Hiroshima nine months after the bombing.

August 6th, 2012

Today is the sixty-seventh anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, the first use of nuclear weapons on a civilian center in the history of the world. When the United States army dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, about 255,000 people were living in the city; by six months later, the cumulative effects of the explosion, the shockwave, the firestorm, and the burst of radiation had killed approximately 140,000 men, women and children, over half of the entire population of the city. Nine-tenths of the buildings in Hiroshima were incinerated, burned down, irreparably damaged or destroyed. This is a silent film, recorded by the U.S. military nine months later, during the occupation of Japan, which can be found now in the National Archives. The film was made in an effort to survey the effects of the bombing. At 6 minutes 35 seconds, there is a panaromic view of the city. At 9 minutes, there is a view through the Torii gate.

Terrorism

June 20th, 2010

From Ivan Eland’s recent Op-Ed column on the Israeli government’s military attack on an unarmed ship bearing humanitarian relief for Gaza

Terrorism is usually defined as harming a population by collective punishment to pressure its leadership to make political changes. Normally we think of small groups terrorizing a population with bombs, but governments purposefully killing civilians with bombs (such as the allies did to Japan and Germany in World War II) or inducing starvation and illness with a more slow-motion blockade should also be considered terrorism. It is appalling that civilized nations, such as Israel and its U.S. patron, are committing or endorsing, respectively, this illegal and immoral quarantine.

Ivan Eland (2010-06-02), Israeli Attack May Have a Silver Lining

Howard Zinn, introduction to “Bomb after Bomb”

December 19th, 2007

This is an introductory essay that social critic and historian Howard Zinn wrote for Bomb after Bomb, by elin o’Hara slavick, a collection of cartographic drawings–based on military surveillance imagery, aerial photographs, battle plans, maps, and mass media sources–of American aerial bombing campaigns. Zinn’s essay was reprinted in the December 15–16, 2007 issue of CounterPunch. It was brought to our attention by Mark Brady at Liberty & Power.

Perhaps it is fitting that elin o’Hara slavick’s extraordinary evocation of bombings by the United States government be preceded by some words from a bombardier who flew bombing missions for the U.S. Air Corps in the second World War. At least one of her drawings is based on a bombing I participated in near the very end of the war–the destruction of the French seaside resort of Royan, on the Atlantic coast.

As I look at her drawings, I become painfully aware of how ignorant I was, when I dropped those bombs on France and on cities in Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, of the effects of those bombings on human beings. Not because she shows us bloody corpses, amputated limbs, skin shredded by napalm. She does not do that. But her drawings, in ways that I cannot comprehend, compel me to envision such scenes.

I am stunned by the thought that we, the civilized nations, have bombed cities and countrysides and islands for a hundred years. Yet, here in the United States, which is responsible for most of that, the public, as was true of me, does not understand–I mean really understand–what bombs do to people. That failure of imagination, I believe, is critical to explaining why we still have wars, why we accept bombing as a common accompaniment to our foreign policies, without horror or disgust.

We in this country, unlike people in Europe or Japan or Africa or the Middle East, or the Caribbean, have not had the experience of being bombed. That is why, when the Twin Towers in New York exploded on September 11, there was such shock and disbelief. This turned quickly, under the impact of government propaganda, into a callous approval of bombing Afghanistan, and a failure to see that the corpses of Afghans were the counterparts of those in Manhattan.

We might think that at least those individuals in the U.S. Air Force who dropped bombs on civilian populations were aware of what terror they were inflicting, but as one of those I can testify that this is not so. Bombing from five miles high, I and my fellow crew members could not see what was happening on the ground. We could not hear screams or see blood, could not see torn bodies, crushed limbs. Is it any wonder we see fliers going out on mission after mission, apparently unmoved by thoughts of what they have wrought.

It was not until after the war, when I read John Hersey’s interviews with Japanese survivors of Hiroshima, who described what they had endured, that I became aware, in excruciating detail, of what my bombs had done. I then looked further. I learned of the firebombing of Tokyo in March of 1945, in which perhaps a hundred thousand people died. I learned about the bombing of Dresden, and the creation of a firestorm which cost the lives of 80,000 to 100,000 residents of that city. I learned of the bombing of Hamburg and Frankfurt and other cities in Europe.

We know now that perhaps 600,000 civilians–men, women, and children-died in the bombings of Europe. And an equal number died in the bombings of Japan. What could possibly justify such carnage? Winning the war against Fascism? Yes, we won. But what did we win? Was it a new world? Had we done away with Fascism in the world, with racism, with militarism, with hunger and disease? Despite the noble words of the United Nations charter about ending the scourge of war — had we done away with war?

