Saturday, April 2, 2011

What's Been Lost: The First Casualty of War

Everybody has suffered some form of loss. It may come in the form of material possessions, security, or loved ones. Everybody knows loss on some level. Infants know loss in the form of losing that time in the womb. They know loss in the form of losing a pacifier or being taken away from mommy and held by somebody else for a few minutes. Everybody has misplaced something or had something break. I am willing to bet that most people have had things stolen from them. I also cannot believe that there is any non-sociopath adult in this world who has not lost love. Yes, everybody gets their heartbroken. It is part of growing up.

Just as breaking up is part of growing up and learning to love; death is part of life. It is unavoidable. Like most people, I have lost those close to me. I stopped counting how many military people I knew who have died at war over the past 7 years. I can honestly say that the first friend I lost cut the deepest. It didn't hurt the worst, but that scar is the one I will always remember. CPT Christopher S. Seifert was taken from us by a traitor named Akbar. Akbar is currently on death row for treason, mutiny, and murder. From Sept 06-Sept 07 I lost 47 brothers-in-arms who were in the same unit as I. The night I lost 10 of them in the same incident still haunts me.

So, I know loss.

For most of the things I've lost, I have gained important things thereby creating the equity of a near-zero balance. Even with all the friends I have lost in the war; I have established new friends with strong bonds. I also retain the fond memories of those I did lose. But the thing that can never be recompensed or replaced:  I lost my innocence. By innocence, I don't mean virginity. You can lose that without losing your innocence, if it is given up as an act of love, not just pleasure. But my innocence, that was ripped away in a world where good people are forced to do evil things in the name of good and right.

One of the other GBE bloggers wrote a rather startling story about the loss of innocence. It was in regards to child molestation and pedophilia. while I understand the definition of innocence that she utilized in her blog, I have a slightly different definition. What the main character in the story lost was not innocence but naivety. Naivety is that form of innocence that comes from not knowing evil. It is what Adam and Eve lost in the garden once they acquired the knowledge of good and evil.

Naivety is lost when one comes to know evil and wrong. Children might be mischievous, doing "wrong" or "bad" things. But they are still naive until they are exposed to and gain knowledge of true evil. Being a victim does not claim innocence. It reveals evil. It steals naivety.

I have not been naive since my pre-teen years. I will openly admit that I was a troublemaker. I was also the smart one that had an alibi ready for everything, or had a way of convincing people that I didn't know what I was doing was wrong. I also tended to get away with things because I was "such a good boy". Then again, when I did stuff, it was preplanned. I also watched the frequency of my mischief so that others would find it difficult to accept that I did the things I did. Yes, I got away with quite a lot of mischief and mayhem. However, I still held onto my innocence. I knew some of the things I did were "wrong". However, none of them were truly evil.

Evil rests in doing things in order to intentionally harm others. Evil rests in doing things to intentionally defy God. Evil is not mischief. Evil is not falling to occasional temptation. Evil is tempting others to do those acts. Evil is deliberate.

From my philisophical perspective, innocence is lost when you find you have no choice but to choose a path you know to be evil. It comes from intentionally performing an act you know to be evil, to be wrong, to harm others. The choice may be a difficult one. In my case, it was because the alternative was worse. It was to allow worse evil to take place. Standing by and knowing allow an evil act to occur without doing anything in an attempt to stop it. In many cases, the evil of inaction is worse that the evil act itself.

"A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury."
John Stuart Mill

War is a necessary evil. It is a last resort for when all else has failed. It should never be entered into lightly. Once begun, it must be seen through to its logical conclusion (the utter and complete destruction of the enemy). It also needs to be painstakingly prosecuted to prevent or mitigate as much of that evil from spilling over to non-combatants as possible. A fine example is the crusade in which the Saracen commander, Salah ad Din (a Muslim Kurd), stated his intentions to reclaim Jerusalem. He then gave safe passage for all women, children, priests, and non-combatants to leave the city before he commenced his assault. In modern warfare, we make a list of protected sites and utilize precision weapons. In the crusade, there were women who refused to leave their husbands. In modern times, collateral damage still occurs.

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
John Stuart Mill English economist & philosopher (1806 - 1873)
On 11 September 2001, many Americans lost their naivety when Al Q'aida destroyed the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon. This was not their first attack against a US target. It was just their first successful attack against us on our own soil. This was also their first attack that was affected against primarily non-combatants.

In 2003, I went to war in Iraq. This is when my innocence first started to wiggle away. There was an incident involving some Fedayeen Saddam attacking my unit's perimeter. I was the first person to return fire. I shot where I saw the muzzle flashes breaking the darkness. By the time others starting shooting back, the fire had ceased. To this day, I don't know if any enemy were killed or if I was the one who killed them.

This was, by far, not the first time I had used force to defend myself or somebody else. A friend and I had thwarted an attempted rape in Seattle back in the mid-90s, for one example. In high school, I had blocked off the attacks of another until I realized the only way to make the person stop was to hit him. I did. I punched and kicked (and bludgeoned with trash-can lids) until the idiot stopped. I can enumerate many other instances. In each, my offense was taken for defensive reasons, and never beyond the minimum necessary to reduce the threat. I will admit that there were times I wanted to beat somebody to a pulp just to teach them a lesson. But that would have been sinking to their level, or worse. But I still hold that taking those actions was always within the realm of not crossing the line into having to do evil to prevent evil. I maintain that I was innocent, and remained so until 2003.

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant.
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty English economist & philosopher (1806 - 1873)

The exact moment I lost my innocence is hard to define.

