“But we couldn’t live with ourselves.”

| June 6, 2013

Jonn posted a brief story the other day on the guilty plea entered by Robert Bales – the guy who claims he “snapped” after a night of unauthorized drinking, then went out and murdered 17 Afghan civilians in their homes.  Even now there appear to be those who would excuse Bales’ actions, either partially or completely.

I’d like to offer a short counterexample.

What Bales did was nothing but thuggery.  What the following three Soldiers did, on the other hand, was IMO the epitome of correct, professional conduct.

During the first Gulf War a small US Special Forces team of  3 persons was conducting strategic reconnaissance.  They were well behind enemy lines.  Indeed, they were north of the Euphrates river and were less than 100 miles from Baghdad.  Their mission was to observe one of the major roadways between Baghdad and Iraq for signs of enemy activity in order to screen the western flank of the planned allied “left hook” through southern Iraq.

They had secreted themselves in a dug-in, “spider-hole” hide site.  (We’d studied the Viet Cong’s use of such during the Vietnam war, and had learned much.)  The site was well camouflaged; observation was by a small periscope-like device raised through a small opening in the camouflaged door to the hide site, described as a “slit”.

Unfortunately, no camouflage is absolutely perfect; children are both inquisitive and observant.  Early one morning a small Iraqi girl – a child no more than 7, per later estimates – was out and about and saw something she though unusual.  She went over to investigate.

She found the slit in the hide site’s trap door – then lifted it open.  In short order, she was staring down the muzzle of three silencer-equipped pistols.

The three US soldiers had a choice.  They could kill the little girl, hide the body, and continue their mission.  Or they could let the child go, attempt an extraction with their cover blown – and maybe not get home.

They chose the latter option.  The child ran and got her father.  Her father informed nearby Iraqi forces of what his daughter had found.

The site was soon surrounded by around 100 Iraqi troops.  Amazingly, the team was successfully extracted – although it turned out to be a truly harrowing and narrow escape under fire.

The most junior member of the team was later asked why they didn’t kill the child to preserve their mission, and perhaps their own lives.  The title of this article gives his response.

Like Bales, he was a US Army Staff Sergeant.

The story above is not apocryphal.   Details may be found at pages 4 and 5 of this article.  It’s a short but incredible read.

Those three soldiers knew the difference between cold-blooded murder and collateral damage.  They chose to be military professionals instead of murderers, even though they knew it might cost them their freedom – or their lives.

In contrast, Bales chose cold-blooded murder.  For that, there’s no justification.

Category: Big Army, Historical, Military issues, Real Soldiers

Comments (24)

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  1. Veritas Omnia Vincit says:

    That whole article you linked to was excellent. Thanks for pointing me in that direction.

  2. USMC Steve says:

    Unfortunately, it also compromised their mission, rendered them ineffective, almost lost us a valuable asset, and endangered Americans. They should have popped the kid and continued the mission. Wonder if they ever consider that when thinking of their consciences.

  3. PintoNag says:

    @2 It’s entirely possible that, even had they killed the child and hidden the body, their mission would have been cut short anyway. Somebody would have come looking for the missing child, even if it was just the child’s mother. And how many they could have covertly killed and hidden is open to question.

    And while I’ve heard and read of soldiers being forced to kill children in battle, I’ve never heard of any of them doing it happily.

  4. Dave Thul says:

    While I understand the government position that a guilty plea saves a lot of money and time, I can’t help but think that Bales deserves the death penalty and we should have pushed for it.

  5. Hondo says:

    USMC Steve: ill and wounded POWs were slowing down the Bataan death march. From your comment above, I guess you’re OK with the fact that the Japanese chose to bayonet or behead them in order to keep up the pace.

  6. BohicaTwentyTwo says:

    Bales also made the choice to violate regulations by taking steroids, drinking alcohol and snorting valium.

  7. NHSparky says:

    @2 USMC Steve–sorry, gotta flame ya on this one. NOT justified. Also consider the story of Operation Red Wings, from where we get the story of Marcus Luttrell and his group. Remember their situation?

  8. Isanova says:

    Good story about the three honorable soldiers. Compared to Bales… my how we’ve fallen

  9. NHSparky says:

    Isa–nice try, but no. Bales is a shitbag, no doubt about it. But don’t assume for one second that the average soldier is the same level of shitbag. Quite the contrary, in fact–the average soldier of today is far closer to those described above than to Bales.

  10. Planet Ord says:

    Isanova, that comment undermines your credibility. You are attributing the actions of one man to the whole army. That sort of leap is preposterous and doesn’t stand up under the most minimal scrutiny..

  11. OWB says:

    @ #8: So because one occuturd raped someone, all occuturds are rapists? Because one (filled in with any identifying feature) sells drugs, everyone with (use same feature) sells drugs? Because one cop is corrupt, all are corrupt?

    Need more example of how prejudice works? Ascribing to an entire group what only one does is never justifiable.