As horrifying as the loss of life was, the acceptance of justifications for the killing of innocent people continued after World War II. The United States bombed Korea, with at least a million civilian deaths, and then Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, with another million or two million lives taken. Communism was the justification. But what did those millions of victims know of communism or capitalism or any of the abstractions which cover up mass murder?

We have had enough experience, with the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi leaders, with the bombings carried out by the Allies, with the torture stories coming out of Iraq, to know that ordinary people with ordinary consciences will allow their instincts for decency to be overcome by the compulsion to obey authority. It is time therefore, to educate the coming generation in disobedience to authority, to help them understand that institutions like governments and corporations are cold to anything but self-interest, that the interests of powerful entities run counter to the interests of most people.

This clash of interest between governments and citizens is camouflaged by phrases that pretend that everyone in the nation has a common interest, and so wars are waged and bombs dropped for national security, national defense, and national interest.

Patriotism is defined as obedience to government, obscuring the difference between the government and the people. Thus, soldiers are led to believe that we are fighting for our country when in fact they are fighting for the government — an artificial entity different from the people of the country — and indeed are following policies dangerous to its own people.

My own reflections on my experiences as a bombardier, and my research on the wars of the United States have led me to certain conclusions about war and the dropping of bombs that accompany modern warfare.

One: The means of waging war (demolition bombs, cluster bombs, white phosphorus, nuclear weapons, napalm) have become so horrendous in their effects on human beings that no political end– however laudable, the existence of no enemy — however vicious, can justify war.

Two: The horrors of the means are certain, the achievement of the ends always uncertain.

Three: When you bomb a country ruled by a tyrant, you kill the victims of the tyrant.

Four: War poisons the soul of everyone who engages in it, so that the most ordinary of people become capable of terrible acts.

Five: Since the ratio of civilian deaths to military deaths in war has risen sharply with each subsequent war of the past century (10% civilian deaths in World War I, 50% in World War II, 70% in Vietnam, 80-90% in Afghanistan and Iraq) and since a significant percentage of these civilians are children, then war is inevitably a war against children.

Six: We cannot claim that there is a moral distinction between a government which bombs and kills innocent people and a terrorist organization which does the same. The argument is made that deaths in the first case are accidental, while in the second case they are deliberate. However, it does not matter that the pilot dropping the bombs does not intend to kill innocent people — that he does so is inevitable, for it is the nature of bombing to be indiscriminate. Even if the bombing equipment is so sophisticated that the pilot can target a house, a vehicle, there is never certainty about who is in the house or who is in the vehicle.

Seven: War, and the bombing that accompanies war, are the ultimate terrorism, for governments can command means of destruction on a far greater scale than any terrorist group.

These considerations lead me to conclude that if we care about human life, about justice, about the equal right of all children to exist, we must, in defiance of whatever we are told by those in authority, pledge ourselves to oppose all wars.

If the drawings of elin o’Hara slavick and the words that accompany them cause us to think about war, perhaps in ways we never did before, they will have made a powerful contribution towards a peaceful world.

Howard Zinn

“How Could I Ever Forget That Flash,” by Mitsuyoshi Toge

November 29th, 2007

How could I ever forget that flash of light!
In a moment, thirty thousand people ceased to be,
The cries of fifty thousand killed
At the bottom of crushing darkness;

Through yellow smoke whirling into light,
Buildings split, bridges collapsed,
Crowded trams burnt as they rolled about
Hiroshima, all full of boundless heaps of embers.
Soon after, skin dangling like rags;
With hands on breasts;
Treading upon the broken brains;
Wearing shreds of burn cloth round their loins;
There came numberless lines of the naked,
all crying.
Bodies on the parade ground, scattered like
jumbled stone images of Jizo;
Crowds in piles by the river banks,
loaded upon rafts fastened to the shore,
Turned by and by into corpses
under the scorching sun;
in the midst of flame
tossing against the evening sky,
Round about the street where mother and
brother were trapped alive under the fallen house
The fire-flood shifted on.
On beds of filth along the Armory floor,
Heaps, and God knew who they were …
Heaps of schoolgirls lying in refuse
Pot-bellied, one-eyed, with half their skin peeled
off bald.
The sun shone, and nothing moved
But the buzzing flies in the metal basins
Reeking with stagnant ordure.
How can I forget that stillness
Prevailing over the city of three hundred thousands?
Amidst that calm,
How can I forget the entreaties
Of departed wife and child
Through their orbs of eyes,
Cutting through our minds and souls?

