In July 2003:
In 1970, when I arrived at my unit, Company A, 4th Battalion/503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade, in what was then the Republic of Vietnam, I was charged up for a fight. I believed that if we didn’t stop the communists in Vietnam, we’d eventually be fighting this global conspiracy in the streets of Hot Springs, Arkansas. I’d been toughened by Basic Training, Infantry Training and Parachute Training, taught how to use my weapons and equipment, and I was confident in my ability to vanquish the skinny unter-menschen. So I was dismayed when one of my new colleagues–a veteran who’d been there ten months–told me, “We are losing this war.” Full comment
In November 2003 (thinking now of Haditha):
I changed over there in Vietnam and they were not nice changes either. I started getting pulled into something–something that craved other peole’s pain. Just to make sure I wasn’t regarded as a “fucking missionary” or a possible rat, I learned how to fit myself into that group that was untouchable, people too crazy to fuck with, people who desired the rush of omnipotence that comes with setting someone’s house on fire just for the pure hell of it, or who could kill anyone, man, woman, or child, with hardly a second thought. People who had the power of life and death–because they could.
The anger helps. It’s easy to hate everyone you can’t trust because of your circumstances, and to rage about what you’ve seen, what has happened to you, and what you have done and can’t take back.
It was all an act for me, a cover-up for deeper fears I couldn’t name, and the reason I know that is that we had to dehumanize our victims before we did the things we did. We knew deep down that what we were doing was wrong. So they became dinks or gooks, just like Iraqis are now being transformed into ragheads or hajjis. People had to be reduced to “niggers” here before they could be lynched. No difference. We convinced ourselves we had to kill them to survive, even when that wasn’t true, but something inside us told us that so long as they were human beings, with the same intrinsic value we had as human beings, we were not allowed to burn their homes and barns, kill their animals, and sometimes even kill them. So we used these words, these new names, to reduce them, to strip them of their essential humanity, and then we could do things like adjust artillery fire onto the cries of a baby.