Thursday, July 12, 2007

Iraq - in the words of the veterans

I watched Platoon the other day. I always find it impossible to imagine what can lead people to act the way they do in wartime. It's all too easy to watch a film like Platoon and just say "that Sgt Barnes is an evil bastard...". And yet, to do so is to miss the point of the movie.

Vietnam was the event that changed the concept of war forever in my eyes. Everyone talks of World War 1 being the last time people would cheer the announcement of war. Well Vietnam marks the moment when (some) people finally noticed that war isn't black and white. It isn't about good and evil. It's all shades of grey. In Platoon Sgt Barnes had lost the capacity for showing any level of moral decency towards anyone outside his squad. But look at how his squad respected him. They trusted him above all things, because they knew he would protect them, and that was all that matters. He was brutal and nasty, but it is because of Vietnam that he became like that, not because he was like that from the start.

Which brings me to Iraq. Often compared to Vietnam and rightly so, the scale may be much smaller but the pattern of increasing violence and lack of public support is alarmingly similar.

Now American magazine 'The Nation' is to publish interviews and quotes from Iraq War veterans that detail the violence and random killings that have become part and parcel of Americas new Vietnam.

The ones I've read immediately brought me back to Platoon; one of the first movies to really highlight the human drama of Vietnam. Kids being sent off to war, many of them believing that what they were doing was for the good of their country; for freedoms sake, only for many of them to be turned into murderers and vilified by their country back home. Not because of the atrocities they committed, but because they lost.

Read the independent article

Selected excerpts

"I'll tell you the point where I really turned... [there was] this little, you know, pudgy little two-year-old child with the cute little pudgy legs and she has a bullet through her leg... An IED [improvised explosive device] went off, the gun-happy soldiers just started shooting anywhere and the baby got hit. And this baby looked at me... like asking me why. You know, 'Why do I have a bullet in my leg?'... I was just like, 'This is, this is it. This is ridiculous'."

"I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, 'A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi... You know, so what?'... [Only when we got home] in... meeting other veterans, it seems like the guilt really takes place, takes root, then."

"I just remember thinking, 'I just brought terror to someone under the American flag'."

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