War crimes are a stark example. Suppose a soldier from group X plainly murdered ten innocent civilians from group Y. What do the people of X say? "It was war." "He just lost his buddy a month earlier." "If you've never been in that situation, you can't judge." "He was just following orders." "His officer should have seen it coming."
On Wednesday of this week, I was flying home from Washington, D.C. to Monterey and was reading Civilian Warriors by Erik Prince. I had seen it on sale at Costco a while back and decided that rather than pre-judge the founder of Blackwater, I should see what he had to say.
The story starts off in a compelling way. I found myself admiring Prince, as I do most people when I see that they risk it all to start a business. My admiration was limited because the business he started was, as the title says, a civilian warrior business. I judge civilian warriors by the same standards that I judge military warriors: are they fighting a just war and are they fighting justly?
Where my admiration fell to zero was when I hit Chapter 8, "Fallujah." In it, Prince tells how 4 of his employees were massacred in the city of Fallujah, and then tells what happened next. He writes:
Operation Phantom Fury soon became one of the bloodiest single engagements of the Iraq War, as two armored Army battalions rolled heavy into the streets of Fallujah, rustling out insurgents for the four Marine battalions that swept in behind. U.S. forces carried out hundreds of additional air strikes; between the two assaults on Fallujah, they unloaded enough munitions to damage or destroy roughly half the city's thirty-nine thousand buildings. After two days of intense battle, military officials announced that U.S. forces controlled 70 percent of the city. The rest was secured just over a week later. More than ninety soldiers died and more than five hundred were wounded. In their wake, U.S. forces left a bombed-out wasteland of approximately 1,350 dead insurgents--and, if studies are correct, a level of unrelenting toxicity in the flattened city that appears to have led to a staggering rise in birth defects there today.
On Sunday, November 14, 2004, Marines with 3rd Battalion, 5h Marine Regiment rolled away the bundles of concertina wire that had been spread along on the shore of the Euphrates. They became the first Americans to walk across Fallujah's infamous bridge since two of my men had been strung up on it nearly eight months before. Back in the States, it was an emotional time for our staff. We printed eight hundred Blackwater shirts with "3/5" embroidered on the sleeve as a thank-you to the Marines. "It's symbolic because the insurgents closed the bridge, and we reopened it," Major Todd Desgrosseilliers, the battalion's executive officer, told reporters.
In black marker, one of the Marines left a message on one of the bridge's green trestles: "This is for the Americans of Blackwater that were murdered here in 2004. Semper Fidelis 3/5s."
"PS," it concluded. "F**k you."