USA Today recently reported President Donald Trump is strongly considering pardoning former Navy Seal Edward Gallagher, who was accused of stabbing to death a teen Iraqi prisoner who had just been “stabilized” by a medic. He is also accused of “taking delight” in indiscriminately firing into crowds of civilians, shooting an elderly man carrying a water jug, and killing a girl walking along the river. But several people on the right seem to think this is just “part of what happens when you are fighting on foreign soil.”
I beg to differ, but first let me tell you a story. In August 1970, I was drafted out of college despite being blind in my right eye and having a history of asthma. I was told “with my eyesight, they would never send me to a combat zone,” but that is a subject for another day.
In October 1971, I was riding in a truck with eight other unlucky draftees to a base near Quang Tri, which was in northern South Vietnam. We were required to keep our M-16s by our side, but had no thoughts we would actually be using them, as none of us had been in an actual firefight. After a few hours, we passed large field and saw an old white-haired farmer leading a water buffalo a few hundred yards from the road. The soldier directly across from me, obviously bored, remarked “I will bet you guys I could drop that guy with one shot!” He then locked a magazine into his rifle and stood up to take aim. I asked him, “What in the hell are you doing?”
His replay was the guy “could be a ’cong.” We were all dumbstruck, but no one spoke up until I managed to croak out that if he did shoot I would kill him.
Would I have? No, because by that time I was so benumbed by my 11 months “in country” it was hard to work up a passionate response to most anything. But I was lucky because some other guys spoke up, and the guy sat back down.
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Not only did I possibly help prevent something that would have haunted me, but I also believe I saved the shooter from what might have been terrible feelings of guilt as he grew older and hopefully, wiser.
Which brings me to my point: The main reason we lost the war in Vietnam was because we turned the populace, who we actually were defending, against us because of our indiscriminate actions against noncombatants and even our allies. When you “burn a village to save it,” accidentally kill a village elder or shoot into a hut when you are not absolutely certain who is inside, you slowly rot the entire cause for which you are fighting from within. You lose the people, and then you lose the war, no matter how many battles you win.
Pat Tillman, who left the NFL to fight in Afghanistan, likewise became disillusioned as he saw his fellow soldiers being cavalier about what they were doing in their quest to find the actual enemy. He could easily see the “gunslingers” and “macho soldiers” were not helping us win the war, but were in fact guaranteeing we would not.
Edward Gallagher is not a hero. When he killed noncombatants, he turned an entire clan (cousins, uncles, siblings) who may have been at least neutral toward our efforts, into avowed enemies. The things he did will not help us win this war, but will guarantee we will lose it.