Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fuzzy Logic?

This letter, supposedly from a Corpsman in Iraq, has been making the rounds on military blogs for a bit. Interesting read.

"...It's a safety issue, pure and simple. After assaulting through a target, we put a security round in everybody's head. Sorry al-Reuters, there's no paddy wagon rolling around Fallujah picking up 'prisoners' and offering them a hot cup o' Joe, falafel, and a blanket. There's no time to dick around on the target. You clear the space, dump the chumps, and move on.

Are Corpsmen expected to treat wounded terrorists? Negative. Hey Libs, worried about the defense budget? Well, it would be waste, fraud, and abuse for a Corpsman to expend one man-minute or a battle dressing on a terrorist. It's much cheaper to just spend the $.02 on a 5.56mm FMJ. By the way, in our view, terrorists who chop off civilian's heads are not prisoners, they are carcasses. Chopping off a civilian's head is another reason why these idiots are known as 'unlawful combatants.' It seems that most of the world's journalists have forgotten that fact.

Let me be very clear about this issue. I have looked around the web, and many people get this concept, but there are some stragglers. Here is your typical
Marine sitrep (situation report): You just took fire from unlawful combatants (no uniform - breaking every Geneva Convention rule there is) shooting from a religious building, attempting to use the sanctuary status of their position as protection. But you're in Fallujah now, and the Marine Corps has decided that they're not playing that game this time. That was Najaf.

So you set the mosque on fire and you hose down the terrorists with small arms, launch some AT-4s ( Rockets ), some 40MM grenades into the building and things quiet down. So you run over there, and find some tangos (bad guys) wounded and pretending to be dead. You are aware that suicide martyrdom is like really popular with these idiots, and they think taking some Marines with them would be really cool. So you can risk your life and your fire team's lives by having them cover you while you bend down and search a guy that you think is pretending to be dead for some reason. Most of the time these are the guys with the grenade or a vest made of explosives. Also, you don't know who or what is in the next room.

You're already speaking English to the rest of your fire team or squad, which lets the terrorist know you are there and you are his enemy. You are speaking loud because your hearing is poor from shooting people for several days. So you know that there are many other rooms to enter, and that if anyone is still alive in those rooms, they know that Americans are in the mosque. Meanwhile (3 seconds later), you still have this terrorist (that was just shooting at you from a mosque) playing possum. What do you do? You double tap his head, and you go to the next room, that's what!

What about the Geneva Convention and all that 'Law of Land Warfare' stuff? What about it? Without even addressing the issues at hand, your first thought should be, 'I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.'

Bear in mind that this tactic of double tapping a fallen terrorist is a perpetual mindset that is reinforced by experience on a minute by minute basis. Secondly, you are fighting an unlawful combatant in a Sanctuary, which is a double No-No on his part. Third, tactically you are in no position to take 'prisoners' because there are more rooms to search and clear, and the behavior of said terrorist indicates that he is up to no good. No good in Fallujah is a very large place and the low e nd of no good and the high end of no good are fundamentally the same ... Marines end up getting hurt or die. So there is no compelling reason for you to do anything but double tap this idiot and get on with the mission.

If you are a veteran, then everything I have just written is self evident. If you are not a veteran, at least try to put yourself in the situation. Remember, in Fallujah there is no yesterday, there is no tomorrow, there is only now, Right NOW. Have you ever lived in NOW for a week? It is really, really not easy. If you have never lived in NOW for longer than it takes to finish the big roller coaster at Six Flags, then shut your mouth about putting Marines in jail for 'War Crimes.'

Semper fi. From A Marine."


Diodotus said...

My two cents at a glance: the writer claims "better judged by 12 than carried by 6," so why not accept judgment?

It's one thing to excuse yourself for war crimes, it's another to claim they shouldn't be considered crimes by others.

Diodotus said...

