In an unjust war it is very difficult to tell
As fighting in Iraq turns more vicious by the day, the question of good and evil has been recurring at frequent intervals. Following the revelations on Haditha massacre, where the US marines killed 24 Iraqi civilians either in panic or rage in November 2005, some American commentators started writing (subtly trying to explain the killings) how the war in Iraq was increasingly turning into one between the good and the evil. One commentator wrote how savagery seems to be triumphing over decency in Iraq. Decent American boys, brought up on the sound value system that respects human life are being morally and emotionally brutalised by the unabashed barbarism of their opponents. Going into graphic details, he wrote that these terrorists hold nothing sacred, neither human life nor human body. According to him, one of their favourite ways of killing is by partially slitting the throat of their victim and then jumping on his body so that blood spurts out and the victim succumbs to a very slow and painful death. Maybe it is true, or perhaps it is American propaganda at its most imaginative. During the first Gulf War also, the US resorted to inventive stories to demonise the Iraqi Army including the one where an eye-witness was produced before the camera saying that she saw Iraqi soldiers killing Kuwaiti babies in the hospital. Later it turned out that both the incident and the witness were fabricated.
Demonising the enemy has been the oldest propaganda trick in the world, so that simple, God-fearing people do not question the morality of the political hawks who see everything through the blood-splattered prism of national interest. It also works in assuaging the guilt about innocent killings, which always happens in war. However, this time round, the Iraqis are also learning fast. A day after the US and its allies were celebrating the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one mysterious Iraqi eye-witness claimed that he saw the US marines jumping on still alive Zarqawi to kill him. The US went on a defensive and through the help of extensive illustrations of Zarqawi’s body explained to the media what wounds Zarqawi suffered in which part of his body and how he died even as the marines tried to help him. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki lashed out at the US saying that violence by American troops against civilians had become a regular occurrence, with the US troops crushing civilians with their vehicles and killing them just on suspicion.
Whatever the truth may be about individual incidents, the fact is there is nothing decent about war, no matter which side you are on. After all, what does collateral damage mean? It is just a pretty word to hide the indecency of war. It is supposed to remove the squeamishness about the by-products of war, which are innocent deaths. Yet, in the midst of all this, American commentators and senior military officials have the cheek to play the morality and the decency tune. Given that the invasion of Iraq itself was immoral to begin with it is really neat of them to talk of morality. After killing more than 40,000 innocent Iraqis, directly and indirectly, the aggressors not only talk about decency but also how the US soldiers feel ‘pretty bad’ about killing innocent people. Really? How sweet.
The idea of lack of respect for human lives has become a recurrent theme now. When three prisoners at Guantanamo Bay killed themselves in a suicide pact recently, the camp commander Rear Admiral Harry Harris reacted by saying that, “They are smart, they are creative, they are committed. They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own. And I believe this was not an act of desperation, rather an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us.” Incidentally, a majority of those being held at Guantanamo have not even been charged with anything. Their incarceration is considered preventive as they could be potential soldiers on the side of the Jihadis. And this is an act of decency.
The US needs to repeatedly proclaim the moral higher ground to justify its war not only to the world in general, but also to its overstretched armed forces, many of whom do not understand what exactly they are doing in Iraq. One US marine, during questioning about the Haditha massacre, lamented to the effect of, ‘These people (Iraqis) don’t want us here. They want to kill us at the first opportunity.’
However, wouldn’t demonising the opponent only lead to more innocent killings by the soldiers who believe that they are on the side of God and the one’s that they are killing are evil? Wouldn’t they justify then, just as their superiors are doing now that there is nothing wrong in killing those who do not have any regard for life? So if they don’t kill them, they’ll kill themselves anyway. Is this the best way to stabilise the situation in Iraq? Is this the best way to wean ordinary Iraqis away from swelling the ranks of the insurgents? Is this the best way of ensuring emotional and mental balance of the beleaguered US soldiers? And for one tiny moment, is this the best way to win over the Iraqi people just enough for them to trust the US and take over responsibility of the country, the US is trying very hard to build in Iraq?