uploaded : Saturday 28th Oct 2006 at 02:41
by : Carol Gould
This past month it has not been a popular occupation to be an American in Britain. The war in Iraq has degenerated into a sectarian bloodbath with 93 Americans killed so far in October and coalition troops caught in the middle of tribal barbarism. British General Sir Richard Dannatt suggests that the presence of troops was exacerbating the situation and worries that he will not have a fit and healthy army for future needs if the conflict continues.
America is blamed for everything, and some even think Madonna has suffered unprecedented media condemnation in her bid to adopt a baby from Malawi because of overwhelming British hostility to all things American.
In recent weeks the Coroner’s report on the death of British ITN journalist Terry Lloyd has inspired a stream of invective about the brutality of American troops. Lloyd, a veteran newsman known across the nation, had chosen to cover Iraq in his own way without being embedded with American or British troops. He was killed during a fierce battle and the Coroner has determined that he was alive and being rescued by an Iraqi civilian when American troops filled him with bullets as he was being evacuated in a makeshift ambulance.
Lloyd’s daughter and the lawyer representing the family were shown on British television over and over again making fierce pronouncements about the cruel and reckless behaviour of the trigger-happy American ‘cowboys' who committed cold-blooded murder.
As a journalist my complaint is that Lloyd did not take advantage of the embedding facilities that might have prevented him from danger, and that ITN seems to have underestimated the peril in which he was placing himself on their behalf.
This story generated the expected clamour about the appalling battle etiquette ( is there is such a thing?) of Americans, but the ultimate insult came when John Simpson, BBC Iraq bureau chief, wrote an editorial for ‘The Independent’ in which he said:
'Since the First World War, every war in which the Americans have fought has been marked by unnecessary civilian deaths and wholly avoidable "friendly fire" incidents. Now, it seems, there may be a new distinguishing feature of American wars: the killing of journalists..'
His comment brought to mind a cavalcade of images: the firestorms of Coventry and London; the devastation of Dresden, an RAF raid masterminded by Bomber Harris and the millions killed by Nazi Germany in concentration camps and Eastern European killing fields. Though not in wartime Stalin’s purges ended the lives of countless civilians. In 1919 British General Dyer ordered the execution of crowds of civilians in Amritsar. All nations have had their moments of shame.
The thrust of Simpson’s charge against American servicemen and women is the audacity of his accusation. Yes, all armies cause carnage during wartime but the idea that the presence of Americans means extra civilian deaths is an unfortunate slur. One wonders if the Crusades worried about civilian casualties. World Wars I and II were perpetrated by Europeans. The United States was at peace and was a booming and flourishing nation led by a man of integrity, Woodrow Wilson. He would have given anything to have been able to engineer a bloodless solution to the tribal hatreds of the European protagonists. His vision of a League of Nations would inspire the establishment of the United Nations. America entered the Great War a reluctant participant. Eventually the Spanish ‘flu contracted by troops coming back from Europe to the Philadelphia Navy Yard (Philadelphia eventually suffered more deaths than any other city in the 1918 pandemic) killed almost as many soldiers as perished in the trenches. The idea that Americans caused unnecessary civilian deaths in World War I is a cruel slur against men who fought with courage to help their British and French friends.
Europe was in turmoil whilst Franklin Roosevelt was pulling America out of the Great Depression, and again it was a reluctant United States that joined the Second World War. It is difficult for Britons and Europeans to understand why Americans were reluctant to enter the war, but it has always been tough for Americans to understand the passionate and visceral hatreds European cultures harbour against one another. ( One might venture to say that they never understood the depth of hatreds between tribal factions in Iraq.) In any event, along came Pearl Harbour and America was in the war. A quarter of a million American men died in action and more than a million came home maimed or mentally scarred for life. At Omaha Beach the Americans suffered far more than the British or Canadians, losing 10,000 men in the Normandy invasion. 600,000 brave Americans fought in the subsequent battles in Operation Market Garden, the Ardennes, the Hurtgen Forest and Bastogne, and one unit in the Battle of the Bulge alone lost 91% of its men. Americans fought with valour in the Pacific, all five of the Sullivan brothers dying on the Juneau.
During World War II 52 million civilians died. There is no doubt, as Robert MacNamara pointed out in ‘The Fog of War’ that Curtis le May’s bombing of Japan created a firestorm that resulted in massive civilian deaths. But set alongside the criminal atrocities of the Axis powers this was a blip in the statistics. China suffered millions of casualties in its protracted struggle with Japan. In the Second World War Russia, Poland, Great Britain, France and Belgium alone suffered some 16 million civilian losses, added to which were the millions of Jews and other civilian captives who perished in German labour camps and in the gas chambers and ovens of the Nazi extermination centres.
