Without proper time-out from the fighting, after long exposure to violence, when men become fatalists about their chances of survival, the line between killing and murder can begin to blur. The military is right to remind our forces of their obligations as civilized people, but warning alone will not be enough. Millions of years of evolution have bred humans to protect their lives at all costs. Threats of maybe being punished are ineffective if someone believes he or she will certainly perish unless extreme measures are taken.
Whatever unfolds from this time forward, an enormous tragedy has already occurred – for the people who were killed and their families; for the men in the squad accused of committing the murders; for the men who cleaned up after the scene; for the Marine Corps, the military and our nation.
When crimes are verified, some will be brought to trial. Some will be found guilty and some sentenced to prison terms. Let us hope that the investigators take their inquiries as high as the evidence leads them, even if it is to the highest levels of leadership.
Our enemies will use this event to indict all America. We have yet to hear the anti-American cries from our detractors in the Moslem world and this in itself is troubling. One theory says that the Moslem world already assumes that this event is not an aberration, but typical of how our forces behave. As photographs of the event and its aftermath become available, and as it becomes obvious that women and children were among the victims, this event has the potential to be used as a worldwide rallying point against the U.S.
It is truer today than ever that the reality of war isn't represented by how politicians sanitize it. War is a hard, dirty, thankless, life-altering experience, and those who forget that truth either become or cause others to become casualties. Our job, as Americans, is to dispassionately examine our individual and communal responsibility for what happened in Haditha, and to come to grips with how to prevent it happening again.