Incidents like this are not just likely; they're inevitable in insurgencies. They happened in Vietnam and even to the British, who committed atrocities during the American Revolution. They happen because one of the things an insurgent does is attack the counterinsurgent's state of mind. The insurgent makes the counterinsurgent feel constantly insecure, constantly scared and constantly unaware of who or where the enemy is. The guy fighting the insurgent often feels lost in a hostile sea.
One of the reasons I wrote the Vietnam memoir A Rumor of War was to show how that kind of war can bring out a psychopathic streak in men of otherwise normal behavior and impulses. When a soldier is fighting guerrillas, he can often feel like a helpless victim. I imagine that must be especially true in Iraq with these roadside bombs. After a while, that's got to bring out a killer instinct in even the best troops. And soldiers in combat get very close to one another. That's one of the saving graces of battle, but it can work against you if the loss of a beloved comrade drives a soldier to go over the edge and seek revenge.
A former Marine lieutenant, Caputo is the author most recently of the novel Acts of Faith
Some battlefield acts are so clearly contrary to the training and ethos of Marines and all service members that they remain unacceptable in any circumstance. A basic law of war is that noncombatants may never be purposely targeted. Today's Marine is better educated, better trained and better led than ever before. Marines of all ranks are aware of the standards of battlefield conduct. Yet there apparently was a disregard of those standards by a very few. Even in a combat zone, one can commit murder, and Haditha looks like such a case.
But never forget the thousands of Marines, many on their third and fourth tours, whose conduct on this most treacherous of battlefields has been not just honorable, but selfless and heroic. And even if proved, Haditha is no My Lai, with its victims in the hundreds, attendant sexual crimes, direct officer involvement and high-level cover-up by a dozen officers, including colonels and generals.
A lawyer and former Marine lieutenant colonel who served in Vietnam, Solis has taught courses in the law of war at West Point and Georgetown University
REUEL MARC GERECHT
To their credit, modern Western democracies feel shame in combat more profoundly than other countries. We have done terrible things--in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and now, it strongly appears, in Haditha in Iraq. These dark moments--indiscriminately bombarding German civilians in World War II, mowing down Vietnamese peasants at My Lai--do not necessarily diminish the rightness of the cause for which we fight. For Americans, in whom isolationism runs deep, it is perhaps reflexive to feel revulsion and want to withdraw from conflicts and commitments where young Americans can do evil things.