In 2004, I worked a job that put me in the decision-chain for some counter-terrorist actions. I cannot get into the details of what I did and what operations were conducted. I can say that some of the things I recommended definitely fell to the side of "necessary evil". One day, in particular, sits in my mind. It rests there to the point I still dream of it. It still weighs upon my conscience. When asked if I would make the same recommendation again, I state that under the same circumstances I would. It was the best solution. However, once the act was done, I had to review tapes of a building exploding. I had to attempt to count body parts as they scattered in the blast. At least one terrorist was killed (I found out later that we had killed 3 of them). But one of their wives and children also died in the event. I was part of a decision the lead to the intentional death of children. I still believe that we had no other choice.

These men were responsible for the murders of thousands of people. they were planning future attacks against many more. Most of their targets were to be non-combatants. They attacked people of a different ideology than theirs. It had nothing to do with military threat. the majority of their targets were peaceful, religious people. I hold that the lessor evil was the best decision. It doesn't change the fact that I knew it was still an evil act.

But that is not the event that I consider to be the moment I lost my innocence. It is merely an example of the fact that I had. I hold that I am a good person. Since losing my innocence, I am far more careful and conscious of my actions regarding others. But now I know exactly what I am capable of and how far I am willing to go in order to protect and safeguard. I am willing to cross lines that , thank God, most people will never have to face. I sacrificed my innocence for the greater good. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. I put myself in God's judgment alone on this.

Back during the ground assault, one particular event occurred that I consider the moment I knew my innocence was lost. We were on the way towards Baghdad. We halted our convoy for a quick maintenance stop. We also needed to stretch our legs and get blood moving in our bodies so we could press on towards our objective. My driver needed to relieve himself, so I covered him while he went into the reeds to do so. He called me over to see something. I walked over and saw, in the reed-line, a body. My soldier was doing his best to fight his urge to vomit. I just looked down at the decaying and bloated enemy body. It was an Iraqi soldier. I don't know how he was killed. It could have been from one of our rocket strikes. It could have been from our infantry. He may have been shot by one of his own people. As I looked down upon the carcass and tried to formulate how best to report it, I watched it explode into a cloud of flies. All I could think of at that moment was "you got what you deserved". Reflecting back, I cannot really say that. He was a soldier and was doing what he thought was right to protect his country. He probably had a family. He probably was not responsible for any of the evil that Saddam had done. He was young, too young to have been part of the Iran-Iraq war, the atrocities in Kurdistan, or the invasion of Kuwait. But in that moment, that was my thought. As I look back, that is the moment that I knew my innocence was forever gone.

War is a horrible thing. the worst part of it is when you have to face the horror you are capable of inflicting. It matters not if it was just. All that matters is that the person you once were no longer exists. Innocence is the first casualty.

I'm closing this with a poem by a famous historical figure, a warrior, a great general.  Before doing so, I pose a few questions:

What have you lost?

Are you still innocent? If not, describe the moment you realized your innocence was lost.


by Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.

Through the travail of the ages,
Midst the pomp and toil of war,
Have I fought and strove and perished
Countless times upon this star.

In the form of many people
In all panoplies of time
Have I seen the luring vision
Of the Victory Maid, sublime.

I have battled for fresh mammoth,
I have warred for pastures new,
I have listed to the whispers
When the race trek instinct grew.

I have known the call to battle
In each changeless changing shape
From the high souled voice of conscience
To the beastly lust for rape.

I have sinned and I have suffered,
Played the hero and the knave;
Fought for belly, shame, or country,
And for each have found a grave.

I cannot name my battles
For the visions are not clear,
Yet, I see the twisted faces
And I feel the rending spear.

Perhaps I stabbed our Savior
In His sacred helpless side.
Yet, I've called His name in blessing
When after times I died.

In the dimness of the shadows
Where we hairy heathens warred,
I can taste in thought the lifeblood;
We used teeth before the sword.

While in later clearer vision
I can sense the coppery sweat,
Feel the pikes grow wet and slippery
When our Phalanx, Cyrus met.

Hear the rattle of the harness
Where the Persian darts bounced clear,
See their chariots wheel in panic
From the Hoplite's leveled spear.

See the goal grow monthly longer,
Reaching for the walls of Tyre.
Hear the crash of tons of granite,
Smell the quenchless eastern fire.

Still more clearly as a Roman,
Can I see the Legion close,
As our third rank moved in forward
And the short sword found our foes.

Once again I feel the anguish
Of that blistering treeless plain
When the Parthian showered death bolts,
And our discipline was in vain.

I remember all the suffering
Of those arrows in my neck.
Yet, I stabbed a grinning savage
As I died upon my back.

Once again I smell the heat sparks
When my Flemish plate gave way
And the lance ripped through my entrails
As on Crecy's field I lay.

In the windless, blinding stillness
Of the glittering tropic sea
I can see the bubbles rising
Where we set the captives free.

Midst the spume of half a tempest
I have heard the bulwarks go
When the crashing, point blank round shot
Sent destruction to our foe.

I have fought with gun and cutlass
On the red and slippery deck
With all Hell aflame within me
And a rope around my neck.

And still later as a General
Have I galloped with Murat
When we laughed at death and numbers
Trusting in the Emperor's Star.

Till at last our star faded,
And we shouted to our doom
Where the sunken road of Ohein
Closed us in it's quivering gloom.

So but now with Tanks a'clatter
Have I waddled on the foe
Belching death at twenty paces,
By the star shell's ghastly glow.

So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.

And I see not in my blindness
What the objects were I wrought,
But as God rules o'er our bickerings
It was through His will I fought.

So forever in the future,
Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter,
But to die again, once more.