Why American Troops Commit Atrocities in Iraq

by Dennis Rahkonen
April 15, 2004

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During the Vietnam War, we were told a steady stream of lies regarding the rationale, conduct and outcome of America’s intervention in Southeast Asia.

Supposedly a battle to secure the world for democracy, the U.S. was actually engaged in an imperialistic effort to make the region’s natural and human resources readily, cheaply available to profit-seeking multinational corporations.

In his memoirs, Dwight Eisenhower admitted that access to “tin, tungsten and rubber” was what the unfolding debacle actually entailed.

From a fabricated Tonkin Gulf incident to the myth-shattering Tet offensive -- with numbing revelations such as My Lai in the bloody mix -- America took heavy blows to its collective psyche...as returning aluminum caskets piled up on airport tarmac.

Repeated promises of light at the end of the tunnel proved bleakly false.

We sank deeper into the heart of darkness. The tallied dead formed a legion of ghosts that would haunt us for decades.

Except for swirling sand replacing shifting elephant grass, what’s different with Iraq?

Instead of contrived assertions that the naval vessels Maddox and L. Turner Joy were attacked off Vietnam’s coast, we have George Bush claiming there were weapons of mass destruction where plainly none existed at all.

Again, just as thirty-five years ago, communities across our land have been emptied of their best and brightest, for a fundamental falsehood.

If you’re too young to have learned that painful lesson through family members’ sacrifice, visit the Vietnam Memorial to become grimly acquainted with the consequent cost.

Perhaps the most tragic parallel is the deliberate misrepresentation of people’s loyalties.

Where have we previously heard that flags and flowers would profusely wave to welcome us as “liberators”? Yes, in Vietnam, just before the locals started rolling hand grenades under GIs’ tents.

Whether Vietnam or Iraq, what’s a kid from Kansas or Ohio to do when it turns out that everyone hates the Yankees? Very likely, shoot everything and everybody in sight.

Civilians fleeing from Fallujah tell uniformly shocking stories of women, children, and the elderly being attacked by advancing U.S. Marines. Their description is validated by reports from journalists who happened to be in the Iraqi city when the American assault began.

The dead are being buried in two soccer fields. An easy third of the bodies are noncombatants. Confronted with evidence of even ambulances being fired upon, Human Rights Watch is calling for a prompt, independent investigation.

Fallujah resembles nothing so much as the smoldering aftermath of Ariel Sharon’s brutal attack on the Palestinian Jenin refugee camp two years ago, tinged with the flowing crimson of German collective punishment meted out on the Warsaw Ghetto.

Before saying that description is overdrawn, consider this eyewitness account by Dahr Jamail of The New Standard:

“As I was there, an endless stream of women and children who'd been sniped by the Americans were being raced into the dirty clinic, the cars speeding over the curb out front as their wailing family members carried them in."

His report continues: “One woman and small child had been shot through the neck -- the woman was making breathy gurgling noises as the doctors frantically worked on her amongst her muffled moaning. The small child, his eyes glazed and staring into space, continually vomited as the doctors raced to save his life.”

The Arab satellite network Al Jazeera and other foreign outlets are running grisly footage of the dead and dying. But the U.S. media play deaf, dumb and blind.

Long years of being culturally attuned to a racist portrayal of Arabs and Muslims as “raghead” and “camel jockey” terrorists make the trigger pulling that much easier.

Having gone for more than a decade with demonized Saddam being equated with Iraq per se has blurred a key, moral distinction. Is it any wonder that a “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out” mentality is obscenely taking hold, much to our nation’s eternal shame?

It’s disturbing enough to contemplate how a teenager who was playing high school football and dating his pretty sweetheart just a few months ago is now in the town cemetery because of a crazy, needless war.

Even more soul-devouring is pondering the phenomenon we came to stunningly first experience in connection with Vietnam:

Propaganda and deceit by those in power can make murderers -- instead of just dutiful soldiers -- out of “good kids” thrust into situations where reality often totally conflicts with what they’d been duped to expect.

Transforming innocence into the surpassingly bad and ugly -- on the most basic human level -- is the reactionary warmongers’ greatest sin.

And a monstrous crime far beyond any possible forgiveness.

Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, Wisconsin, has been writing progressive commentary and verse for various outlets since the ‘60s. He can be reached at dennisr@cp.duluth.mn.us.

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