OUR VETERANS HAVE SPOKEN–II
While I haven’t always agreed with The Nation, I have long valued its writing, and in fact was a subscriber while serving in Iraq. This makes it all the more disappointing that the lengthy interviews I gave to Laila Al-Arian for “The Other War” [July 30/Aug. 6] resulted in my quotes being taken out of context. It reflects poorly on me personally and makes me question whether Al-Arian and Chris Hedges are guilty of poor analysis or of using my quotes to their own ends.
For example I stated, “I mean, you physically could not do an investigation every time a civilian was wounded or killed because it just happens a lot and you’d spend all your time doing that.” That quote was used to illustrate the premise that unjustified shootings of civilians were rampant and almost never investigated. But that was not what I was responding to. I was referring to the fact that civilians mistakenly shot by Americans, clearly in the course of legitimate self-defense, was the overwhelming source of civilian casualties. I made no judgment about whether shootings under questionable circumstances were investigated, because I had such little exposure to such issues. Al-Arian didn’t ask me about such circumstances, yet she portrays my statement as if it directly reflects on these types of events. I am not naïve enough to assert that no troops in Iraq have deliberately done wrong. However, I categorically disagree that any of my statements or experiences would support the authors’ assertion that there has been a pervasive and chronic trend among US forces in Iraq to deliberately wound and/or kill innocent civilians.
Captain, US Marine Corps Reserves
I, too, was a contributor to this piece. I respect the position of the other contributors and don’t deny that in war bad things do happen. But in an effort to disclose all truths the following should also be known to readers:
I was personally outraged, appalled and horrified while reading this article–and not because of the alleged findings, the alleged truths that it supposedly uncovered. I was in complete disbelief at how inaccurately my statements were portrayed and how conveniently they were selected to support the thesis of the authors. I suspect that I’m not the only veteran of the fifty interviewed who shares these sentiments. I’m sickened and ashamed to be, in any way, associated with this article.
Captain, National Guard
I was one of the veterans interviewed for “The Other War,” and I want to say unequivocally that nothing about what I had to say was taken out of context or distorted. I was told exactly what the article was about and the questions were very direct. My interview was taped, as I imagine the others were.
The article never alleged that US troops are intentionally gunning down Iraqis, and I don’t know anyone with a drop of sanity who has advanced that idea. The Iraqis know that these things have happened and are still happening. Americans need to know because it’s being done in their name. The only way that anyone will be held accountable is for the men and women who have served there to continue to come forward. We need people who can speak plainly and tell the truth even when it isn’t popular or easy to hear. My fellow troops in this story should be commended for speaking out. The military needs more people like them.
Specialist, National Guard
I am one of the soldiers who contributed to this piece. I have enjoyed reading the varied responses [“Exchange,” Aug. 13/20] to this article because that’s precisely why I agreed to be interviewed: I wanted to spark a conversation; a dialogue, long overdue. To overcome the polarization that plagues our nation we need to have an open, honest conversation.
Since I’ve been back from Iraq, I have been very forthcoming with the truth about what I saw and experienced there. I have been labeled “unpatriotic traitor.” I take no issue with being called unpatriotic because blind patriotism is part of the reason we got into this mess. I do, however, take issue with being called a traitor.
I am very loyal to the men of B Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. I am proud to have served with such a fine, disciplined unit. Our leadership was among the best in the military. Our chain of command inspired us to display integrity, discipline and compassion on every mission. Some of my dearest friends are currently deployed to Iraq (again), and I support them with all of my heart–in honor of that cherished brotherhood that only an infantryman can know. And I continue to stand by my oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and I love my country deeply. However, all of these loyalties are secondary to my loyalty to the truth. And truthfully, in war, bad things happen.
I will not remain silent in order to protect my hero’s status, nor will I forfeit my conscience to hide the truth under a shroud of patriotism. I believe the world has a right to hear my story. And I believe it is my duty as an American, a veteran and a man to tell the truth. The fact that I contributed to what history will someday remember as a societal travesty on par with Nazi Germany’s Holocaust will torment me for the rest of my life.
I cannot rely on the “only following orders” rationale to offset my guilt, take back my deeds or justify my involvement. So my only choice is to share with others and to be honest. And I hope some of the other guys interviewed in this piece share my motivation. I want our troops to come home now. Instead, we argue among ourselves while our elected leaders are allowed to let politics trump moral reason. Meanwhile, the human cost of this war will continue its deadly toll, the hatred of America will grow and the chances for a lasting peace will fade. Hopefully, the world will forgive us. And that’s the truth.
TIMOTHY J. WESTPHAL,
Former Staff Sergeant, US Army
I served with the 1/7th Bravo Company, 1st Cavalry Division in 1967 in Vietnam. I was an infantryman. After reading your issue on Iraq, a flood of memories came to me. One incident that stood out was on a search-and-destroy mission. We were moving through a village and we met with no hostile behavior from these people. We searched their hooches for weapons and found none. During our search we destroyed their animals, stores of rice, peanuts, pineapples, etc. Some of our troops were setting the hooches on fire. My platoon leader was knocking Zippo lighters from the hands of these troops, hollering, “Who told you to do this?” No one told them to–they did it on their own!
We left that village burning to the ground. The women and children were screaming and crying. We destroyed their homes, livestock and food. If they were not our enemy when we entered that village, they certainly were when we left. What kind of mindset allows for this type of behavior? I believe it is partly viewing the enemy as less than human; it is being scared of people who don’t look like us or speak the same language. Many of us in Vietnam lost our moral compass. Maybe it is the nature of war? I don’t know how to avoid such cruel behavior. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t think about these things. My heart hurts for the people of Iraq and for our combat troops.
FRANCIS L. TINER
I write to give profound thanks to the soldiers, sailors and marines who courageously shared their stories in “The Other War.” I applaud their patriotism, military service, loyalty to their companions and their compassion for Iraqi civilians. I grieve for the burden of guilt they must endure because of unclear rules of engagement and the fog of war. I share that guilt and join them in their appeal to end this needless and cruel war on the Iraqi people. Thanks also to the authors for not letting us forget the human toll that this ill-begotten war has taken on Iraq, our country and our soldiers.
MARY D. POOLE
The Frank Lewis puzzle is my weekly challenge, and the one in the July 30/August 6 issue was no exception. I got all of it, including 1 across–which I finally figured to be “phantasmagorias.” Then getting around to the Books & the Arts section, I was amazed to find this quote from Jack London’s The Road: “In Hobo Land the face of life is protean–an ever changing phantasmagoria….” Would have saved me a lot of time if I had read that first! Not a word you run across (or down!) very often, let alone twice in one issue!
NAUGHTY BUT NICE
I like the idea suggested by two letter writers in the August 27/September 3 issue, of recycling The Nation by leaving it in public places. I’ve found a fun use for those annoying subscription cards that come in every issue. I wander around my local bookstores and library placing the cards in the books of Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly and other right-wing demagogues. (I got the idea from evangelicals who plant their cards in books I want to read.) It’s harmless, but it feels naughty. And if I make just one convert, it will have been worth it, eh?