Democratic Underground

The Line of Denial

June 8, 2005
By Solly Mack

A question was recently posed asking at what point do American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan cross the line and go "from duty to brutality."

It's an excellent question and one that needs to be asked. More importantly, it needs to be answered. Yet Americans can't look to the office of the president for the answer, because the president is too busy denying that there is a problem. The president believes that reports of torture and abuse are "absurd" and that a "few bad apples" are to blame.

What he ignores are the horrors of war for both the civilian and the soldier. What he ignores are the crimes being perpetuated in every American's name. What he ignores is the damage caused by his personal quest for glory and a place in history.

George Bush's illegal war has brought not just death, but with his lies and denials, George Bush has given America yet another dark stain on her short history as a nation - the consequences of which have yet to be fully realized. George Bush will tell you he is keeping America safe. I will tell you that he is bringing death and destruction to all involved that will be felt for years to come.

While Bush is busy ignoring and denying war crimes - and not because such things speak ill of America, but because of his own involvement in those crimes - American troops have been learning, first-hand, what causes a soldier to cross the line between doing their duty and becoming a war criminal.

But I can't live in George Bush's denial. I can't embrace his lies. You see, my husband is a soldier. He spent a year in Iraq.

The question of soldiers crossing the line and becoming war criminals comes up a lot in our home. We talk about this all the time. My husband was lucky - not just because he survived, though I'm not discounting that in the least, but because when he saw other soldiers crossing that line, he told his command. He kept his humanity.

My husband has never killed anyone. Odd statement that. It's not a brag, it's a sigh of relief. I'm not sure how to help others feel the emotion those words can bring. "He never killed anyone." It's like missing the collision but still being on the highway driving at top speed with no brakes. Every close call is punctuated by "this time."

So we talk.

"Why do some soldiers cross the line?"

Because some soldiers are already crazy, and some soldiers go crazy during war. Because some soldiers just don't care and they buy the lies and the hate, and because some soldiers just go along with the crowd. Some soldiers are just so scared, they don't think.

"But when it comes to war, you aren't trained to think, you're trained to react."

That's not true. The catch is, if you react without thinking you'll endanger everyone (civilian and soldier alike). Those are the worse soldiers - the ones who do not think. They might survive the war but they'll lose the battle - they have become damaged humans.

"What makes the difference?"

The character you carry within you. That moment of choice - and you choose the right path. You never know really. Different things for different people keep them from crossing the line. Some would never think to cross it and some have to fight that struggle each and every moment. Some are just lucky.

"And you?"

I don't know. Some things just never cross your mind. I didn't think of why I didn't do something, I just didn't do it.

"And what is your lasting memory of Iraq?"

The little girl.

The little girl had leprosy. He met her early on. Her disease was so advanced she was dying from non-treatment. In her entire short life, she got next to no treatment. My husband carried her dying body, along with her mother and father, through three cities seeking help for her. He couldn't find it. Iraqi doctors too scared or wanting money (to survive with) and American medics not concerned.

He finally reached into his wallet, took out all his cash, then gave it to an Iraqi doctor. The doctor helped the child die comfortably because that's all they could do for her by then.

That's what my husband brought home. That's what he remembers most about Iraq.

He still twitches in his sleep. He still cringes when we drive near a bridge. Narrow roads make him jumpy - but all that's gotten better over time. It used to be way worse. It's the little 7-year-old girl that will haunt him forever.

What makes a soldier cross that line?

I don't know but some do, and they have gone to a place inside themselves I can't begin to understand. But it's the ones that don't cross that line that live with heartaches that I'll never be able to imagine, and they are the ones you and I will never hear about. Their pain doesn't make the news.

Those soldiers come home from George Bush's illegal war, to the lies and the cover-ups and the denials, and will be forgotten and overlooked because our president doesn't just ignore the "bad apples" and deny the torture, he ignores and denies all of the troops.

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