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Who’s Watching Whose Back?


Last week’s farce of the court martial of Marine sergeant Frank Wuterich at Camp Pendleton, California is a license to murder.  Everyone, especially the Iraqis, seems to understand this except the American public from President Obama on down.  Wuterich led an eight-man combat team of Marines in a killing orgy in Haditha, western Iraq, in 2005, that massacred 24 unarmed civilians including 11 women and kids.   All witnesses, including the Marines, testified that what occurred was basically an execution not a fire fight.

Wuterich could have faced 152 years in the brig.  But under a plea deal, after a six year long investigation begun only when a Time magazine reporter began asking questions, and marked by a string of official lies, Wuterich was let off with a wrist slap, a reduction in rank and no prison time.  None of the other Marines will be punished.

All the members of Wuterich’s military court were chosen for prior combat experience because they presumably knew what the “fog of war” could do to a man under stress.  Thus, the issue became not one of guilt or innocence, or degree of culpability, but: what would you do in the boots of this fallible, frightened, angry Marine?

Under the current rules of engagement, dramatized a few days ago when Navy Seals daringly rescued two hostages, including an American woman, from Somali kidnappers who were shot down, anything is permissible if you feel yourself – or you later tell investigators – that you were under threat.

Obama loves his Seals, which is the same unit that killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.  In their fierce focus on mission, fanatic discipline, unit solidarity, tactical skills, mastery of killer weapons and courage, they are –  the President insists – what we civilians should ALL be like.

It’s no secret Obama has a crush on, or been intimidated by, his generals – all those ribbons, all that braid!   Allegedly they answer to their Commander in Chief rather than the reverse, but in reality he gives them pretty much everything they want, and glorifies their military adventures as the very best that America can do in the world.

Now he’s gone overboard, in his 25 January state of the union speech to both houses of Congress – and in an election year speaking over their heads to the rest of us.

Ritual flattery was to be expected.  But his fawning went over the line into real, hardass absurdity, starting with his opening, “We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world.”   What world does Obama live in?

But then he got down to business by contrasting the greatness and glory of the military with our present, well, what shall we call it?, decay, disappointment, depravity of American democracy.  “At a time,” he thundered, “when too many of our institutions have let us down, they exceed all expectations.”

Then the kicker: “Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example!”

Uh huh.  As a former conscript, who liked the military and almost re-upped, what I know best about this hierarchical, do-as-you’re-told organization is that it is, and is supposed to be, undemocratic and that you follow orders without question…or else. Messy, argumentative loudmouth democracy is not on Obama’s agenda, military quick-step is.  Or rather, his fantasy of military life, since he never served.  “They’re not consumed by personal ambition.   They don’t obsess over their differences.  They focus on the mission at hand…Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example…”

Yes, imagine.  A militarized civilian life is Obama-the-liberal’s Utopia?

Just a couple of days ago military helicopters hovered over downtown Los Angeles and San Fernando valley practicing for what nobody will tell us except, in a tightlipped police statement, “to ensure the military’s ability to operate in urban environments”.  And the Blackhawks will be back soon, it’s promised.   Local police departments all over America are pressing the Federal Aviation Authority to relax rules to permit more domestic use of unmanned Reaper drones for “urban monitoring”; i.e. domestic surveillance.   Colorado and Miami-Dade police already use UAVs to catch alleged criminals…and, I assume, to spy on Occupy protestors.

No, it can’t be, not the Saul Alinsky disciple and antiwar liberal Obama moving us closer to the police state that fringe groups and politicians like Ron Paul have warned us about?

One reason why Obama said we should copy the military is that “you know that there’s someone behind you, watching your back.”

That’s what worries me.

CLANCY SIGAL is a novelist and screenwriter in Los Angeles. He can be reached at

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives

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