A third cent, if I may: the Geneva Conventions do not require irregular combatants to wear uniforms, only to carry their arms openly. It's true that perfidy is forbidden and could legitimately earn a double-tap. But wrong to treat all the enemy as perfidious by fiat. I'm not saying it's not understandable. Being understandable doesn't make it right.

hank_F_M said...

Irrelevant to your question, it doesn’t sound genuine, or at least something front line troops would say, though perhaps it would be said by some well lubricated rear area troops trying to be impressive in the club.

A more pertinent point.

Every year the law of war class would be required. Like every one else I requested a JAG officer to come and teach the class. I noticed after talking to the troops after a few years that what I heard was not what the troops heard. The troops were looking for a cook book recipe; the JAG officer explained every nuance, precedent and exception. After a few years I gave up, and taught the class myself, I checked with JAG officers to be sure I had it correct, but taught it n a manner that made sense to real live troops.

The typical explanation gave the impression that the law of war was heard as an arbitrary set of rules that have no relation to such considerations as protecting civilian lives and property, the lives of the soldiers, accomplishing the mission or any other point that someone would think important.

Thus What about the Geneva Convention and all that 'Law of Land Warfare' stuff? What about it? Without even addressing the issues at hand, your first thought should be, 'I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.'

A point that needs to be made is that almost all the time, in an uncertain tactical situation (and when aren’t they?) following the rules of war will most likely turn out be correct. I got a lot of grief over that statement, but I could usually carry the point with some one who was willing to engage the point.

A unit that acted as described in that article will find, they are shot instead of being taken prisoner, the enemy fights harder thus they take more casualties. They don’t get the benefit of any intelligence that would come from taking prisoners. Additionally any unit where there was that much disrespect of standing orders on the law of war has no respect for any other orders, it is a mob not and army. It cannot be depended upon to “close with the enemy” if it looks like it might take casualties. A commander who does not clean up a unit where that sort of attitude is present will soon be fired himself. If not for the attitude displayed in the quote, because of any of a number of things that have gone wrong.

mark said...

"A third cent, if I may: the Geneva Conventions do not require irregular combatants to wear uniforms, only to carry their arms openly"

Not quite. They must be openly identifiable as combatants. An armband. Everyone wears the same hat. Something. While a full uniform is not a requirement, complete mufti won't fly legally.

As the U.S. is not a signatory to the asinine additional protocols to Geneva written in the 1970's by the Soviet bloc and the Euros to advantage 3rd world Marxist guerillas, fighters out of uniform are saboteurs and spies under the Hague Convention laws of war as far as the U.S. military is concerned. Ex Parte Quirin is the standard here.

That means the proper procedure is capture, humane treatment and then a regular military trial with a potential death sentence if convicted.

hank_F_M said...


Your third cent is a nice example of what I mean. Say that to a person with a high school education, with no further explanation and ask them to tell you what it means in their own words. Granted the Supreme court would approve your wording 9-0, but they are not going to be in combat.

A better way. "Guerrillas often do not have uniforms. Treat people not is a uniform shooting at you as combatants until they surrender and like prisoners of war if they surrender. Treat people not in a uniform and not shooting at you carefully.

If someone is using false uniforms or civilian clothes to hide their intent, it is not your legal problem to resolve, report it to your superiors. When discovered treat them as combatants until they surrender and prisoners of war when they surrender. Tell your superiors."

Cleitus the Black said...

Well, where to begin... First, Corpsmen are Navy medical personnel... Their Hippocratic Oath shouldn't have them double-tapping anyone, although that's not to say they might not easily observe that sort of behavior, but more on that later.

This letter struck me as the sort of rhetorical rant that could have been put together by anyone who's watched a few war movies - but even assuming the author was a real, live, double-tapping Marine, what about the meat of it?

Sadly, the Laws of War were written by people who haven't personally fought, and presumably practiced by those who are busy doing just that.

And some of the assumptions behind the Laws of War are flawed in this current war (as they have been in the past, as I shall demonstrate.)

