit about politics. Not Iraqi politics mind you. But Haditha has been transformed into an issue of political opportunity for the cut-and-run crowd, including Congressman John Murtha (D, PA.) who on May 18 publicly accused the Marines involved in the Haditha tragedy of killing in “cold blood.”

In a May 28 interview for ABC’s “This Week,” Murtha added, “I will not excuse murder, and this is what has happened.” and “There has to have been a cover-up of this thing. No question about it.”

Oddly, an Associated Press story on June 9 referred to Murtha as one having “a reputation in Congress as a strong friend of the military.” Even if one agrees with Murtha, it is almost laughable for anyone to suggest that a man who accuses U.S. Marines of murdering in cold blood before the facts are in, could possibly have a reputation of being a strong friend of the military. Even if the involved Marines are ultimately found guilty, the Corps’ motto, “always faithful” has been spat upon by Murtha, and done so while Marines were legally under the presumption of innocence.

How is it “murder,” and why does there “have to have been a cover-up” if we don’t yet have all the facts? It’s simple. It must be “cold-blooded murder,” and there has to have been a “cover-up” for Murtha’s sake to justify his personal political agenda and what’s left of his reputation. An ex-Marine officer (I say, ‘ex,’ because he has now relinquished the honor of being a former Marine), Murtha has disgraced himself in the eyes of many, perhaps most, Marines. Now all he has is his party.

And why do the actions at Haditha have to be a result of a “wrong war” or “failed policy” as the reporter who phoned me suggested? The answer lies in either a total lack of understanding of military conflict, or a rush by so many to politicize the as-yet unverified information as Murtha himself has so shamelessly done.

People – like the reporter who phoned me, Mr. Murtha, and others – will believe what they want to believe (with “want” being the optimum word here) then they will go to great lengths to attempt to justify those beliefs, even when the verdict is still out and some evidence begins to suggest otherwise. And when politics are at stake, people will sell their very souls to justify what they want to be true.

It becomes dangerous when those people have the power to influence the thinking of millions.