One week ago, we Americans celebrated Memorial Day, focusing especially on the victims of war who wore military uniforms. On that day, we heard heart-wrenching stories about mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, prematurely taken from this Earth and leaving behind huge gaping holes in people's lives. Such stories from real people's experiences were completely compelling to me, and I want to grieve for every one of them.
Now maybe we should declare a second Memorial Day holiday, one week after the first, in order to grieve and honor the civilian victims of war. I've been thinking for several days now that I really need to say something in this blog about Haditha. We now know that the horrific details of this massacre of Iraqi civilians, perpetrated by U.S. marines, are almost certainly true--even Bush and Rumsfeld are basically acknowledging that now. As we read about the whole families brutally murdered over several hours on that day, including young children and the elderly, it gives us a concrete and truly heart-wrenching example to reflect upon.
And let's not fool ourselves: this is not just one isolated instance. While this massacre may involve more civilian victims over a lengthy period of time (and, perhaps more importantly, has been documented and investigated), there are certainly many others. Moreover, once you start thinking about the civilian victims of aerial bombardment and major military operations with heavy artillery (think of Fallujah), the number of civilian victims soars far higher. To be sure, not all of the "collateral damage" is quite so clear cut of an example as the apparent war crimes at Haditha seem to be. But to the civilian victims themselves, this is no consolation, and their grief deserves the same dignity and honor as anyone.
I guess that's what all this is really about: equal dignity. If we really believe that everyone in the world is of equal moral worth, then we absolutely, fundamentally must insist upon grieving the deaths of civilian victims of war--especially the ones that result from our own military actions, for which we bear a special responsibility as indirect perpetrators. So we really need a second Memorial Day to the civilian victims of war. How about today?
I would like to add one more note intended for members of the U.S. armed forces currently stationed in Iraq (and elsewhere). I don't want to presume that any of you read this blog, but just in case you do: Please consider that you may have a special role to play in responding to Haditha. I'm not just talking about attending sessions sponsored by the Pentagon about the "rules of engagement." I'm talking about a far more radical response that will re-humanize and re-dignify that people in the lands you are occupying. Even though on moral grounds I might wish that you had refused to serve in Iraq, I recognize that there are many complex factors playing into your decision, including some very good values such as loyalty, commitment, and duty, as well as the simple reality that you may not have known what you were getting into. And so, for those serving on the ground, my plea is simply this: Reclaim your moral agency. Some brave and courageous soldiers have already been doing that, risking ostracism by reporting atrocities and demanding accountability. Others have insisted on upholding the dignity of the Iraqis, respecting and honoring them as people of equal worth to the band of brothers and sisters in their own units. These are the greatest heroes of this war, in my opinion. Don't just refuse to participate in the massacre of civilians. Report when atrocities occur and demand accountability. Take more risks on behalf of Iraqis. Object when other people try to dehumanize Iraqis with pejorative terms. I don't have any illusions that such actions will suddenly turn around the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people who hate this occupation, but maybe you can create more little corners of dignity and respect in a horrible situation. I'm sorry if this whole paragraph sounds preachy and sanctimonious (perhaps the greater danger is that it just sounds ridiculous and idealistic). On the contrary, I want to lift you up as moral agents who are not just beaten down and oppressed by your situation (which you certainly are) but also as people who can empower themselves to create a better world.
In return, those of us back at home must also commit to responding to Haditha in the way that we can. We can pledge ourselves to work even harder to demand an end to this occupation and to bring all of our military people home. No more Hadithas!