The other day in Fallujah American soldiers opened fire on a truck carrying chickens believing it was a truck filled with metal pipes that had eluded a checkpoint. Four Iraqi men and a ten-year old boy were killed. Ziad Abud Abadi, manager of a gift shop, witnessed the mistake. He said, “The Americans shot all over the place. They just shot like they were crazy.” He didn’t say they shot like they were arrogant, or evil or infidels. They shot like they were crazy. If that is the common man’s perception of the coalition firepower surrounding them in Iraq then it must be difficult for them to decide which side to take.
There’s a terrible poignancy to the trigger readiness of homesick, war-weary soldiers hoping to return home upright and in one piece. Doubt must be an unaffordable luxury. The melodramatic phrase, “shoot first ask questions later” has to be tattooed in the overheated brains of the coalition forces.
American soldiers must regard the craziness Ziad Abud Abadi referred to as an asset – a shield of some kind. Honor, courage, distinction – all of that sounds good from a podium – but in the end and on the ground the appearance and perhaps the reality of being crazy is what has the best chance of keeping one alive.
If the pitch of the battle is based on individual survival the ostensible noble mission gets lost in the dust and the blood. Can either the soldiers or the citizens for whom they are fighting keep a grasp of the glorious future while trigger fingers are understandably and constantly on the verge of spasm?
There are those Iraqis who hate Americans – who want revenge – and with each offense, whether intentional or inadvertent, those numbers grow. And there must be those Iraqis, who, like the gift shop owner, wonder how crazy it might all get. If the liberators/occupiers are neither bad nor good – just crazy- what does that do for democratization?
All of this is the logical conclusion of pre-emption overriding containment. Our commander-in-chief is a product of a fantasy-addicted culture. His fantasy of riding in on a white horse or landing on an aircraft carrier has a cost beyond his comprehension. The rescue- “ding-dong the witch is dead” fantasy has devolved quickly and no matter how definitive and macho he sounds after offering perfunctory condolence and appreciation to the families who have lost a son, daughter or husband, flashing behind his tight eyes is the question, “Now what?”
Soldiers and citizens alike are looking for an answer – a plan. Without a plan or strategy what else can someone in the middle of that situation be but crazy? They are being driven crazy by unexpected, unanticipated events, misleading information and the raw exposure of the darkest linings of the human experience. Like so many soldiers before they will come home and be asked to forget they were ever that crazy – they’ll raise children, serve on boards, march in parades, coach little league, have nightmares but they will never forget.
Once the bombs started falling and the sweep of military hardware rumbled to Baghdad the pin from a hand grenade was released and the ensuing madness is the legacy of a decision – it is the legacy of a presidency that never should have been. It comes down in the most painful and basic terms to that incident in Fallujah with everything it implies. The soldiers, the farmers, the ten-year-old boy, the witness – all of them victims – and when they’re all victims the perpetrators are usually at the top and they talk the way Ziad Abud Abadi described the way the Americans were shooting – like they’re crazy.