The Line of Denial
June 8, 2005
By Solly Mack
question was recently posed asking at what point do American soldiers
in Iraq and Afghanistan cross the line and go "from duty to
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
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.
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.