Support Our Troops?
Why I Don’t Support Baby-Killers and War Criminals

by Paul Donahue

05 March 2006

Who is to blame for Iraq? Do you remember the old bumper sticker that read, “What if they held a war and nobody came?” What if all the soldiers, from the lowest-ranking private to the highest-ranking general, boycotted the war? Who would then drop the bombs, fire the guns or drive the tanks? Who would do the killing? Maybe these questions sound silly and naïve, but are they really?

For our nation to go to war, many willing groups of participants are required. Politicians are needed to make the determination to go to war in the first place. Defense contractors and their employees are needed to provide the weapons of war. Taxpayers are needed to fund the destructive enterprise. Planners in the Pentagon are needed to decide on the how and the when. And soldiers are needed to do the killing. Remove anyone of those five groups from the equation, and no war will take place. It is that simple, and that complex.

Almost every day I hear or read of prominent progressives proclaiming how strongly they support our brave troops abroad and how, because of that support, they are just as patriotic as those on the right. But I am confused. Exactly which troops should I be supporting?

Should I be supporting the pilots who drop cluster bombs in civilian neighborhoods? Or maybe I should be supporting the troops who fire million dollar Tomahawk Cruise Missiles from the safety of naval vessels far offshore? Should I be supporting the Marines who machine-gun down whole families at US military checkpoints in Iraq? Or the troops that participated in the near total destruction of the city of Fallujah? Or how about the ones kicking in the doors of homes in Baghdad and brutalizing the occupants? Or the ones breaking up the Iraqi political protests against the US occupation of their country? Should I support the pilots who bombed the offices of news agencies in Baghdad, or the tank commander who fired on journalists in the Palestine Hotel. How about the troops torturing prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison?

Enough is enough. If demonstrating my patriotism means that I have to voice my support for a bunch of baby-killers and brutal thugs, forget it. Count me among the unpatriotic. I don't support school yard bullies, I don't support mafia gangsters, and I won't support US troops who terrorize civilians around the globe.

Is it too harsh to call the US troops in Iraq baby-killers? I, for one, do not think so. US troops in Iraq are killing women and children or providing support services for the people who are killing women and children. If you kill babies, by definition, does that not make you a baby killer? During the Viet Nam war, many anti-war protesters were not afraid to use the baby-killer label, but now everyone "supports the troops". Why? The most carefully done study to date shows that our troops have been responsible for the violent death of 100,000 people in Iraq, with the vast majority of those killed being civilians. Children below 15 years of age make up nearly 44% of Iraq’s population. You do the math.

I apologize to any of you who may have family members serving in Iraq, especially to anyone who may have had a loved one killed in this war. That being said, however, the bulk of my sympathy is reserved for the victims of this illegal war, not its perpetrators. While our invasion of Iraq was illegal, under international law the Iraqi people are fully within their legal rights to defend themselves from an invading army.

The US troops serving in Iraq are not draftees or victims, they are volunteers who chose to enter the military. Maybe they support America's imperial ambitions. Maybe they believe the lies they have been told about defending our democracy and freedom. Maybe they were trying to exploit the system for job training and money for college. Maybe they were just looking for a way out of the ghetto. However, I don't care what their reasons were for joining. They are legally adults, and they signed on the dotted line. Nobody growing up in this country of non-stop movies, television shows and video games depicting war could not realize that the military's primary purpose is killing.

Should I feel sorry because so many of our front line troops have ended up in the military because they are poor and uneducated and lacking in options? Sure, and I do. But I do not feel nearly as sorry for them as for the innocent civilians they are killing and brutalizing in my name. The US troops in Iraq are not the victims here, they are the bad guys, the ones inflicting needless death and suffering on the Iraqi people.

In poor inner city neighborhoods many young black and Latino males join gangs because the gangs provide purpose and meaning and a sense of belonging - qualities otherwise in short supply in their lives. In other words, they join gangs for many of the same reasons that poor young blacks and Latinos join the US military. These gangs are involved in illegal activities, kill people, and get their own members killed - just like the US military. The only significant differences I can see between the US military and gangs are 1) better uniforms, 2) bigger weapons, 3) more kills, 4) much, much better PR, and 5) a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. On the plus side for the gangs, they do a much better job of sticking by their members.