How John Simpson can suggest the presence of Americans caused a rise in civilian deaths is an insult to the Allied men and women who witnessed the liberation of these camps and who died on countless battlefields across Europe and the Pacific. He may have some obscure document showing the civilian losses in battles Americans fought, but his suggestion that Americans create unnecessary deaths is unfortunate because the overwhelming number of United States servicepeople, including World War One and Two veterans in my own family, served with valour and honour. Yes, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars have been bloody and ugly, but Britain has not been angelic in its wars either.
This brings us to Robert Fisk’s article ‘The US Military and its Cult of Cruelty.’
He cites the American military’s new ‘Warrior Ethos:’
"I am an American soldier.
I am a warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the Unites States and live the Army values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional. I stand ready to deploy, engage and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat. I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American soldier."
Fisk refers to this as ‘ferocious’ and that it fits in with ‘Bush’s rantings. ‘ Frankly, having sampled the American way of life one can understand its citizens being willing to fight to the death to preserve it. The creed is a standard military oath and is very likely a lot less chilling than that of a Syrian or North Korean regiment. One wonders if Fisk ever served in a military unit and pledged to stand by his nation and his brave band of brothers.
Fisk’s references to atrocities and sadistic torture perpetrated by American servicemen and women no doubt have basis in truth, the world having seen the images from Abu Ghraib and having heard snippets of testimony from Guantanamo Bay. He says his facts derive from letters and testimony from soldiers and parents of servicemen. What is troubling is his assertion that when children or babies are thrown into the road by insurgents, the Pentagon has ordered its forces to ‘drive over the children without stopping.’ A serving soldier is given attribution for this evidence and it may well be true. If Fisk can show a Department of Defence document that rubber- stamped this then it is indeed the lowest point in American military history, but if it is Fisk using his unlimited column space to defame the American serving man this is unfortunate.
Hundreds of thousands of fine young men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and the overwhelming majority have no doubt behaved with decency and honour. These two journalists, however, seem to want to paint a picture of what Fisk describes as ‘humiliation, beatings, rape, anal rape and murder’ in a ‘cult of cruelty.’ Indeed, a group of US soldiers is on trial for murder and it is admirable that the wheels of justice are dealing with this. But what is unacceptable about the picture painted by Fisk is that the American military has degenerated into a force for evil. It is possible that the hell that is Iraq has sunk many service people into depths of despair and loneliness. They are in a country where they cannot have a drink, cannot carouse with ladies on weekend leave and cannot make friends or comprehend the complexities of Iraqi culture. This can lead to aberrant behaviour but it is simply inconceivable that the forces serving in Iraq are all barbarians.
The atrocities being committed at present by Iraqis against each other are beyond human comprehension. According to recent television reports Sunni and Shia militias are using power drills to torture people to death and are using hospitals for these activities. Of the thousands who have died in Iraq the huge majority were not killed by Americans but by fellow Muslims, most heavily during Holy Ramadan. American Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been one of many lamenting the expected rise of violence during Ramadan. Perhaps Robert Fisk might like to investigate the atrocities committed by thousands of Iraqi militias, including those against children and teachers at schools.
During World War II Germans prayed they would be captured by the Americans because they knew the cruelty they would suffer in Soviet captivity. In recent years war has changed its face and the words ‘guerrilla’ and ‘insurgent’ have replaced the straightforward ‘Nazis’ and ‘Japs.’ The new wars have, by necessity, created a new kind of soldier.
But when Fisk finishes his article by comparing the American forces to al Qaeda he is entering the territory of the bizarre. He asserts that ‘under the fists of US Marines’ cruelty abounds and that they proclaim, ‘We are warriors. We are Samurai. We draw the sword. We will destroy,’ and he then says this is the creed of Osama bin Laden.
Just what do journalists like Fisk, Simpson and the US-loathing John Pilger want? Had America remained isolationist in 1941 the Thousand Year Reich would have taken command of the world’s destiny. Perhaps Fisk and Pilger, who have for years written with barely-concealed loathing of the State of Israel, might have been grateful for a Reich that would have prevented Israel ever being born and would have ended American power.
When Eisenhower refused to be part of Suez American tourists were refused service in British establishments and hatred of America lasted for years. The United States has chosen intervention in recent years and most of these choices have had a bloody cost, but the vast majority of its forces have been men and women of decency.
The American media rarely, if ever, level venom at British forces or politicians. It would be good to see a small amount of civility in the discourse from Britain’s newspapers as American forces suffer unspeakable sacrifices in service to their country. Some in the antiwar movement say this death and blood-letting was for oil and Halliburton, but whatever the reasons, the troops are doing something no-one else in the world is doing or wants to do right now, and some decency from the media would not go amiss.
Carol Gould is the daughter of an American World War II veteran. Her aunt served in the US army of occupation in Japan and her great-uncle with the US Army in World War I. She resides in London and is the author of 'Spitfire Girls,' about the women pilots of the Second World War.