Re: Ordered murder
I'll take a stab at it, but being that this is going to pertain to the hypothetical, it's going to be hard to avoid the usual pitfalls. Add to it the somewhat sacred ground that is the military and the right to live and it can very quickly turn into an emotional conversation.
....I consider the military to be sacred. I would never presume that just because someone is a soldier that they are noble, never mind heroic, but the role of the warrior is a sacred one. As such, I think they deserve the highest degrees of scrutiny, but with the highest levels of respect attached. Regardless of their personal motivations, they are put into tough situations and essentially give up large parts of their autonomy for the sake of that noble role.
I don't think "simply doing my job" is ever a justification for doing bad things intentionally, but it's easy to point to bad intentions and condemn. It's this bad intent which constitutes murder in my mind and those events, where the intent is proven, are easy to point to as bad. Mai Lai is an example of ordered murder. Perhaps not everyone involved murdered people, but those who did deserve the death penalty or something appraoching that severity. Again, easy to say, but much harder to pinpoint who all specifically deserves what. Fights are chaotic enough; wars are chaotic to the extreme. In general, where bad intent is ruled out, I tend to blame our politicians for the devastations of our more recent wars more than I do the soldiers themselves.
Some folks have argued to me in the past that a soldier shouldn't have the stress of worrying about whether or not to engage an unknown; that in a warzone they need to worry first about survival of themselves and the members of their team. I don't think it's so clear-cut as that, although I do agree with it to an extent. Then again, in our society soldiers opt for the task. However, this is muddied a bit by the fact that many of our soldiers accept the noble task from incentives which are not "noble warrior"-related. They want the GI Bill or the health care or the promise of a nice resume, for example. So I recognize that while many people choose the life of a soldier, not everyone is embracing it equally. It's a complicated thing; our civilian population doesn't appreciate this enough; they don't generally understand it sufficiently for the strength of the opinions they usually seem to have, regardless of being a "hawk" or a "dove." In a sense, it's business as usual...in general, Americans apparently hold a higher opinion of themselves than is warranted (thinking of a study I heard of in which the only thing Americans were number one in was in confidence), but this is an unusual circumstance so our ignorance is a recipe for disaster. In other words, I remember the case being put forward for going to war in Iraq and seeing the emotion-inducing props used. I was relatively unimpressed by them, while others I know saw the props and were instantly in awe and ready to act regardless of the logic behind them. So I also blame our out-of-touch civilian population, in addition to the powers that be, for the terrible fact of collateral damage. We hardly take part in our government processes, but we're very quick to bitch about them.
I'll finish with an event I had related to me by a soldier who I know to be a good person who was trying to do the right thing by being a soldier.
He described a vehicle approaching his column and who ignored all signs to stop. The vehicle was decimated. It was never made clear if any dangerous elements were discovered after the fact, but it wasn't his job to inspect, either, so he might not have had access to that information. I often think of this because I can easily imagine a frantic person not paying attention to signals designed to save his life. It affects me on a deep level to think an innocent person fleeing Sadam's regime might've be killed by his would-be saviors. That said, I'm inclined to think the action was justifiable considering the circumstances described. Soldiers must defend their position and a vehicle can be strapped with some enormous explosives very easily. Anyone approaching a column of soldiers should be cautious, particularly during wartime. Assuming fo the moment that the people were innocent folks, it would be a true tragedy; there would be no honorable way to spin it otherwise. People should consider these kinds of realities before making their choices, whether it is to be apathetic to the mechanisms of our government, or to throw support in some definite direction.
There are rarely any easy answers outside the world of ideas; reality is vastly more complex and deserves our highest respect and demands our highest levels of critical thinking.
For what it's worth.
p.s. please excuse any apparent short-comings to this post. It's not intended to be a factual statement so much as one person's imperfect attempt at addressing a poignant and, I believe, important issue. Also please, anyone choosing to respond, let's do our best to demonstrate the civility and tact we would have others employ...especially in the face of any perceived disrespect.