01 June 2006


patrol, originally uploaded by gpj631.

While I can honestly say I never killed anyone in combat who wasn’t — or soon wouldn’t be — trying to kill me, I sometimes find it hard to understand the uproar over the inadvertent killing of civilians. Now the Iraqi government is demanding an apology for the killings.

Inadvertent will probably raise the hackles on some of your necks, but the men involved in these type of war time killings didn’t go out into the field with the purpose of killing civilians. It is a byproduct of the trauma of combat. In group situations, admittedly, it also reflects a breakdown in leadership at the — in this case — squad or fire team level.

It is NOT, however, endemic to the military machine, but rather is a fallout from the rigors and stress of combat.

Naturally the mass media has already started its “Iraq’s My Lai” coverage. For those of you too young to recall, My Lai (mee-lie) was a village where a platoon of GIs ran amok, and killed the civilian populace of the town of My Lai in mid-coastal Viet Nam.

The background of the My Lai story — mostly under-reported, if not totally ignored — has much more pertinency than the media coverage of the incident suggested.

In their defense, the soldiers in question had been taking devastating wounds from booby traps in the weeks before the massacre, lost several men, but never were able to close with an enemy.

This inability to fight enemy is a major factor in the current situation and provided the psychological fuel for the storm that was to come. I don’t doubt that the fire team that killed the Iraqi civilians — if indeed they did — had been in a similar situation.

At what point, however, does the warrior code become subverted and massacre occur?

In our culture, much has to do with each individual’s make up. In the terrorist culture there is — obviously — no distinctions, and they are free to kill any and every individual. This is an ethos that exacerbates the subversion of the warrior code and feeds the psychosis of combat.

Many soldiers — you’ll see it a lot in special operations — are able to kill in rather brutal fashion, but remain able to distinguish between combatants and non combatants, as well as distinguish whether a combatant is no longer a threat (this latter is very iffy, as —generally — the only good combatant is a dead one … or at least one severely wounded enough to be unable to think of anything except his wounds).

Some soldiers, however, find the distinctions tenuous. If you take fire from a building, there is really no great leap in logic to assume anyone in the building is worth a .223 round in the forehead.

The bottom line is that in combat, shit happens. In a war situation where there is absolutely no target discrimination shown by the enemy, and the populace appears to be siding with that enemy, massacres have, can and will continue to happen.

This unit of Marines were probably better off calling in air strikes or artillery which are able to kill civilians with relative impunity, allowing them the wherewithal of an “oops.” Unfortunately they no longer have that option and some of them will end up doing prison time on this.

I’ll never say killing civilians is all right. But I’ll never imprison our soldiers for doing so, because that is the result of war. There is very little that is non-psychotic about combat. It’s exists on a level of intellectual and emotional activity that can only be considered by those who have lived through it.

George Clemenceau’s “war is too important to be left to the generals” has an unspoken corollary: “peace is too important to be left to the politicians.”

Leave this to the military; it has no relevance nor requires any input from a civilian populace that couldn’t keep the images of September 11, 2001 in mind for more than a year. Our people are at war and in war things such as this will happen


Anonymous said...


Clay O' Shea said...

Mr. Joyce, everywhere I go on the internet I seem to run into you. I do so enjoy reading what you write though. Doesn't it seem that truth has evolved into the most elusive commodity of the 21st century (maybe every century). It has never been so well hidden it would seem as it now though. I'm sure it is right there amongst all those millions of shades of gray. For what it is worth I agree with your assessment of the civilian casualty situation as well as your comments on Michael Moore. A few month's back Cindy Sheehan, spurred on by the liberal crowd, railed against the war because her son died unjustly. I wrote at the time "Ms. Sheehan is certainly not the first and absolutely won't be the last parent to lose a child to involvement in military conflict. This is a voluntary military last I checked. Nobody forced her son into active service and it is my guess that if there is any connection between the afterlife and the here and now, this boy is none to pleased by the rantings of this misguided mother." I struggle to understand the mentality. I really do, but then again from all my reading and my experience it seems this is something that will always be.

I would love one day to sit down with you and just share our experiences and insights since those times as young lads, when we would sit in your Pontiac LaMans (I believe it was a LaMans), waiting on the Robert Moses Bridge to spend another summer day at the beach. How grand was that?

I hope you are well and taking care of yourself. Take care and I will continue to follow your blog. (Love the pictures..you really were a handsome young buck, werent you?). With your permission I may download some of them. I think I may of actually have seen some of these years back.

My Computer blew up in a storm and I lost your e-mail address so if you get this and feel like it please send it to me again........Gary Black

gary said...


Yo ... get me at gpjoyce@gmail.com