In 1991, after US troops drove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's forces out of Kuwait, the senior President Bush boasted, ``By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all."
The syndrome is kicking Junior all the way back to My Lai.
As disgusting details blew the lid off the alleged cover-up of the Marine massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, the junior President Bush was forced to say Wednesday, ``I am troubled by the initial news stories." But the same day, US soldiers fired into a car at a checkpoint, killing a pregnant Iraqi woman and her mother. They wounded another woman at another checkpoint.
In both cases, the military said the occupants of the cars failed to heed warnings that the road was closed. In the double fatality, the surviving driver and the pregnant woman's brother told the Los Angeles Times, ``I took this road because it's a shortcut and my sister was in labor. I was surprised by the exploding glass and blood coming from behind. When I turned back, my sister was shot in the head."
On Thursday, Bush again said the Haditha allegations ``are very troubling for me." He reassured us that we will get all the facts. ``One thing that happens in a transparent society like ours is that there is -- there will be a full and complete investigation," Bush said.
The same day the president promised transparency, evidence exploded of another possible coverup of a US military massacre of Iraqi civilians. The BBC aired video footage of the bodies of 11 civilians, including four women, one as old as 75, and five children, one as young as 6 months. They were killed in March.
That month, the United States reported much less carnage in the operation, and borne of self-defense. It said that as troops approached a suspected Al Qaeda safe house, they were fired on and responded with a massive ground and air assault. The report said they apprehended the target of the operation that killed one man, two women, and a child. It said the heavy fire collapsed the roof.
But locals, including Iraqi police, told a very different story. People said, according to a Knight-Ridder report, that an Al Qaeda member was visiting relatives. But they said the house was still standing when US soldiers entered to inspect it. They said soldiers rounded up the 11 people, members of a schoolteacher's family, and coldly executed them.
The BBC reiterated Thursday what locals said at the time, that the dead had bullet wounds, and showed no signs of being crushed by a collapsed roof.
In March, the military promised to look into the discrepancies and pooh-poohed any possibility it was wrong. Military spokesman Tim Keefe told Knight-Ridder ``it's highly unlikely" that the story given by the locals was true. Yesterday the military exonerated the troops.
All this forced a third straight day of Bush saying he was troubled by the reports, this time through spokesman Tony Snow. It is stunningly clear that without the news reports, neither he nor the military would be troubled by the cases.
This comes on top of other news reports of individuals killed here and there by US soldiers, and on top of long-forgotten wipeouts of weddings and families in vans. No one incident adds up to the single atrocity of My Lai, where US soldiers killed up to 500 Vietnamese civilians. But the mentality appears identical. American soldiers are again in an aimless war, aiming in the end at innocent targets.
A huge part of the problem is that America never did learn its lessons from My Lai. Even though the mere utterance of My Lai stiffens the back of anyone who remembers it, there was, in the end, virtually no punishment for the killings. The only soldier convicted, Lieutenant William Calley, had his sentence reduced to relative insignificance by President Nixon, and was released after three years of house arrest. He went on to sell jewelry in Georgia.
The same pattern has emerged in Iraq. The abuse scandal in Abu Ghraib has resulted in sentences almost exclusively for the grunts, with commanding officers escaping subpoenas and trials. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says over and over how he takes responsibility, without showing any sign of how he has. Bush has handed out medals to top officials of the occupation. The president should indeed be troubled. He should be troubled that the Vietnam syndrome is kicking Iraqi civilians in the teeth and his legacy down the staircase of infamy.
© 2006 The Boston Globe