Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Vietnam wasn't that long ago

Here's a great op-ed piece by NY Times' editorialist Bob Herbert:

From 'Gook' to 'Raghead' I spent some time recently with Aidan Delgado, a 23-year-old religion major at New College of Florida, a small, highly selective school in Sarasota. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, before hearing anything about the terror attacks that would change the direction of American history, Mr. Delgado enlisted as a private in the Army Reserve. Suddenly, in ways he had never anticipated, the military took over his life. He was trained as a mechanic and assigned to the 320th Military Police Company in St. Petersburg. By the spring of 2003, he was in Iraq. Eventually he would be stationed at the prison compound in Abu Ghraib. Mr. Delgado's background is unusual. He is an American citizen, but because his father was in the diplomatic corps, he grew up overseas. He spent eight years in Egypt, speaks Arabic and knows a great deal about the various cultures of the Middle East. He wasn't happy when, even before his unit left the states, a top officer made wisecracks about the soldiers heading off to Iraq to kill some ragheads and burn some turbans. "He laughed," Mr. Delgado said, "and everybody in the unit laughed with him." The officer's comment was a harbinger of the gratuitous violence that, according to Mr. Delgado, is routinely inflicted by American soldiers on ordinary Iraqis. He said: "Guys in my unit, particularly the younger guys, would drive by in their Humvee and shatter bottles over the heads of Iraqi civilians passing by. They'd keep a bunch of empty Coke bottles in the Humvee to break over people's heads." He said he had confronted guys who were his friends about this practice. "I said to them: 'What the hell are you doing? Like, what does this accomplish?' And they responded just completely openly. They said: 'Look, I hate being in Iraq. I hate being stuck here. And I hate being surrounded by hajis.' " "Haji" is the troops' term of choice for an Iraqi. It's used the way "gook" or "Charlie" was used in Vietnam. Mr. Delgado said he had witnessed incidents in which an Army sergeant lashed a group of children with a steel Humvee antenna, and a Marine corporal planted a vicious kick in the chest of a kid about 6 years old. There were many occasions, he said, when soldiers or marines would yell and curse and point their guns at Iraqis who had done nothing wrong. He said he believes that the absence of any real understanding of Arab or Muslim culture by most G.I.'s, combined with a lack of proper training and the unrelieved tension of life in a war zone, contributes to levels of fear and rage that lead to frequent instances of unnecessary violence. Mr. Delgado, an extremely thoughtful and serious young man, balked at the entire scene. "It drove me into a moral quagmire," he said. "I walked up to my commander and gave him my weapon. I said: 'I'm not going to fight. I'm not going to kill anyone. This war is wrong. I'll stay. I'll finish my job as a mechanic. But I'm not going to hurt anyone. And I want to be processed as a conscientious objector.' " He stayed with his unit and endured a fair amount of ostracism. "People would say I was a traitor or a coward," he said. "The stuff you would expect." In November 2003, after several months in Nasiriya in southern Iraq, the 320th was redeployed to Abu Ghraib. The violence there was sickening, Mr. Delgado said. Some inmates were beaten nearly to death. The G.I.'s at Abu Ghraib lived in cells while most of the detainees were housed in large overcrowded tents set up in outdoor compounds that were vulnerable to mortars fired by insurgents. The Army acknowledges that at least 32 Abu Ghraib detainees were killed by mortar fire. Mr. Delgado, who eventually got conscientious objector status and was honorably discharged last January, recalled a disturbance that occurred while he was working in the Abu Ghraib motor pool. Detainees who had been demonstrating over a variety of grievances began throwing rocks at the guards. As the disturbance grew, the Army authorized lethal force. Four detainees were shot to death. Mr. Delgado confronted a sergeant who, he said, had fired on the detainees. "I asked him," said Mr. Delgado, "if he was proud that he had shot unarmed men behind barbed wire for throwing stones. He didn't get mad at all. He was, like, 'Well, I saw them bloody my buddy's nose, so I knelt down. I said a prayer. I stood up, and I shot them down.' " E-mail:


Anonymous unfurling said...

this is sickening.

but have you noticed how the blogosphere is dominated by right wing wierdos seaking to justify the war on terror, pre-emptive war and american imperialism? They are everywhere!

5/03/2005 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

yeah, i was just commenting about that on IM.

why is it that the right-wingers are so quick to dissuade any possibility that delgado could be telling the truth. vietnam proved that american soldiers are capable of this kind of behaviour -- and while it's great when soldiers remain above it, there simply isn't the kind of tolerance training or proper legal measures in place to really prevent this kind of thing.

5/03/2005 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

I don't doubt that what he said in the article can be true, but I'm more than sure the majority of the solider's in Iraq are very respectful.

We should pay attention to the very few bad apples who do things like this, mainly because we are suppose to help not hurt the Iraqis.It's part of your job there.I can understand the resentment of being halfway around the world worried about you and your fellow solider's lives.But nobody deserves to be treated like that.

5/03/2005 05:44:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

"I don't doubt that what he said in the article can be true, but I'm more than sure the majority of the solider's in Iraq are very respectful."

I hope you're right but I'm skeptical that there isn't at least some disrespect for the civilian population that leads to unwarranted violence although perhaps not on this magnitude.

I had a friend who did a tour in Iraq last year or so and he's normally a pretty good guy, but something about the situation encourages dehumanizing of Iraqis. He would talk callously about shooting insurgents in retaliation for hating being in Iraq, missing home, and seeing his friends killed, and sometimes I would watch him project that anger onto the civilian population.

Especially considering he felt furious that the Iraqis didn't welcome him and the rest of the military with flowers.

5/04/2005 08:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We should pay attention to the very few bad apples who do things like this"

I think we need to be very sceptical about the idea that this is the work of "a few bad apples". How do you turn ordinary citizens into soldiers prepared to go off and fight the enemy in the first place? Partly by completely dehumanising that enemy. You can expect a person who's undergone that sort of psychological manipulation to distinguish between an enemy combatant and the civilian population that looks, speaks and behaves exactly like that combatant.

Rape, murder and torture of civilians is par for the course for every war situation. To say they aren't is to be willfully ignorant of history. There is no reason to suppose that they are not a daily part of the lanscape in occupied Iraq.

Crys T

5/05/2005 06:08:00 AM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

Crys T

So, what do you think should be done then?

5/05/2005 07:20:00 AM  
Anonymous wang wong chong said...

i think we should send gay philly jay to iraq!

he be happy there

7/19/2005 09:29:00 AM  

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