Kibitzing the New York Times

Alert reader Sacha Guney sent in this New York Times article on the discovery, in an Iraqi junkyard, of 400 pages of records of the Marines’ internal investigation of the 2005 Haditha massacre.

As Sacha points out, the reporting’s a little… weird. For an article about the clear commission of an atrocity, there’s shockingly little reference to any concept of individual criminal responsibility. Instead, we get a story about the negative mental health consequences of combat. Specifically:

“Others became so desensitized and inured to the killing that they fired on Iraqi civilians deliberately while their fellow soldiers snapped pictures, and were court-martialed.”

I don’t doubt that war is hell, or that American soldiers in Iraq were indeed under “extraordinary strain”, but another way to write that sentence would have been: “Others were mass-murdering psychopaths.” But you know, you say “potato”…

So I’m ultimately unsure what to make of this piece. It’s clearly not intended as an apologia for the commission of mass atrocity, and it offers an illuminating exposition of the conditions that made “use force first and ask questions later” feel like the only possible approach to the civilian population.

But, imagine this story were about an African army, or really any other military in the world. Is there any way it doesn’t involve the phrase “war crimes”?

Kate Cronin-Furman


  1. I had the same thought. It's also worth noting that this is always the NYT's response to carnage of Others in other places: how does it redound on us/US, those who caused the carnage in the first place.

    Note Friedman today: "whatever happens in Iraq, even if it becomes Switzerland, we overpaid for it. And, for that, I have nothing but regrets. We overpaid in lives, in the wounded, in tarnished values, in dollars and in the lost focus on America’s development. Iraqis, of course, paid dearly as well."

    oh yeah, the Iraqis had a rough time of it too, we're sure…

  2. Why not go and read the original NYT coverage on the Haditha massacre, which they covered extensively, before making claims about the extent of their coverage.

  3. What happened at Haditha was horrible and inexcusable. The culpable Marines will pay dearly in one way or another. And then they will pay again, since (to my knowledge) we are the only people in the nation subject to double jeopardy.

    I swear I'm not an extremist. I AM a career officer in your Marine Corps and most people consider me a reasonable man. The opinions stated here are mine alone and are not indicative of those of the United States Marine Corps. With that said…

    Our leaders should be ashamed of themselves for sending our Marines into these situations in the first place. Marines are not the Army or the Navy or Coast Guard. We are not police and we don't ferry things around. Each of these services has its own sort of personality or "culture"…and we Marines are all about killing. Our branch is designed to hit hard, hit fast and then leave the station holding/policing/populace control to someone else. We are an expeditionary force…or at least we are supposed to be.

    But many of our leaders don't understand this because they have little to no military experience. They want to send the rabid junkyard dog in after the bad guys but complain when the populace complains that we aren't very cuddly. I'm not saying its right, but it is what it is.

    But that was 2005. These days there are lots of pre-deployment classes that get us ready to be "more social". Its not really inline with our culture or mission, but we can do it.

    Please understand that I'm not trying to glorify or glamorize my service. I just want to add a perspective that might not be so common around here. Especially since there seems to be a growing disconnect between the military and civilian population in our great nation. I read between the lines in that NYT article (and a little in the original post here) and the ideas seem foreign to me. Anyhow, for those who haven't seen it already, here is an article that discusses that topic.

    Your military has limitations in how we can be employed in support of national policy. I believe that if our fellow Americans get to know us and what we do (and the costs of what we do), they may ask more questions of our government. I hope they will stand up and be counted before letting congress and the white house throw us at every problem that would be unpleasant to solve with diplomacy.

    Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to your blog.

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