On Saturday, Nov. 6, 2004, U.S. forces pounded
Fallujah and razed a civilian hospital. "Witnesses said only a facade remained
of a small emergency hospital in the center of the city," reported the
BBC News on the day of the military blitz. "A nearby medical supplies storeroom
and dozens of houses were also damaged as U.S. forces continued preparing the
ground for [the upcoming] major assault."
The catastrophe happened only days after the U.S. presidential election, and
the antiwar movement was still mourning the triumph of George W. Bush's War
Party. Needless to say, the movement wasn't moved to action, even though U.S.
troops had committed a blatant war crime. For the Geneva Conventions are quite
clear that the bombing of hospitals constitutes a crime:
"Article 18: Civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded
and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object
of attack but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to
"Article 19: The protection to which civilian hospitals are entitled
shall not cease unless they are used to commit, outside their humanitarian duties,
acts harmful to the enemy. Protection may, however, cease only after due warning
has been given, naming, in all appropriate cases, a reasonable time limit and
after such warning has remained unheeded. The fact that sick or wounded members
of the armed forces are nursed in these hospitals, or the presence of small
arms and ammunition taken from such combatants and not yet been handed to the
proper service, shall not be considered to be acts harmful to the enemy."
There was no warning put forth by the U.S. military prior to the bombing of
this hospital where dozens of innocent civilians were reported dead and many
more violently injured. Shortly after the incident, U.S. troops hit the ground
running, and more war crimes were carried out in the name of "democracy."
One such heartless act was notoriously captured on film.
You may remember the images reeled in by an NBC news crew embedded with U.S.
soldiers fighting in Fallujah that showed the grotesque execution of an unarmed
Iraqi prisoner. Sadly, this was likely not an isolated incident.
Writing for his Internet blog, ex-Navy SEAL Matthew Heidt, with his machismo
fully inflated, explained the hateful rationale for killing an unarmed prisoner
"The shots fired at the 'unarmed' terrorist in that mosque in Fallujah
are called 'security rounds.' Its [sic] a safety issue pure and simple. After
assaulting through a target, put a security round in everybody's head.
no time to dick around in the target, you clear the space, [and] dump the chumps
Amnesty International didn't necessarily buy the bloody rhetoric Heidt and
others used when defending the murder of an unarmed prisoner (whom Heidt called
a "terrorist"). In a statement released after the televised execution,
Amnesty said they were "deeply concerned that the rules of war protecting
civilians and combatants have been violated in
fighting between U.S.
and Iraqi forces and insurgents" in Fallujah.
The Geneva Conventions also spell it out quite clearly in the opening paragraph.
"Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of
armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat
[out of combat] by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in
all circumstances be treated humanely," it notes.
"The following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and
in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: Violence
to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment,
and torture. The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without
previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all
the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples."
And, it adds, "the wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for."
So how then can the antiwar movement oppose war, and yet claim to "support
our troops?" Indeed we must oppose our troops' actions. The aforementioned
incidents are unfortunately only a fraction of the United States' misdeeds in
Iraq. From the failure to protect Iraqi museums to torture, the U.S. has a laundry
list of international and moral crimes to its name.
Does this mean we are obligated to support the "insurgents" in Iraq?
Certainly their aims may be the same as our own: we both want U.S. troops out.
But does supporting their right in principle mean we must support their methods
no matter what they may be? As Ian Miller argued in CounterPunch, this
view "is fundamentally the same as the War Party's claim, shortly after
the start of hostilities, that it was a patriotic duty to support the war once
it had started."
For starters, supporting the troops, for those in the antiwar movement, involves
a completely separate paradigm than that of the flag-waving right-wing fanatics
who support the war. The fact is, the righties have hijacked the "support
the troops" slogan. But it's just a ploy.
When the antiwar movement says "support the troops," what we are
really saying is, "don't send our soldiers off to die for an unjust cause."
Unlike the hawkish pro-war faction here in the U.S., our views are political
and ethical in nature. They are also tactical. Supporting our troops while opposing
their actions may seem contradictory. Even so, on a human level, the antiwar
movement needs to deal with the fact that people are complex and contradictory
beings, and that is why our support for the troops implies dealing with the
soldiers as human beings.
Indeed soldiers have their own
thoughts and feelings. The antiwar movement must respect that. And we must
also be there for the soldiers when they begin to question and speak out.
The Iraq war will not end until soldiers are supported when they dissent. We
must embrace them and try to understand them as they come to terms with
their past actions, no matter how horrible they may have been. We must try
hard not to fall into the holier-than-thou dichotomy that could very well
split the antiwar movement.
We must also continue to build a progressive
force to confront the military here at home. The antiwar movement which
has a very humane ethic and does not place American lives above non-American
lives needs to be able to tolerate some more very serious
For one, the duties of U.S. soldiers in Iraq are wrong and many may be committing
horrible crimes against humanity. True. But soldiers are mostly not bad people
(though, of course, some are). There are many reasons these soldiers have signed
up for the armed forces. Many come from poor and oppressed communities. Many
have had troubled childhoods. Many are minorities. Of course, all of these soldiers
are going to try to find meaning and justification in what they are carrying
out in the name of "democracy."
Even a very antiwar soldier will shoot an Iraqi whom she believes could be
a threat to her life. An individual soldier may also think her actions are wrong
but not want to risk being ostracized by fellow troops whom she depends on for
survival. Her fellow soldiers are enemies in one circumstance, allies in another.
The antiwar movement must try to understand these inconsistencies and contradictions.
When natural human agency and behaviors are thrown into situations like that
of U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq things get complicated. But as those
situations worsen, and the antiwar movement gains strength, the inner feelings
that so many U.S. soldiers have will be more prone to come out.
If and when they do, we must be here for them. That's what
"supporting the troops" is all about.