"Blame," wrote novelist Dalton Trumbo, "is for God and
little children." I have always believed these to be
good and wise words to live by. But today, sitting at
my desk, writing these words, I am struggling with the
desire to blame and the desire to punish.
Why? Because of a story.
It begins in the ruins of human civilization's first
home, a third-hand tale that comes from a good
neighbor of a family living there, a neighbor who told
it to a reporter, who wrote it for a newspaper, where
I read it. And though I know well that memory fails
and details get changed and twisted with each
retelling, I know, too, that the blood and the bodies
in this story were real.
In a small town along the Euphrates River, in a modest
house like so many other houses, a father pleads with weary-eyed soldiers for his life and for his family. "I am good," the father
says. "I am a friend," he cries. Next to him, the mother cries, too, perhaps pleading for sanity and calm. Maybe she pleads for her
husband, or pleads for their children, their five girls, ages fourteen, ten, five, three, and one.
The children are standing or sitting there, too,
pleading, crying. In the confusion, someone is
shouting and others are screaming. And for some
reason, the weary-eyed soldiers, already angry, become
further agitated. Perhaps the father's hands move too
quickly. Perhaps the wife falls to her knees. Or
perhaps, without thinking, one of the girls reaches
out to the floor for the youngest child, whose eyes
and nose are wet with tears. Who knows? Does it
matter? In the end, something seemingly innocuous made
the shooting start. In a momentary explosion of sound
and flashes, the American soldiers murder them all.
Murder the father. Murder the mother. Murder the
When they see what they have done, the weary-eyed
soldiers leave the house and move to other houses
where they murder again. And again. They murder the
elderly. They murder the infirmed. They murder more
And finally, after hours have passed, when enough
children have been murdered to satisfy their anger,
the weary-eyed soldiers go away.
Then, many months after the event, I read this story.
And I can't stop thinking about the children, about
the little girls, pleading for their lives as American
soldiers shoot them.
And despite those words of Dalton Trumbo, I have to be
honest: I am angry. I want to blame those soldiers. I
want to punish them.
And I want to blame and punish those who exploded the
roadside bomb that shredded to pulp the young soldier
whose death may have triggered this day's madness
along the Euphrates River.
And I want to blame and punish the craven right-wing
apologists who soft peddle this calculated horror,
saying the Marines simply "snapped" after one of their
own was killed.
And I want to blame and punish the morally bankrupt
American military officers who calculatingly covered
up this massacre - and no doubt other massacres - as
though it were just a standard practice of war.
And I want to blame and punish the automaton
bureaucrats responsible for the Robert McNamara-style remuneration for the dead - $2,500 American dollars for every man, woman, and
child murdered - paid in full to each grieving family.
And I want to blame and punish the vile speechwriter
who, smiling at his or her clever words, offered the
President of the United States the cold-comfort phrase
of more "Core Values Training" to be given to all U.S.
soldiers as an appropriate response to the murder of
children. (What can it possibly say about U.S. troops
if they have to be taught or reminded not to kill
And I want to blame the criminally incompetent
President of the United States who, with no
understanding of irony, audaciously says that those
responsible for the Haditha murders should be
punished. (Who started this war without cause? Who
ordered the 'Shock and Awe' death from above? Who,
after all, is the Commander-in-Chief?)
With tears welling in my eyes, and rage boiling in my
heart, I want to blame and punish them all.
But I can't, because I am reminded of other words,
also good and wise: "He that is without sin among you,
let him cast the first stone" - Christ's admonition
about blame and punishment.
Consider: didn't we, twice, elect this president?
Didn't we, for so long, overwhelmingly support this
war? Didn't we, with our yellow-ribbon stickers,
"proudly" support these troops? Didn't we, by ignoring
the endless rush of executive-branch crimes, refuse to
impeach this president for lying and for stealing and
for cheating the American people? And didn't we, by
remaining silent and electing war-mad politicians,
refuse to bring home our troops?
I ask myself: honestly, who is to blame for the murder
of those children? Who, among us, is without sin?
I remember again Dalton Trumbo's words: "Blame is for
God and little children."
And I think: as we awake to the dark truth about our
war with Iraq; and as we begin, honestly, to survey
the damage that we, as Americans, have done there and
around the world; and as we solemnly bury the dead and
heal the wounds that our own hands have created, is it
not time to put down our stones, to put away our
blame, and to learn the sobering lessons from our
Let's hope so.
Steven Laffoley (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an American writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is the author of "Mr. Bush, Angus and Me: Notes of An American-Canadian in the Age of Unreason."