    So, since a blond headed kid cut me off in traffic yesterday I should hate all blondes, young people and drivers of red cars? That’s what it sounds like you are advocating.

    Yes, I understand that I am never supposed to exercise any kind of judgment toward anyone but it is fine if you do simply because…uh, tell me again why is it OK for you to condemn an entire group of people because of the action of one?

  12. Veritas Omnia Vincit says:

    Bales did his killing the wrong way, he should have directed a few mortar rounds their way then he could have called it collateral damage…we don’t mind collateral damage out of military necessity in fact we accept and understand the importance of it.

    Curtis LeMay eloquently put forth the following notion regarding North Korea:
    We slipped a note kind of under the door into the Pentagon and said, “Look, let us go up there…and burn down five of the biggest towns in North Korea – and they’re not very big – and that ought to stop it.” Well, the answer to that was four or five screams – “You’ll kill a lot of non-combatants,” and “It’s too horrible.” Yet over a period three years or so…we burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea, too… Now, over a period of three years this is palatable, but to kill a few people to stop this from happening – a lot of people can’t stomach it.”

    He even stated he wanted to punish Japan and its civilian non combatants during WW2 and managed to burn 56 square miles of residential neighborhoods in Tokyo alone to the ground killing as many as 100,000 non combatants in a single evening…and LeMay is a national hero for his acts of premeditated mass murder. He admitted his night time fire bombing was not a precision effort to strike at industrial targets but was designed to inflict massive civilian casualties to sap the energy will to fight.

    Bales makes us uncomfortable because of his methodology, but the purposeful killing of civilians is nothing new for any nation during war time.

  13. Devtun says:

    Another Gulf War SF Team faced dilemma of position compromised by children…the 8 man team w/ F-16 support is estimated to have killed over a 100 Iraqi soldiers – all 8 were safely extracted. The “Commandos” by Richard C. Waller is a good read and goes into depth the hairy close calls of SOF (especially Army SF) during Desert Storm.

    Alpha 525 Gulf War Incident


  14. Devtun says:

    BTW, no children were harmed in the incident above.

  15. 68W58 says:

    Well, they might have hit the girl with the valium auto-injector from their NBC kit and knocked her out long enough to move their hide, but they were unquestionably right not to kill her.

  16. Tman says:

    Turd should have been given death penalty.

  17. Hondo says:

    68W58: valium auto-injector? Damn, they lied to us and told us it was atropine when I was first in back in the early/mid 1980s!

    ‘Course, maybe that’s all for the best. If some of the guys had found out it was valium, well, . . . . (smile)

  18. 68W58 says:

    Hondo-you get atropine and 2 pam Chloride (now you get them as one shot, then they were two) as a countermeasure, but we always were issued diazepam (valium) to issue out as well. It had to be accounted for (or at least it was supposed to be accounted for), but I distinctly remember signing for it to issue out at one of the MOB sites.

    I think they call it diazepam instead of valium in the hopes that Joe won’t know.

  19. CC Senor says:

    @17 I was a unit CBR NCO at Carson in 66 and we had to remove the atropine injectors from all the carriers because guys were actually trying to get high off the atropine. I was told it was possible, but I wasn’t about to try, and wondered if three injectors were enough to do the trick.

  20. Hondo says:

    68W58: interesting. Learn something new every day.

    Was that during the 1980s/early 1990s, or was it later? Not my career field, but I certainly don’t remember any mention of diazepam injectors prior to the Gulf War.

  21. Anonymous says:

    How dare those SF confound liberal stereotypes about what bloodthirsty baby-killing savages Special Forces guys are! 😉

  22. 68W58 says:

    Hondo-more recently (OIF). Maybe they didn’t have them then, but if one of them was an 18D, he certainly would have had some sedative that would have done the trick.

  23. Hondo says:

    68W58: thanks. I’m guessing the diazepam is a more recent addition.

    Correct on the 18D issue. Since it was only a small (3-man) element I’d guess none of them was a medic – but I don’t know that for sure.

    Even so, a missing child might have attracted enough attention to stop the mission anyway – via either discovery during search or by bringing so many people to the area that they couldn’t chance observing the road. That’s probably why they tried to convince the girl’s father to cooperate when the girl brought him to their location (as discussed in the article).

  24. 68W58 says:

    I guess one of the reasons that I brought it up is that it’s important for soldiers to consider alternative COAs. That’s something that, when I was PTAE and we were running lanes, it was interesting to see different units have different approaches to the same problem (I ran a “cordon and search” lane one year and units came up with a variety of ways to accomplish that task).

    That’s one reason why the SF does those lanes where they give them a problem with no clear solution (my unit did one once when we were at a MOB site in 2003, waiting to go to theater-it was interesting and more fun than you’d think) and other aspects of their training (which I won’t pretend to know anything about).

    I certainly didn’t intend to be critical of what they did. I just think that its useful for soldiers, when given a certain set of circumstances, to think about what other actions they might take.