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A few weeks ago in Washington, D.C., Iraq Veterans Against the War sponsored the Winter Soldier Hearings, a public confessional by some of those who?d fought in Iraq and seen - and sometimes committed themselves - crimes against civilians.
The word would be atrocities, such as what happened during the Vietnam War at the My Lai Massacre. But there are some people who can?t handle that word, and couldn?t handle it during Vietnam. So I looked it up.
?Atrocity? is defined as, ?1.) the quality or state of being atrocious. ?Atrocious? is defined as ?extremely wicked, brutal, or cruel; barbaric.?
So, what do you think? Was Lt. William Calley?s slaughter of some 300 men, women and children during Vietnam an atrocity? Remember, Calley lives today in a small Indiana town where he is protected by the locals. He got plenty of sympathy during his trial, and gave the Nuremburg-like excuse that he was ?just following orders.?
Those who support war, any American war, generally don?t want to face the kind of things that came out during the Winter Soldier hearings. Yet, it seems apparent that war does things to some people that changes them forever. It?s true, too, that some people do things they regret for the rest of their lives. These were the kinds of stories that surfaced at the hearings, which, by the way, were totally ignored by the so-called liberal media.
Source material, therefore, unless one attended the hearings, comes only from the Internet and those alternative newspapers and magazines that covered it. There?s a series of videos on YouTube. You can Google the subject and find plenty of documentation for it.
One soldier spoke of the time when his commander told his unit that the streets they were traveling through was a ?free-fire? zone. So, they had a lot of fun shooting the place up without worrying about the rules.
Later, he said, he realized that many of the bodies, especially the women and children, simply couldn?t be ?terrorists,? as his commander insisted. He gets to live with that memory for the rest of his life.
One veteran told of a time when a reporter was joining his unit to become ?embedded? with the troops, in order to give one of those supposedly ?what it?s really like? stories about the war. Trouble was, the troops had just shot an Iraqi civilian. They decided to put the body down a hole, and cover it up with the victim?s own bicycle. The reporter never knew what happened.
Are some of the stories false? It?s possible. Could they all be false? That?s not likely. The fact is, war produces atrocities by the very nature of it. Novelist James Jones, who fought in World War II, said this in his classic work, ?The Thin Red Line:? ?War doesn?t ennoble men; it turns them into dogs.? Not all of them, no, but enough of them to fill a hotel conference room with stories of atrocities they both saw and committed.
But in our militaristic culture, that?s simply too much for many people to accept. This is apparently why the mainstream media wouldn?t get anywhere near these hearings. Not even the ?liberal? New York Times sent a reporter or published a single word about the Winter Soldier hearings.
Not long ago, there was a young man in this region who led police on a car chase. When he finally stopped, he got out and opened fire on the officers, who of course shot him to death. That kind of thing has been dubbed ?suicide by cop.?
In the days that followed, his relatives told a newspaper that he hadn?t been the same since he returned from duty in Iraq. We?ll never know what war-time memories or deeds were stalking him, will we?
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.