‘Apache air attack’ video demonstrates flaws in our justification of violence during war

Kyle Schmidlin and Kyle Schmidlin

A 2007 video recently posted on the Web site WikiLeaks.org has caused quite a controversy for the U.S. military.

The video, shot from an Apache helicopter, shows the killing of several Iraqis and two Reuters journalists. Actual numbers of dead vary from source to source, but most reported numbers are right around a dozen or so.

After hovering above the civilians for a few minutes, one of the journalists’ cameras is apparently mistaken for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher (RPG). Pilots in the Apache open fire. Some time later, a van pulls up to pick up the wounded. The Apache fires on it, too, injuring two child passengers.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has defended the military personnel involved, citing such things as the “fog of war.” In general, media commentary has followed a similar and familiar course — sure, it’s a tragedy, but who are we to pass judgments and dispersions from the comfort of our own homes while these kids are in a foreign land with their lives constantly on the line?

The analysis on FOX News was pretty interesting. They point to the fact that one man was carrying an RPG and at least one other carried an AK-47 (in the video, a pilot claims at least five or six people are carrying AKs). According to the Washington Post, however, the RPG FOX claims was there was just the camera. The AK-47s are hardly relevant — keep in mind we’re dealing with an Apache helicopter, essentially an airborne tank. One analyst during Megyn Kelly’s “America Live” said the rescue van, being unmarked, left itself open to attack. He even had the audacity to suggest the victims may have been in violation of the international law.

Of course, criticism of the military can be a complicated thing to express with the religious conviction amongst so many segments of the population that the military exists to “defend our freedoms” and that we must always “support our troops.” Such slogans are as meaningless as “WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.”

The meaning of the phrase “support our troops” is never made clear. Does it mean we should, when faced with evidence such as the Apache helicopter attack, simply dismiss the fact that a floating gunship slayed a dozen people and attacked a van which carried children, accompanied by occasional laughter and inhuman remarks from the soldiers?

The incident reminds me of a M*A*S*H episode in which a bombardier is shot down and sent to the 4077. He is excited to be treated and return to the sky until Hawkeye introduces him to a young Korean child, wounded by shrapnel from an American bomb. Having been high in the sky and detached from the consequences of his bombing, the pilot is smacked hard by reality and breaks down.

It isn’t in the military’s interest to have combatants feel human emotions. If they did, killing would be virtually impossible. But maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

I don’t know whether the military personnel involved deserve to be court-martialed and charged with murder, even if murder is what happened. They are trained to behave that way, and it’s a rigorous process to take all the humanity out of a human. But maybe the guilty parties should meet the families of the dead, visit the hospitalized children, or see the destruction a bomb launched from above can cause.

While I watched the video, I was constantly reminded of video games like “Metal Gear Solid 4” and “Call of Duty.” For the soldiers piloting the Apache, it must have felt like a video game. Maybe they were experiencing “combat high,” but laughing as a body is run over by a Bradley Fighting Vehicle certainly suggests they weren’t completely in tune with reality.

The incident raises moral and ethical questions about the military, already well-known enough by those caring to investigate, and especially by those on the opposite side of our guns.

One thing which seems fairly obvious is that military might is not the route to peace. The only way to arrive at that ideal is to begin treating all people of the world as human beings, rather than enemy combatants, insurgents or hostile people. Only then can such hopeful ideals become reality.

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