—Mitsuyoshi Toge

Mitsuyoshi Toge (February 1917–March 1953) was a Japanese Catholic poet, born in Osaka in 1917 to a successful brick manufacturer. He began writing poetry as an adolescent; by 1945 he composed three thousand tanka and even more haiku. A mistaken diagnosis of tuberculosis in 1938 kept him mostly bed-ridden throughout World War II. Toge was living in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, when, at 8:15 in the morning, Thomas Ferebee, the bombadier for the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay, dropped an atomic bomb over the city center, under orders from his commanding officer, Paul Tibbets, and at the behest of the General Curtis LeMay, U.S. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and ultimately Harry S. Truman, the President of the United States of America. The bomb burned alive over one third of the population of the city, and its effects killed a total of about 140,000 people — over half of Hiroshima’s population — by the end of 1945. In addition to the unspeakable mass death, Hiroshima was shattered and decimated, with nine-tenths of all the buildings in the city reduced to ruins by the combination of the heat, the shockwave, and the outbreak of fires throughout the city. Toge witnessed the explosion and its effects on his home first hand. After the war was over, Toge began to write new poetry that was strikingly different his earlier lyric poetry, haiku, and tanka. His first collection of poems about the atomic bomb, Genbaku shishu (Poems of the Atomic Bomb), was published in 1951. He died young–only 36 years old–in 1953. This poem is reprinted from a 1978 anthology, Hiroshima-Nagasaki: A Pictorial Record of the Atomic Destruction.

“Enola Gay,” by U. Utah Phillips

August 6th, 2007

Enola Gay

Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Wave your hand
at the shining airplane
Such a beautiful sight is Enola Gay

It’s many a mile
from the Utah desert
To Tinian Island far away
A standing guard
by the barbed wire fences
That hide the secret of Enola Gay

High above the clouds
in the sunlit silence
So peaceful here I’d like to stay
There’s many a pilot
who’d swap his pension
For a chance to fly Enola Gay

What is that sound
high above my city
I rush outside and search the sky
Now we are running
to find our shelter
The air raid sirens start to cry

What will I say
when my children ask me
Where was I flying upon that day?
With trembling voice
I gave the order
To the bombardier of Enola Gay

Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Your bright young eyes
will turn to ashes
In the blinding light of Enola Gay I turn to see
the fireball rising
My god, my god all I can say
I hear a voice
within me crying
My mother’s name was Enola Gay

Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Oh when you see
the war planes flying
Each one is named Enola Gay.

U. Utah Phillips

8:15 AM, August 6th, 1945. Hiroshima, Japan.

August 6th, 2007
Here is a pocket watch, stopped at 8:15am.

Donated by Kazuo Nikawa
1,600m from the hypocenter
Kan-on Bridge

Kengo Nikawa (then, 59) was exposed to the bomb crossing the Kan-on Bridge by bike going from his home to his assigned building demolition site in the center of the city. He suffered major burns on his right shoulder, back, and head and took refuge in Kochi-mura Saiki-gun. He died on August 22. Kengo was never without this precious watch given him by his son, Kazuo.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 in the morning, the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb over the center of the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Hiroshima was the first target ever attacked with nuclear weapons in the history of the world.

The bomb exploded about 200 yards over the city, creating a 13 kiloton explosion, a fireball, a shock-wave, and a burst of radiation. When the bomb was dropped about 255,000 people lived in Hiroshima.

The explosion completely incinerated everything within a one mile radius of the city center. The shock-wave and the fires ignited by the explosion damaged or completely destroyed about nine-tenths of the buildings in the city. Somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 people–about one third of the population of the city–were killed immediately. The heat of the explosion vaporized or burned alive many of those closest to ground zero. Others were killed by the force of the shock-wave or crushed under collapsing buildings. Many more died from acute radiation poisoning–which is to say, from their internal organs being burned away in the intense radiation from the blast.

By December 1945, thousands more had died from their injuries, from radiation poisoning, or from cancers related to the radioactive burst or the fallout. It is estimated that the atomic bombing killed more than half of the population of Hiroshima, totaling about 140,000 people, and left thousands more with permanent disabilities.

Almost all of the people maimed and killed were civilians: although there were some minor military bases near Hiroshima, the bomb was dropped on the city center, several miles away from the military bases on the edge of town. Hiroshima was chosen as a target, even though it had little military importance, because It is a good radar target and it is such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged. There are adjacent hills which are likely to produce a focussing effect which would considerably increase the blast damage. 1. Hiroshima was also one of the largest Japanese cities not yet damaged by the American firebombing campaign. Military planners believed it strategically important to demonstrate as much destruction as possible from the blast.

Thomas Ferebee dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. His commanding officer was the pilot of the Enola Gay, Paul Tibbets. Tibbets and Ferebee were part of the XXI Bomber Command, directed by Curtis LeMay. LeMay planned and executed the atomic bombings at the behest of Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and President Harry Truman.

