Apologizing for a day of infamy
July 15, 2002
Words of apology and remorse don’t mean jack to witnesses of a mass murder. War means never having to say you’re sorry, especially when the body parts of your victims lay scattered around the back yard like fallen autumn leaves.
“Sorry” is what US troops said when they marched into Kakarak two weeks ago. This Afghan village was the site of a massacre where women and children lay dead and dying. The engagement party they had been celebrating – the happy union of a man and a woman – was abruptly ended by bombs and cannon fire, which literally tore the celebrants apart.
According to reports, the air attack was launched while the celebration was in progress. Children were sitting on the roof of one home while adults were gathered in an open courtyard. People were sipping tea and chatting.
When the first bomb hit, it blasted a hole in the roof of the farmhouse, where the children were perched. Shrapnel sprayed across the compound, killing and maiming. Then came the gunships with their rapid-fire cannons, the bullets pounding like deadly hail.
“There was pandemonium as people fled the compounds, and more were cut down as they sought a place to hide behind walls or in ditches outside,” reported The New York Times.
The next day American and Afghan troops moved in on Kakarak expecting resistance from the enemy. At first the soldiers advanced and carefully secured positions. They searched homes and tied up the people they found, even the women.
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But when they came upon the carnage of the day before, their mood changed from vigilance to deep remorse. The survivors of the air attack were not enemy soldiers; they were villagers in shock and mourning.
What they found was termed a “slaughter of innocents” or, in Department of Defense jargon, “collateral damage.” A more fitting word for such a soul-sickening sight is FUBAR, the most familiar acronym in the US military.
Instead of Qaida and Taliban, the soldiers found villagers gathering bodies and caring for the injured. Pity those people picking up after the air attack. Pity the soldiers who came face to face with the unintended consequences of America’s insatiable war of retaliation. What they saw in Kakarak will live with them all their lives.
Overcome with grief, the soldiers tried to explain that they had made a “mistake.” They said they were sorry, but “What’s done cannot be undone.” The banality of those words is naively poetic.
Isn’t it always a mistake when the atrocities of war become the method for national redemption? American troops were apologizing for the horrific technology of war, for the faulty intelligence that led to the slaughter in the first place.
The soldiers apologized, not as enemies, but human-to-human. For that brief moment it was as if their uniforms were stripped away, their allegiance expanded to all mankind. They felt the pain of another people, which is not military protocol. Such emotion is a weakness in fighting men.
The slaughter at Kakarak will live in infamy, just as Pearl Harbor does. Infamy is something grossly criminal, shocking, brutal. An act of infamy creates outrage and an overbearing sense of futility. The mind reels at the condition of humanity when such acts occur. Infamy is shame and repugnance.
The victims were too young, too old or too much in love to comprehend the withering firepower of gunships designed to kill with utmost speed and efficiency. Revulsion in the aftermath of murder should flood the minds of the people who wage the wars, design the machines and orchestrate the killing. “Sorry” just doesn’t fix it.
We Americans must bear responsibility for our leadership and for the policies our elected leaders condone. We must bear the burden for the slaughter. And if we do not hold ourselves responsible, then others will. They have in the past and they will in the future.
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