The angry, violent Sunni city of Fallujah in western Iraq was as “iconic” in George Bush’s invasion as Bastogne in World War Two and the siege of Hue in Vietnam. The Fallujah battles “stood for” something brave, atrocious, brutal, bloody, photogenic and a kind of wrapup for everything wrong we did to a country that had zip to do with 9/11.
The latest round has various “rebel” groups, such as Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS), retaking Fallujah wrongly thought to be “pacified”. Once again a few days ago Fallujah “fell”, was retaken (by whom?), fell again and now is the target of Shiite boss Nouri al-Maliki’s attempt with U.S. weapons to wipe out the city once again.
Put yourself in the boots of a Marine who survived Fallujah or a mother who lost a soldier son in this city in western Iraq. Or try to identify with an Iraqi man or woman living in that tormented place forever caught between quarreling Arab factions, either homegrown or volunteer jihadists spilling over from the Syrian civil war, and wondering when lent U.S. Hellfire missiles fired from borrowed U.S. Apache gunships will blast them to hell…again.
What we did in Fallujah in the 2004 and 2007 sieges was a war crime, leaving behind not only hundreds of dead Iraqis and dead and wounded Marines, but many children with what local doctors call “congential birth deformities” due to our use of “Willie Pete” or banned, incendiary white phospherus shells and depeted uranium ammo. A 2010 pubic health survey found that the forms of cancer in Fallujah are similar to those found among the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors, who were exposed to intense fallout radiation.
In Bush/Ã‡heney/Rumsfeld’s invasion (for which Hilary Clinton voted and has since defended) we “made an example” of Fallujah to teach the ragheads a lesson. Our military’s basic principle was the 13th century Catholic commandment to troops in the massacre of the rebel Cathar stronghold of Beziers: “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius — Kill them all for the Lord knoweth them that are His”
Thus, Fallujah was the scene of the most intense door-to-door house-to-house combat in which our soldiers were shot by Iraqi snipers and our snipers shot anyone who moved or failed to speak English. The Iraqi crime, then as now, was that Fallujah, a Sunni town, resisted the Shiite government we imposed on the country. Anbar province has a very long history of incredibly complicated resistance to…well, just about anybody disliked by tribal chiefs or Sunni religious leaders. A hornet’s nest of maze-like intrigues over land, oil, honor, theology and last but not least Kurds.
What we did in Fallujah can reasonably be compared to the methodical June 1944 slaughter by SS soldiers in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in central France where 642 men, women and children were wiped out by shooting or being burned alive. Oradour’s crime was that some French Resistance guerrillas ambushed an SS doctor on a nearby road. (A few days ago German prosecutors charged an 88-year-old former member of Hitler’s elite Waffen SS with taking part in the massacre.)
Who do we punish and who do we praise in a war that never had to be fought?
In my view any Marine or trooper who fought at Fallujah deserves to be proud and, perhaps on reflection, depending on afterthoughts, remorseful. Any general or politician who sent them there deserves indictment as a war criminal.
Meanwhile, lest we forget, this in from a serious analyst:
Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives.