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Haditha Killings - A Human Factor Analysis

Haditha Killings - A Human Factor Analysis

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Published by mrahman4
A human factors analysis of the haditha killings in the Iraq war.
A human factors analysis of the haditha killings in the Iraq war.

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Published by: mrahman4 on Jan 08, 2009
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06/16/2009

 
 1
Why do Wars Produce My Lai's and Haditha's
?
 
By Moin Rahman
 
On March 16, 1968, Charlie Company, a unit of the Americal Division’s 11
th
Light Infantry Brigadesystematically murdered over 400 civilians in an undefended village in Quang Ngai Province in theRepublic of Vietnam. This came to be known as the My Lai massacre.
 
On November 19, 2005, Kilo Company, a unit of the First Marines, third battalion killed 24 civilians inHaditha when their convoy was hit by an IED instantly killing a fellow Marine, Lance Cpl. MiguelTerrazas. This incident is now referred as Iraq’s My Lai.
 
Both these incidents, similar in scope (guerilla warfare) but different in magnitude, have traumatized thenation’s psyche.It has now become routine for leaders, who commit a nation to war and its soldiers to battle, to squarelyblame the few bad apples when atrocities, such as Haditha or My Lai, are brought to light. In fact, there ismore to this than the eye can see and the mind can grapple.
 
The savage nature of war and the adrenalin fueled psychology of the warrior in combat combine to form alethal symbiosis, a tsunami of violence, which can maim both men and their minds. This phenomenon ispoorly understood, particularly by civilian leaders who have never been in combat.Consider the warrior who is sent into battle. From the time he enters the service, he is taught how to killand he is desensitized to his own death. He learns that scores on the battlefield are kept in body countsand kill ratios. Physically he is hardened and psychologically he is primed to go for the kill.
The journalist and ex-marine Philip Caputo
1
posited “that war, by its nature, can arouse apsychopathic violence in men of seemingly normal impulses.” In the heat of combat, and in thequest to survive, the warrior’s perception of the world is altered unconsciously, which influenceshis behavior without his knowledge or explicit intent.
 
Why does this happen?
 
When faced with danger, humans and animals are emotionally aroused. Emotional arousal is anadaptation – a mechanism put forth by evolution – to prop up the primordial urge to sustain lifewhen exposed to life threatening situations
2
. Emotional arousal enables an organism makelifesaving decisions – effortlessly, automatically and quickly – whether to fight, flee or freeze.As time is of essence in these types of situations, the premium is on action and not deliberation.In these fleeting moments, emotion saves lives by reprioritizing thoughts and actions – it moveslife sustaining actions to the top and downgrades non-life sustaining activities to the bottom.Although emotion saves lives, it has its downside, too: Intense emotional arousal impairscognition. For instance, the brain may lose the capacity to recall the laws of land warfare and theGeneva conventions. Furthermore, danger induced emotion biases subsequent cognition
3
. Thisbiased cognition known as autovigilance
4
makes humans see threats in everything andeverywhere, right after being exposed to danger, in their immediate environment. In otherwords, chances of survival are enhanced by the mechanism that operates on the principle that it
 
 2is safer to err – i.e., to mistakenly assume a harmless rustle made by the wind to be caused by ahidden enemy – than be sorry later.
Lt. Col. Hal Moore
5
who commanded a battalion in the first major campaign (Battle of Ia Drang) of theVietnam War describes succinctly the altered and narrowly focused state of mind while in combat
: “Inbattle our world shrank to the man on our left and the man on our right and the enemy allaround.” Even rigorous t
raining may not completely break this evolutionarily ingrained andemotionally fueled program of self preservation, which is hardwired into every organism – a crude andcomplex reflex to shoot first and think later.In the social context, the brain’s ability to process information is also impaired by the nature of warfare,as we will see next.
 
Conventional warfare usually follows a set-piece battle. These are classic engagements between opposingarmies arranged in battle formations. However, an insurgency takes the form of asymmetric warfare dueto its lopsided nature that gives insurgents the upper hand. This is because insurgents meld-in and filter-out of a civilian population – using them as cover – to attack and recoup at will. There is never a cleanfight with this type of diffused enemy, which at once is not there and everywhere. This frustrates atraditional army as the enemy doesn’t play by generally accepted rules of engagement.Asymmetric warfare discombobulates the soldiers’ mind when they have to battle an ambiguous enemy,which inflicts a high toll in life and limbs. When elements amongst the civilian population feed and clothethe enemy and provide recruits, the entire populace becomes the enemy in the eyes of a mentally fatiguedoccupying force. Insurgencies thus shake the moral compass of an army and pave the way to the My Lai'sand the Haditha's.
 
The biggest mistake of the Iraq war was to allow an insurgency to take root and flourish.The Iraq war was encumbered with a faulty strategy, right from the get-go, because it had no post-conflictstability plan. After the capture of Baghdad, Iraq was allowed to spiral into a state of lawlessness. Thismade the environment fertile for an insurgency to emerge. Seeds of the insurgency were planted whenthe American leadership disbanded the Iraqi army providing manpower for the insurgency. Theinsurgency was then nurtured by the de-Bathification process, which provided the intellectual capital torally and recruit the disaffected. To add to these woes, repeated deployments of marines to Iraqphysically and emotionally exhausted them, inured them to violence, and thus, impaired their judgmentand decision making skills. (Many marines implicated in the Haditha incident were in their second andeven third tour of duty.) Finally, all of the above were catalyzed by the absence of a systems approach,which would have specified clearly the rules of engagement, including the unequivocal application of theGeneva conventions, and related training.
If not for the insurgency, there would have been no Haditha. If not for the failure in Americanleadership there wouldn’t have been an insurgency in the first place.
 
What do we do now?
 
Tactically, we should fight the insurgents by turning the asymmetric warfare, into a symmetrical one.Today, a patrol a day takes a life away, when soldiers venture out of green zones and forward operatingbases. One way of doing this is by embedding our soldiers in the civilian population where they live andwork side-by-side with the Iraqis. That is, to be diffused like the enemy and to become intimate with boththe people and the urban terrain. This may require a new corps of soldier-statesmen types. This will

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