by Deck Deckert
(Swans - March 27, 2006) Will the horrors we are inflicting on Iraqi men, women, children, babies ever penetrate the minds of the American public, ever enter their nightmares, ever cause them to weep -- or puke?
There have been reports in the corporate media of two massacres by US forces in Iraq, and some speculation in the alternate media and the blogosphere as to whether this will be the My Lai of the Iraq War. Mike Whitney suggests in SmirkingChimp.com, for example, that "we have entered the 'My Lai phase' of the Iraq war, where the pretensions about democracy and liberation are stripped-away and replaced with the gratuitous butchery of women and children."
He may be right about that, but any suggestion that the Iraq brutal killings will have the same effect on the American people as did My Lai is so unlikely that the working term for the odds is -- impossible.
The differences between the two are profound, not the least of which are the numbers. In My Lai, more than 500 Vietnamese were killed, nearly 600 according to some accounts; in the two Iraq incidents, there are perhaps 25 Iraqis dead. This alone will mean the killings will never be considered that important.
I was working as a wire editor for the Miami News during the Vietnam War in 1969 when the first reports about the My Lai massacre began coming in from the wire services. The villagers had been slaughtered by American soldiers a year earlier in an orgy of killing. The story had been covered up for a long time before the Army finally investigated and decided to bring the killers to justice -- they charged one lieutenant.
The story was first broken by reporter Seymour Hersh and, despite a lot of revisionist history 35 years later, was first greeted with a great deal of skepticism, including that of my superiors. In the beginning, I had to fight to get the story in the paper and on Page 1. Nobody wanted to believe that American soldiers were capable of such an atrocity, hard-bitten editors included, despite the overwhelming evidence, including horrifying, sickening pictures.
It is true that there are some parallels between the Vietnam killings and the Iraq killings, including pictures and an initial cover-up.
In one incident, Iraqi police have accused US troops of executing 11 people, including a 75-year-old woman and a 6-month-old infant, in the aftermath of a raid last week on a house about 60 miles north of Baghdad. An Iraqi police officer told Reuters that US forces landed on the roof of the house in the early hours and shot the 11 occupants, including five children. "The bodies, their hands bound, had been dumped in one room."
The US military blandly called the Iraqi police accusations a "pattern of misinformation."
Photos, found mostly on the Internet, show the lifeless bodies of colorfully dressed children, barely old enough to walk, lying motionless in the back of a truck after they were removed from the house. Two girls are lying with their dead eyes open, the other three children have their eyes closed. But these photos were not widely circulated in the American media. Few, if any, American newspapers published them; nor were they seen on TV.
Barbara Bush said in an interview prior to the first Bush war against Iraq, "But why should we hear about body bags, and deaths, and how many, what day it's gonna happen, and how many this or what do you suppose? Or, I mean, it's, it's not relevant. So, why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"
Most Americans don't want to waste their beautiful minds on that either, and the modern corporate media does its best to shield them from such unpleasantries in a way the Vietnam era media never did. We never see the damage we do, the burned and shattered bodies, the grieving parents of murdered children, the destroyed cities, the bodies of American soldiers returning in coffins, the American veterans with missing legs, arms, eyes.
In the second incident, Navy investigators are looking into whether Marines intentionally killed 15 Iraqi civilians -- four of them women and five of them children -- during fighting in November. Time magazine reports that it started when a roadside bomb struck and killed a Marine. A military communiqué the next day reported that the Marine and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by the blast.
But, Time magazine reported, eyewitnesses and local officials said the civilians who died were killed not by a roadside bomb but by the Marines themselves. The Time story said that the troops went on a rampage in the village after the attack, killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children. The military is still investigating.
In Vietnam, My Lai was finally accepted as the bitter truth. The massacre, according to some, was a watershed in the history of modern American combat, and a turning point in the public perception of the Vietnam War. I wish that it had been.
In the end, My Lai was simply considered an aberration and basically forgotten. Reports of dozens of other similar massacres were never investigated.
In the end, the Iraq killings will be considered collateral damage and totally forgotten, especially since the modern corporate media has forgotten what is to do honest investigative reporting. And other US war crimes in Iraq -- the depleted uranium, the cluster bombs that kill children, the destruction of Fallujah, the killings of civilians at US roadblocks -- will be ignored.
And the greater atrocity will never be examined. In both wars, massacres of civilians were/are routine, commonplace. They were/are covered over, ignored, or simply listed as collateral damage and therefore unimportant. But massacres are not aberrations in war, they are an inevitable part of it. It never really penetrates our consciousness, but war is solely about killing and destruction. It is nothing else. It is never a glorious mission.
More than 2 million Vietnamese were killed during that war, mostly at a distance by American bombs, napalm, artillery -- but too often by American soldiers at close range. At My Lai, soldiers went berserk, gunning down unarmed men, women, children, and babies. At one point, Lt. William Calley, the only man charged for the crime, ordered two of his men to fire on a group of 60 civilians they had rounded up. When one refused, Calley took over and mowed them down. Others were beaten with fists, clubbed with rifle butts, and stabbed with bayonets.
Lt. Calley was sentenced to life of hard labor but in the end, he served only days in prison before he was returned to his quarters and placed under house arrest. His sentence was repeatedly reduced until he was pardoned by President Nixon.
Mass murder is never a real problem during war. It's just part of the game.
The men up the chain of command, and the civilians in Washington who were behind the Vietnam War, of course, were never found guilty of anything.
In Iraq, with the death toll past 100,000 and still climbing, an occasional American soldier will be court-martialed as a scapegoat. But no American officer of any rank, none of the neocons in Washington, certainly not George Bush, will ever be held accountable.
In a just world, George Bush, the man who started this war, would go on trial as a mass murderer and a baby killer.
This is not a just world.
Pleaseus carry Deck Deckert's voice time and again.