1. The Laws of War assume that you are fighting a rational enemy who, at some point will choose life as a prisoner over certain death. They don't function well when faced with an enemy who fights to the death for cultural or religious reasons. Examples of these enemy are the modern Iraqi opposition fighters, and the Japanese in WWII. Fallujah (the Second Battle to which the author appears to refer) is an interesting case, because the US forces had earlier ordered all civilians out and implemented martial law; if it was not explicity said that quarter would neither be asked nor given, it was no doubt well understood by both sides.

2. A second, parallel issue is the "machinegunner surrender syndrome", which first became a problem in WWI. Here's the question. If a combatant raises their hands or a white flag in battle, and cries surrender, an honorable warrior should take that person prisoner, right? But what if the "honorable warriors" have spent a hellish time getting close enough to a machinegunner to force his surrender or kill him at close range; watching their friends cut apart as they rush the hill. Kill as many as you can and then cry mercy when the jigs up? Needless to say, many of these attempted surrenders ended with a rain of rifle butts, bayonets, or shots at close range.

In modern house-to-house combat, a parallel is, when one's been taking sniper, rocket-propelled grenade and machinegun fire from a building, and you finally get close enough to assault into it, how likely is a soldier or Marine to honor an attempted surrender of an enemy who moments before had the tactical upper hand?

One can easily get around the whole problem, which is framed by the rather antiquarian thinking that once you find an enemy rendered hors de combat, that you're obliged to render aid or offer terms. How?

Simple, just make sure that you never meet a live enemy soldier under such conditions. We do this all the time, actually; you never hear about a fighter pilot who, being the 2nd plane to put bombs on a target, killed wounded soldiers (who may very badly have wanted to surrender) without stopping to render aid and was then prosecuted for a war crime. Nor the artilleryman; apparently, putting a little distance between you and the injured human that you're about to turn into cooling meat is enough to satisfy the law.

The infantryman, then, would do well to resort to the WWII "standard treatment" for Japanese fortifications; pour rifle and machinegun fire through every opening to keep the enemy pinned down, get a couple of men close enough to lob in a few grenades, and then finish it off with a long blast from a flamethrower. By eliminating survivors, you eliminate the problem of how to handle them.

War is Hell, said Sherman... The best way to end it quickly is to be as brutally efficient as possible.

p.s. Chopping off civilian's heads has only recently become anything to be concerned with; it's a traditional form of execution that's been practiced by nearly all societies. Most cultures have regarded it as an honorable way to die, saving it for royalty and high crimes, while hanging, garrotting, or drowning the more common criminal elements.

Charli Carpenter said...

Cleitus: as I understand it, the US military did not order "all civilians" out of Fallujah before turning it into a free-fire zone; they only ordered out "women, children and the elderly," ala Srebrenica.

Regarding war being hell, even Sherman, whom you quote, drew distinctions between war and murder - at least when pointing the finger at Confederates' use of hidden land mines.

Cleitus the Black said...


Those rascally Union soldiers were not above employing mines themselves - most notably when they tunneled under Confederate lines at Petersburg and detonating 8000 pounds of gunpowder. While this had the desired effect of blowing a hole in the Rebel works, and killing about 350 unfortunates, the resulting crater, from which the battle got its name was had walls to steep for the attacking Union troops to scale - and, packed like fish in a barrel, they provided a veritable shooting gallery for the Confederates who killed about 5300 more or less defenseless men as they thrashed about in confusion - hemmed in on one side by a wall of mud, and on the other by their own troops still trying to force their way into the gap.

As for Sherman, he may have made a distinction between war and murder (at least in the case of landmines) but he made no distinction between war, summary executions, pillaging, appropriation of property, forced labor, burning, and starvation. In fact, he was rather a pioneer in using all these deprivations and more against a mainly civilian "enemy" to force a conclusion to a prolonged conflict.

Was he successful? Those who suffered through 14 years of "Reconstruction" in the South might think otherwise.

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