By Mark Patterson, Guest Contributor
I am proud to carry a distinction that few Americans ever do. I am a combat veteran. Having served in Iraq during the initial phases of its invasion, I feel I know something about the horrors and costs of war. I have experienced the loss of fellow Marines and soldiers to enemy bullets, as well as to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. War is a savage and brutal endeavor; one in which we paradoxically witness the best attributes of humanity such as selflessness, courage and resolve along with the unfortunate manifestation of the potential for barbarism within each of us. I am not proud to be a combat veteran because I have killed the enemy or because I subscribe to some sort of self-satisfying notion of machismo or heroism. I am proud to be a combat veteran because when those first bullets flew by my head, I proved to myself that I am willing to fight and die for an ideal. That ideal is the Constitution of the United States. It is an ideal which all members of the military take an oath to defend against all â€œenemies foreign and domestic.â€
I am also proud to be a combat veteran because I know that the United States Military is the most honorable, noble and professional military in the world. Throughout my entire experience as a United States Marine Infantryman, I was taught to honor principles of just warfare. I learned a warriorâ€™s code that one never intentionally kills or harms noncombatants.
I began following the news of the Haditha Massacre when it was first reported by the Arab and European press. I have continued to read the reports, study the evidence, and examine the fallout of the alleged events of Nov. 19 2005. Although I respect the time honored judicial tradition that the accused Marines are innocent until proven guilty, I believe the facts demonstrate the unfortunate reality that a crime was indeed committed. Whether it was intentional murder, â€œexecution style,â€ as alleged by Iraqi witnesses and human rights groups, or merely â€œnegligent homicide,” the reality is that someone failed to do their duty and they should be punished.
I find the thought that any Marine representing the United States of America could degrade his title, service, and country by murdering innocent people to be morally repugnant, inexcusable and thoroughly depressing. However, we canâ€™t rewrite the past. What happened that day cannot be reversed, but as a country we must ensure that it is not repeated. It is our duty as citizens of this country to hold our servicemen and women to a higher standard then our enemies.
Amidst the politicization of this war by both the Right and the Left I am disappointed to see the events of Haditha being manipulated for political gain. The Left would have us believe that Haditha is merely the tip of the Iceberg, that similar massacres have occurred all over Iraq. Some go so far as to portray American soldiers and Marines as trigger-happy thugs. This is completely untrue. The Right seems content to criticize anyone who even mentions the possibility that the accused Marines are in fact guilty of being, in the words of Sean Hannity, â€œun-American.â€ The political polarization in this country is a tragedy in its own right. The controversy surrounding Haditha and the war at large is representative of what I believe is a population of citizens too far removed from the realities of war. No, Mr. Hannity, it is not â€œun-Americanâ€ to wonder if our Marines are capable of war crimes and no, Mr. Hannity, having concerns that our military could have committed war crimes does not help terrorists. However, ignoring it and covering it up does.
For the liberal critics who like to spin every event into some sort of â€œI told you soâ€ moment against the war in Iraq, I would ask, what they have done to constructively support the success of the mission despite criticizing it? Where is their objective analysis of positive progress in Iraq? What is their alternative? Criticism without constructive proposals is not criticism, it is whining.
Finally, I would ask any young man who reads this to search his own heart and ask himself â€œwhy arenâ€™t I in the military?â€ Despite record high enlistment bonuses, incredible benefits and incentives, an ever growing number of young American men are not willing to serve their country. I know that most of the men and women in our armed forces are of superb character. I also know that some are not. Now more than ever, our military needs intelligent, capable, and patriotic men and women in its ranks. If these Marines did indeed commit such a horrible crime, perhaps it would not have occurred if they had better leadership or Marines by their side who exercised moral restraint.
In the end, our military represents our nation in all facets, both the good and the bad. We have to face reality. As citizens we must be willing to hold our armed forces accountable when they let us down. It is our duty as citizens to constantly honor the sacrifice of those who serve in ways that go beyond the ubiquitous yellow-ribbon. There are few things more indicative of a true democracy than an all volunteer military force. Who will join if we cease to respect those willing to serve?
To those afraid to criticize the administration or military, I say that nothing is more patriotic then holding your leaders and military accountable. For those who criticize unfairly or incorrectly I ask, â€œwhat have you done to make things better?”
[Editor’s Note: Mr. Patterson was in one of the first Marine battalions to enter Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom]