Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Human War

From the New York Review of Books:
"Culturally," he writes, "these Marines would be virtually unrecognizable to their forebears in the 'Greatest Generation.' They are kids raised on hip-hop, Marilyn Manson and Jerry Springer." There are "former gangbangers, a sprinkling of born-again Christians and quite a few guys who before entering the Corps were daily dope smokers." While some joined the Marines out of prep school or turned down scholarships at universities, more than half "come from broken homes and were raised by absentee, single, working parents. Many are on more intimate terms with video games, reality TV shows and Internet porn than they are with their own parents." Together, he writes, these Marines "represent what is more or less America's first generation of disposable children."

Even in the best of circumstances, Wright notes, artillery fire is imprecise, which leads him to wonder why reporters and antiwar groups concerned about collateral damage in war pay so little attention to it:

The beauty of aircraft, coupled with their high-tech destructive power, captures the imagination. From a news standpoint, jets flying through the sky make for much more dramatic footage than images of cannons parked in the mud, intermittently belching puffs of smoke.
But the fact is, the Marines rely much more on artillery bombardment than on aircraft dropping precision-guided munitions. During our thirty-six hours outside Nasiriyah they have already lobbed an estimated 2,000 rounds into the city. The impact of this shelling on its 400,000 residents must be devastating.

Entering the city with the Marines, Wright gets to see just how devastating the impact has been. Smoke curls from collapsed structures, and houses facing the road are pockmarked and cratered. The corpses of Iraqi attackers are scattered on the road leading out of the city. Run over repeatedly by tracked vehicles, "they are flattened, with their entrails squished out," Wright notes, adding:

We pass a bus, smashed and burned, with charred human remains sitting upright in some windows. There's a man in the road with no head and a dead little girl, too, about three or four, lying on her back. She's wearing a dress and has no legs.

Heading north, the Marines find themselves amid the palm trees and canals of the Fertile Crescent, but all around are signs of death. Along the highway are torched vehicles with "charred corpses nearby, occupants who crawled out and made it a few meters before expiring, with their grasping hands still smoldering." Lying beside one car is the mangled body of a small child, face down, whose clothes are too ripped to determine the gender. "Seeing this is almost no longer a big deal," Wright comments. "Since the shooting started in Nasiriyah forty-eight hours ago, firing weapons and seeing dead people has become almost routine." Fick, reaching back to his four years in a Jesuit high school, writes that he found himself "mouthing the Twenty-third Psalm: 'Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death....'"


The morale of Fick's men continues to erode as they press northward. A new source of tension is added by the need to set up roadblocks to counter the unanticipated threat of suicide attacks. Because these sites tend to be poorly marked, many Iraqi drivers fail to stop at them. When US soldiers fire warning shots, the Iraqis often speed up. As a result, many are killed. After one car has been shot at, a Marine named Graves goes to help a little girl cowering in the back seat, her eyes wide open. As he goes to pick her up, "thinking about what medical supplies he might need to treat her...the top of her head slides off and her brains fall out," Wright writes. As Graves steps back in horror, his boot slips in the girl's brains. "This is the event that is going to get to me when I go home," he says.

With the battlefield growing ever more dangerous, the Marines' initial inhibitions about firing fades, and even relatively minor threats are met with fierce bursts of gunfire. Civilians bear the brunt, to the consternation of many of the Marines. "I think it's bullshit how these fucking civilians are dying!" rages Jeffrey Carazales, a lance corporal from Texas, after he shoots at a building that clearly has civilians in it:

They're worse off than the guys that are shooting at us. They don't even have a chance. Do you think people at home are going to see this—all these women and children we're killing? Fuck no. Back home they're glorifying this motherfucker, I guarantee you. Saying our president is a fucking hero for getting us into this bitch. He ain't even a real Texan.

Read the rest.


troutsky said...

The local "News" channel did a piece on a returning 19 year old Marine yesterday. His Mom was interviewed and said he was dressed in camo since he was an infant, given toy weapons, played video war games and had no other ambition, ever, than to be a Marine.His Dad and grandad were Marines and the homes walls were lined with pictures. He was headed back as soon as possible.The piece was congatulatory and patriotic in tone.

Graeme said...

Wow. Someday people will be shocked.

helmut said...

It's such a strange country.

Anon a Mouse! said...

Sadly, this will continue until it occurs to someone that assault troops are ill-suited for police work of any kind. They by nature are well-armed and terribly impolite. Even among the more highly trained special forces the emphasis has been on commando style actions. Is it any wonder this happens when civic action and police units are treated like the proverbial red-headed step-child when it comes to funding and career advancement?