NEWS

Editorial: War and its atrocities

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

We should applaud the United States military hierarchy for openly and swiftly meting out justice in the atrocities emerging from the war in Iraq.

But in the same breath, we have to ask if Pentagon officials are doing everything they can to weed out those with a propensity for violence outside a soldier’s duties and if they are, as well, dealing with the vulnerable psyches of young soldiers and Marines in the middle of a brutal combat zone.

On Thursday, a military jury in Camp Pendleton, Calif., convicted Marine Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III of Plymouth of murder for killing an Iraqi man, 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad, in the village of Hamdania last year. Hutchins, 23, was also convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, making a false official statement, and larceny. He was sentenced to 15 years in a military prison.

On Saturday, a military panel handed a 23-year-old Army private a 110-year sentence in the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the killings of her parents and sister. Four other soldiers had already pled guilty and another is awaiting trial that could result in the death penalty.

There are at least a dozen more soldiers and Marines who served in Afghanistan and Iraq who either pled guilty or were convicted of killing civilians or prisoners and there are other incidents the Pentagon is still investigating.

As shocking as the actions of which he was found guilty, Hutchins showed no indications whatsoever in private life of the potential for committing a heartless war atrocity. The son and grandson of Marines, and a 2002 graduate of Plymouth South High, Hutchins is remembered by family and friends as a warm person and good friend who signed up for the Marines as part of the delayed entry program shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

How Hutchins went from a seemingly typical young man from America’s Hometown to the mastermind of a vicious murder defies credulity. We are left with far more questions than answers.

Civilians can only wonder at the level of training young and raw soldiers receive for the psychological makeup of brutal warfare, and the extent to which they are mentored and tutored by older, experienced career soldiers for the stresses, chaos and confusion awaiting them. We can only guess as to what extent the military prepares soldiers for the rage and fear and fatigue that come inevitably in war-torn situations. And to what extent modern-day warfare is different from the world wars our parents and grandparents fought, and the extent to which youth and inexperience are armed with something more than very effective weapons to kill. 

One of the problems for both the accused soldiers and Marines and their leaders is that these actions occur in a place where killing is part of their reason for being there. That’s a fine line that must be drawn between what is justified and what is criminal.

Bloodlust and murder are not atrocities we should accept as a consequence of war. But neither should we simply accept the atrocity of a young American asked to fight for his country turn into a psychopathic killer without exploring why and determining if we could have affected and stopped that transformation.

We expect these warriors to perform their duties when ordered. We should provide them with help and guidance to divine where that duty begins and ends.

Patriot Ledger