Haditha has all the makings of a terrible story. But I would say of it what I’ve said of My Lai: It was an extreme case. Anyone who has been in combat understands the thin line between permissible acts and atrocity. The first and potentially most powerful emotion in combat is fear arising from the instinct of self-preservation. But in soldiers, fear is overcome by what the Greeks called thumos—spiritedness and righteous anger. In the Iliad, thumos, awakened in Achilles by the death of his comrade Patroclus, leads him to quit sulking in his tent and wade into the Trojans.We should also keep in mind something else that the antiwar crowd will ignore (just as many of the same people ignore it when it comes to Israel and their terrorists): when it comes to the overall effort in the war, our enemies engage in war crimes as a matter of policy. That doesn't mean we have or should respond in kind, but if the idea is to use what may have happened at Haditha to discredit the American war, it is important to keep in mind who we are fighting and how they intentionally and explicitly fight.
But unchecked, thumos can engender rage and frenzy. It is the role of leadership, which provides strategic context for killing and enforces discipline, to prevent this outcome. Such leadership was not in evidence at My Lai. We’ll have to see if this was the problem at Haditha.
Under the stress of war, unchecked thumos can push a decent man over the threshold. That’s a fact. But to use Haditha to discredit the efforts of hundreds of thousands of American and Coalition servicemen in Iraq, is as wrong as it was to use My Lai to discredit our sacrifices in Vietnam.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Mac Owens on Haditha
He warns that antiwar forces will use this crime, if that is what it is, to discredit the entire war effort. A sample:
Posted by Tom at 9:18 AM