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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Analyzing Soldier Misconduct

When I was 14, Jeff asked me if I wanted to see his dad's hunting gun. I really wasn't interested, but I decided to see it just so Jeff and my other friend Frank would shut up.

We went upstairs to the closet where his dad kept it. Before I had a chance to even look at the gun, they cornered me. Jeff blocked the door wielding his father's hunting riffle and Frank shoved me in the corner. Then Frank picked up the other hunting riffle and aimed it directly at my chest.

"What the hell are you doing," I asked angrily.

"We are going to shoot you," said Jeff.

"Unless you do as we say," intoned Frank.

At first I played it cool. They were obviously f*cking with me. But after 10 minutes of their taunting, I started considering the possibilities.

"What the hell do they want," I thought to myself. "Clearly this is a prank. They are testing me." That was all well and good, but what if the gun was loaded. I doubt Jeff's dad was stupid enough to keep a loaded gun around, but then again you always hear stories. Then again, it is not brain surgery to load a gun.

Jeff was capable simply for being a rabid gun freak; blowing up frogs with his BB gun whenever he had a chance. He was a bit off-kilter even if you eliminated his gun habits from the equation. Frank I was less concerned about. The fact that he was taking part in this stunt was proof enough that it was a prank.

I am not one for enclosed spaces without windows. Add two possibly loaded guns and a bit of imagination into the mix, and you have the recipe for growing paranoia. I just wanted to get the f*ck out of there.

At age 14, I was no beast. I was weaker than Frank, but I could probably hold my own with Jeff. I could get out of there, but I had to catch them both off guard. I had to be patient.

I don't remember the specifics, but I got up and managed to bulldoze my way out of there. I wasn't looking for a fight. I was just looking to get out of there as soon as possible. Thank God the adrenaline was working for me.

I'm not sure how many people have had a similar experience where they felt that their life was in danger. In some ways, it gave me a little bit of perspective. Granted my life was never really in danger. These kids were not thugs; just harmless bullies looking to have some fun. But at the time, I feared for my life.

Something happens when you are in this state. Your thinking gets reduced to animal instincts. You have two options: fight for flight. If someone gets hurt in the process, it is not a concern.

Magnify my experience by 150% and you have an inkling to what our troops are facing in Iraq on a daily basis: sniper fire, road side bombs, IEDs, and mortar fire, etc... Every time they go on patrol, they are aware that they might not come back in one piece. No doubt in this environment a paranoia forms and it starts screwing with judgement and overall thinking.

It doesn't take long until something ugly happens. Abu Ghraib is one example, but there have been other reports of abuse. For the most part these events are few and far between, but just the same it's troubling.

Many in our society are quick to judge soldier misconduct without placing it in the proper context. Most American, myself included have never lived in a war zone. We don't understand how it would effect us psychologically. The soldiers are somewhat prepared because of basic training. We would do much worse given the same circumstances.

War has a habit of making good people do awful things. History is full of atrocities. We shake our head and say never again, but without analyzing how it happened. Were the Nazi soldiers at Auschwitz: evil, mentally stressed, or just carrying out orders? How can you honestly tell without walking in their shoes?

News of soldier misconduct is painful and disturbing. The American public strongly supports our troops regardless of their support of the war. After all soldiers do not choose their assignments.

Yet, how are we supposed to feel about these injustices? To simply say "it's a consequence of war" or "the soldiers are just blowing off steam" is a slap in the face to every Iraqi citizen. Yet to hold a soldier 100% responsible for his or her actions is not fair either.

In short we are all to blame. We allowed the Bush administration to take us to war so we are all indirectly responsible for what occurs as a result. It doesn't matter if you marched against the war in the beginning or no longer support the war. Every soldier and Iraqi who is injured or killed happened because of us; Because we allowed it to happen. The blood is on all of our hands.

No one likes to accept responsibility, but in this case it is critical. In order to prevent us from going head first into future conflicts, we must learn from our past mistakes. Sometimes your only option is war, but this should always be a final resort. War is and always should be regarded as a failure of diplomacy. It inadvertently creates more problems than it solves.

I highly doubt that the Iraqis are optimistic of a free Iraq when they are burying their sons and daughters. We have failed to stabilize their country. The best we can hope for at this point is to leave without causing more damage.

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