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In 1963, well before the American public generally understood where Vietnam was, a young Army captain led a South Vietnamese unit through the A Shau Valley to systematically burn villages to the ground. This was to deprive the so-called Vietcong of any base of support, and was called "draining the sea," a reference to Mao’s dictum that the guerrilla is the fish and the population is the sea.
That captain would later write, "I recall a phrase we used in the field, MAM, for military-age male. If a helo spotted a peasant in black pajamas who looked remotely suspicious, a possible MAM, the pilot would circle and fire in front of him. If he moved, his movement was judged evidence of hostile intent, and the next burst was not in front, but at him. Brutal? Maybe so. But an able battalion commander with whom I had served… was killed by enemy sniper fire while observing MAMs from a helicopter. And Pritchard was only one of many. The kill-or-be-killed nature of combat tends to dull fine perceptions of right and wrong."
On March 16, 1968, the US Infantry of C Company, Task Force Barker, 11th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division went into a Vietnamese hamlet designated My Lai 4 and killed 347 unarmed men, women, and children, engaging in rape and torture along the way for four hours before a US helicopter pilot who observed the massacre ordered his door gunners to open fire on the grunts if they didn’t desist. The chopper pilot, however, did not report the massacre.
Six months later, a young enlisted man, Spec 4 Tom Glen, sent a letter to General Creighton Abrams, commander of US forces in Vietnam. Without specifically mentioning My Lai, Glen said that murder had become a routine part of Americal operations. The letter was shunted over to Americal Divison, and then to the office of the same officer who had been leading the South Vietnamese arson campaign five years earlier, since promoted to major. He was now the deputy assistant Chief of Staff of the division–a functionary who was directed to craft a response to this report of widespread atrocities against Vietnamese civilians.
"In direct refutation of this portrayal," wrote the officer dismissively and with no investigation whatsoever, "is the fact that relations between Americal soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent." Perhaps he believed that those killed were MAMs, and therefore outside the protection of the Geneva Conventions and international law.
That officer is now the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who is still dutifully spinning out prevarications and excuses for his massahs. Apparently his perceptions of right and wrong are still dulled by his brief experience of "combat," burning people’s houses and barns and crops and ordering that young men who run from heliborne machine gun fire be killed because running away from machinegun fire is… "hostile."
Meanwhile, back in Iraq, the MAMs are back.
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the rat-faced boy of CENTCOM, with help from a Marine moron named Mattis, has resurrected the MAM to justify coordinated air-land attacks against weddings.
At 3 AM, on May 19th, 2004, the Rakat family of Makr al-Deeb–a village in western Iraq–were winding down after an all night party celebrating a double wedding, when American war planes suddenly screamed in from over the dark horizon and dumped a fiery axis of bombs across the village. In the wake of the bombing "prep," ground troops equipped with night vision equipment, explosives, and expensive aimpoint sights on their weapons, swept over the shattered ruins and through the terrified and fleeing wedding guests delivering a kind of close-up coup.
Neil McKay writes a harrowing account in the Sunday Herald, in which witnesses describe the ground assault as little different than the My Lai incident, just shorter and on a smaller scale. Troops were razing buildings and killing people as they were encountered. People’s children were killed in front of them.
There is an unofficial excuse making the rounds that this was a mistake, that war planes targeted the wedding because this "alien culture" fires weapons into the air during celebrations. This comports well with the notion that being sodomized and sexually humiliated and beaten to death are "particularly offensive to Arabs," as if Americans, for example, would equate this treatment to root canal work–unpleasant but tolerable.
If it were an error from the air, how in the hell did a ground force follow through for the air attack? I can tell you how. There was no error. These planes were not randomly cruising the Iraqi skies at 3 AM, and suddenly responding to ground fire. And ground troops don’t suddenly show up at the same place. Combined air-ground operations require detailed planning and coordination, which means this attack was planned in advance. I don’t know what really happened that killed 45 people at Makr al-Deeb, but I can assure readers that this premeditation is part of it.
