13 September 2006

A Marine with a conscience, like my gunner, was a liability

An interesting interview with Iraq War combat veteran U.S. Marine Corporate Alex Markey.

His thoughts on civilian killing by U.S. soldiers:

At my level there was no basis for discrimination. We regarded all Iraqis as the enemy. Most of us would have eagerly killed any one of them who ventured too close to our convoy. The underlying consensus among Marines in our AO (Area of Operation) was that Iraqis were either actively plotting attacks against us, or abetting those who were. The sight of a dead Iraqi on the roadside would usually induce cheering.

Early last year, we were passing through a small, but densely populated town en route to Al Qaim. This particular town was assumed, by most of us, to be home to the same guys planting the multitude of IEDs we would encounter on this route. As we were driving through the village, I noticed a vehicle idling in an alleyway. As soon as the truck in front of me passed him, the driver sped out of the alley and crossed the street. Our rules of engagement state specifically that no vehicles may be allowed to cut though the convoy. Use of deadly force is authorized to uphold this. I began barking at my gunner to shoot the guy. He froze, and did nothing. The car parked. The driver got, out and walked into a nearby house.

Even though the driver turned out to be nothing more than an innocent man on his way home, my gunner was fiercely rebuked for his inaction. From that day forward, nobody wanted to ride with him. He was condemned as a coward. There was even talk of charging him with Dereliction of Duty. He defended his decision not to shoot, claiming he didn’t want to risk hitting other civilians in the area. It didn’t matter to us. He never regained our trust after that.

I have to be extremely careful what I say when addressing your question directly. This is the type of thing that could trigger a JAG investigation, and jeopardize the careers of some good Marines. I can safely tell you that there were a lot of rumors, some more credible than others. As I have already said, we regarded all Iraqis as potential enemies. The alleged killing of any Iraqi, civilian or combatant, was good news. A Marine who was rumored to have killed civilians was the type of Marine you would want to have watching your back once you exited that wire. A Marine with a conscience, like my gunner, was a liability.

His remarks on the role of private military contractors:

It was fascinating to see the evolution of their role in the theater of operations. At the beginning of my first tour the idea of civilians participating in our mission was unheard of. By the end of my second tour our mission relied so heavily on them, it seemed that we had become little more than security escorts for their convoys.

Whatever affinity I may have for the KBR drivers, I don’t wish to convey a sense of approval for the privatization of military operations. I think that the extent to which multinational conglomerates like Halliburton are benefiting from this war borders on criminal.

Finally, his take on the ubiquitous "Support the Troops" motto, which was the main trigger on why I wished to highlight this interview:

I have to wonder since I hear that phrase a lot. What does it mean for one to “Support the Troops”? Do they have a list local kids who are serving in Iraq for whom they pray each Sunday Mass? Do they decorate their SUVs with magnetic yellow ribbons? It seems to be a phrase that opponents and advocates of this war alike feel obligated to mention as routinely as they breathe. In fact, for any one to say otherwise since September 11th, 2001 is a veritable anathema. It’s a useful quote, whether to reiterate your position or cover your ass. Beyond that, I don’t pay it much mind.

I would like to relate a story to you, which I think illuminates my point.

It was the spring of 2004. I had returned from my first tour several months before. I bought a 2-door Geo Metro hatchback with the money I had earned overseas. My girlfriend at the time was an outspoken critic of SUVs, so I figured she would approve. John Kerry’s campaign was picking up steam. A good friend of mine who was working for his campaign in Iowa had sent me a “John Kerry for President” bumper sticker, which I proudly placed on the bumper of my car right above my “United States Marine Corps” sticker. I was driving through Westchester County (one of NY State’s more affluent areas) and got caught up in a traffic jam. All of a sudden the car behind me, a huge black Escalade, pulled up beside me. The driver, a fat, red-faced man in his late thirties/early forties began to scream at me. “What the Fuck is the matter with you? Do you support the troops or don’t you? Yeah, you’re a fucking flip flopper!” It took me a moment to realize he was referring to my “politically confused” bumper stickers. The idea that a person could simultaneously support his military and the democratic challenger was evidently too nuanced for him. And off he went, his magnetic yellow ribbon gleaming in the sun. The irony of a fat forty-something who had ostensibly never served in the military, who drives a gas guzzling road monster berating an Iraq War veteran in his Geo Metro for not supporting the troops would be forever lost on him.

I just can’t describe what I am trying to say any better than that.

Markey answers other questions in the interview pertaining to his health, depleted uranium, Iraq and the state of U.S. military and freedom in Iraq. I'm sure it will raise the blood pressure of some, maybe even delight others as it reinforces their sentiments. For me, it's another sad, maybe tragic, illustration of the aftermath of an illegal, immoral invasion of a country that posed no threat to the United States.

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