Are all US troops guilty of behaving like thugs? No, of course not, but it is worth recalling what Vietnam War veteran Senator John Kerry said in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971:

"I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command....

They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country."

I would like to think that things are different now, but I know better. Just recently I saw a US soldier interviewed in Iraq. His comment to the interviewer? "We're in the business of population control." I'm assuming he wasn't talking about condoms and birth control pills.

Despite the endless rhetoric emanating from members of the Bush administration, and the impressive public relations campaign conducted by the recruiting offices of the armed forces, we are not in Iraq to fight terrorism or to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction or to bring freedom and democracy to the poor Iraqi people. We are there to steal Iraq's oil reserves and extend the US empire. It is way past time to dispel the myth that serving in the military is noble, that the troops are defending our freedom, and that they deserve our unflagging support. Like it or not, our military exists to extend the US empire, and US military troops function as nothing more than enforcers for global capitalism and US-based transnational corporations. There is nothing noble about using guns and tanks and bombs to force US style free-market capitalism down the throats of the poorer and weaker nations of the world. Until the myth of the nobility of military service is dispelled, we are going to have difficulty bringing to a close the seemingly endless cycle of killing perpetrated in the service of empire.

The situation in Iraq is black and white, so why do we insist on pretending that it is not? The actions of the US troops there are in clear violation of the law. At the time of induction, US troops take the following oath -

"I,____________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God"

Under the US Constitution, international treaties signed by the US government become the equivalent of US law. The war in Iraq and the manner in which we are conducting it, is in violation of numerous international treaties, including the Hague Convention, the Geneva Convention, the Nuremberg Principles, and the UN Charter.

Further, it is abundantly clear that under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, to which all US military personnel are bound, our troops are not obligated to obey unlawful orders. In fact, they have a legal obligation to disobey unlawful orders. This is spelled out clearly in the Nuremberg Principles, adopted by the Department of Defense in 1953. Sending troops into an illegal war constitutes an unlawful order. Ordering troops to attack hospitals and clinics, as was done in Baghdad and Fallujah, constitutes an unlawful order. Ordering troops to attack the civilian population and civilian infrastructure constitutes an unlawful order. Ordering troops to torture and otherwise abuse prisoners constitutes an unlawful order. Ordering troops to use banned chemical weapons, such as the white phosphorus used in Fallujah, constitutes an unlawful order. Ordering troops to keep civilians from leaving a battle zone, again, as we did in Fallujah, constitutes an unlawful order. Ordering troops to use munitions made with depleted uranium, legally considered a weapon of mass destruction, constitutes an unlawful order. And on, and on, and on…

All US troops fighting in Iraq and carrying out these or any other unlawful orders are in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and are subject to prosecution for war crimes. It makes no difference that US troops may not be aware of the specific international laws they are violating because, legally speaking, ignorance of the law is no defense. Try pleading ignorance of the law the next time you are charged with a crime and see how far you get. To quote the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Ignorance of the law…is generally held not to excuse the actor; it is no defense that he was unaware that his conduct was forbidden by criminal law. This doctrine is supported by the proposition that criminal acts may be recognized as harmful and immoral by any reasonable adult.” Thus the actor need not have intended to do something criminal, only to intend what the statute requires, e.g., for murder, the intent to kill.

Are the troops the only ones to blame for the war in Iraq? No, of course not, but why should they be held less accountable for their actions than the officers and politicians giving the orders to kill? Within the US court system, killers for hire tend to fare poorly. So, with those thoughts in mind, when do we or the rest of the world start putting on trial for war crimes all 140,000 or so US troops in Iraq? Whereas the US military is composed entirely of volunteers, and whereas the troops are the ones doing the killing in Iraq, and whereas neither poverty nor ignorance of the law qualify as an adequate defense for homicide, I propose that every soldier in the field in Iraq, from the lowest-ranking private to the highest-ranking general, be rounded up and put on trial for war crimes alongside Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell and company. The only real question in my mind is who has the legal authority to bring all these war criminals to justice? For if we are truly a nation of laws, then that is what is required. If we are not a nation of laws, then perhaps it is time to stop pretending that we are.

Buffy Sainte-Marie had it right in her 1964 song The Universal Soldier -
"….without him all this killing can't go on.
He's the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame…"

In my life I have to be accountable for my actions and it is time that our troops be held accountable for theirs.