The official line, adopted as the Abu Ghraib scandal metastasizes into a political crisis for the Bush administration, is that there was no error at all, and that there was no wedding. They were combatants, pure and simple, and goddamit we are not going to apologize to anyone for it. Foreign fighters every one of them, and that whole fucking village is just a pack of rag-headed liars.
"How many people go into the middle of the desert to hold a wedding eighty miles from the nearest civilization," scoffed Major General James Mattis of the 1st Marines. "There were more than two dozen MILITARY-AGED MALES."
Either Mattis is shameless or he is an idiot. We can’t rule out either… or both. It’s in the job description for senior officers right now–probably a line on their officer evaluation reports–if they want their careers to progress.
Makr al-Deeb is a real village in a real civilization that is, oh by the way General, a hell of a lot older than the one you hail from.
Kimmitt apparently felt compelled to top Mattis for stupidity, when he blurted out last week that, "There may have been some kind of celebration. Bad people have celebrations, too."
The manufacture of evidence is now experiencing a speed-up, with Kimmitt telling a yet-again-obedient press corps that there were military items and even possibly cocaine (!) on the site (no fetishes for devil worship… yet) , and no evidence of a wedding. To bolster this preposterous case, they have provided snapshots of (gasp) binoculars, and virtually the entire US press corps has forgotten that Colin Powell presented doctored photos to the UN just last year. The press forgot, because they never reported it. Now they are submissively echoing the Kimmitt evidence photos and the cover story that goes with them. Kimmitt says there is categorically no evidence of a wedding at all, and he stubbornly denies that ANY children were killed, even though every Iraqi medical official says there were at least 15. Liars, according to Kimmitt.
"In direct refutation of this portrayal," Kimmitt might have said, "is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Iraqi people are excellent."
Lo and behold, however, there is an independent press still surviving in the marginal niches of post-modern capitalism–where the image is all–and they are hauling facts out from time to time that smell up the area like a pile of decomposing bodies. A video has surfaced of the site, and there is ample evidence of dead children, musical instruments, and all the paraphernalia of… a wedding. Oops.
The footage was shown on Al-Arabiya television, whereupon the weasel Kimmitt and his dour gangsters demanded that Al-Arabiya give them the name of the cameraman who shot the video. Maybe they planned a Mazen Dana treatment for the offender–Dana being the Reuters journalist who was shot dead by US troops when his camera’s eye had drifted to close to their actions.
We are reaching a point of polarization with respect to this war, where these oxygen thieves with suits and stars feel they can get away with the MAM argument, justifying the murder of anyone who is male, military-aged and brown. We have reached some kind of social baseline of racially-stupefied consensus, where all that PC posturing is no longer necessary, where another half-wit in Congress can say he is "outraged at the outrage," and there is 35% of the US population that will sit perfectly still for it, many even cheering it on. For that polarization to be complete, we need 35% of the population that sets aside their maddening liberal squeamishness and dithering and demands that these suits and stars be strung up by their testicles.
We need a good, in-your-face, knock-down, drag-out fight in this place.
Anyone who thinks, at this point, that the election of that hound-dog from Massachusetts–when he promises to send MORE troops to Iraq–is going to fundamentally change any of this is smoking angel dust. It’s getting close to grown-up time, and we’re going to have to put aside our electoral cake and ice cream.
This place hasn’t had a good old fashioned DEEP-DOWN change since Reconstruction. It’s time.
STAN GOFF is the author of "Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti" (Soft Skull Press, 2000) and of the upcoming book "Full Spectrum Disorder" (Soft Skull Press, 2003). He is a member of the BRING THEM HOME NOW! coordinating committee, a retired Special Forces master sergeant, and the father of an active duty soldier. Email for BRING THEM HOME NOW! is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Goff can be reached at: email@example.com