Kengo Nikawa died on August 22nd, 1945 because of the bombing. This is his pocket watch.

We will never know the names of many of the 140,000 other residents of Hiroshima who were killed by the bombing. We have only estimates because the Japanese government was in a shambles by this point in the war, and countless records, of those that were successfully kept, were consumed by the flames, along with the people whose lives they recorded.

An Appeal to Conscience to Those Who Would Bomb Iran, by Ann Wright

May 2nd, 2007

This was printed in Truthout in February 2007, and also reported in Feminist Daily News (2007-02-26). Emphasis has been added.

Bombing Iranian facilities by the US military will cause the cycle of violence to begin again. If the US attacks Iran, by international law Iran has the legal right to defend itself from aggressive action by another country. The world will be watching carefully to see if the US provokes an incident whereby the Iranian military is forced into action against US forces. The Gulf is filled with US military ships which may, by the actions of the Bush administration, become legitimate targets.

While we are on the topic of history and aggression, after World War II, the United States executed German and Japanese military officers who were convicted of crimes against peace (wars of aggression) and for violations of the Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg Principles.

The Nuremberg Principles provide for accountability for war crimes committed by military and civilian officials.

Principle IV of the Nuremberg Principles states: The fact that a person acted pursuant to an order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

Principle VI of the Nuremberg Principles: The following crimes are punishable as crimes under international law:

a. Crimes against peace: i. Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; ii. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).

b. War Crimes: Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave-labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war, of persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.

c. Crimes against humanity: Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, when such acts are done, or such persecutions are carried on in execution of, or in connection with any crime against peace, or any war crime.

Attacking Iran will be a crime against peace, a war crime. Those conducting military operations will be violating the Nuremberg Principles, the Geneva Conventions and the Laws of Land Warfare. Prosecution for commission of war crimes is possible.

I appeal to the conscience of US Air Force and US Navy pilots and military personnel who command cruise missiles and pilot bombers and those who plan the missions for the pilots and missile commanders. I ask that they refuse what I believe will be unlawful orders to attack Iran.

Accountability for one’s actions is finally becoming possible under the new Congress. While refusal to drop bombs may initially draw punishment and the loss of one’s military career, those who refuse will save their soul, their conscience and will prevent another criminal action in the name of our country by the Bush administration.

US Army Reserves Colonel (retired) Ann Wright, (2007-02-13): An Appeal to Conscience to Those Who Would Bomb Iran

Further reading:

Guernica

April 26th, 2007
Here is the painting, Guernica

Pablo Picasso (1937), Guernica

Seventy years ago today, on the afternoon of April 26, 1937, a group of twenty-nine German and Italian airplanes, commanded by Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen and acting on direct orders from the Spanish Command, attacked the Basque town of Gernika in northeastern Spain. Gernika (Spanish: Guernica), with a population of about 5,000 regular residents and a large number of refugees from the fighting elsewhere, was completely unarmed. The airplanes had been provided by the fascist powers to aid Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War. The bombers dropped explosives and incendiary bombs in five waves of bombardment, while the fighters strafed the streets with machine gun fire. The incendiary bombs created a firestorm that destroyed three-quarters of the buildings in Guernica, with most of the rest heavily damaged. The Basque government estimated that about 1,600 civilians were killed in the attacks, and about 900 wounded.

Listen: Kurt Vonnegut on the firebombing of Dresden

April 14th, 2007

Billy went into his bedroom, even though there were guests to be entertained downstairs. He lay down on his bed, turned on the Magic Fingers. The mattress trembled, drove a dog out from under the bed. The dog was Spot. Good old Spot was still alive in those days. Spot lay down again in a corner.

Billy thought hard about the effect the quartet had had on him, and then found an association with an experience he had had long ago. He did not travel in time to the experience. He remembered it shimmeringly–as follows:

§

He was down in the meat locker on the night that Dresden was destroyed. There were sounds like giant footsteps above. Those were sticks of high-explosive bombs. The giants walked and walked. The meat locker was a very safe shelter. All that happened down there was an occasional shower of calcimine. The Americans and four of their guards and a few dressed carcasses were down there, and nobody else. The rest of the guards had, before the raid began, gone to the comforts of their own homes in Dresden. They were all being killed with their families.

So it goes.

The girls that Billy had seen naked were all being killed, too, in a much shallower shelter in another part of the stockyards.

So it goes.

A guard would go to the head of the stairs every so often to see what it was like outside, then he would come down and whisper to the other guards. There was a fire-storm out there. Dresden was one big flame. The one flame ate everything organic, everything that would burn.

It wasn’t safe to come out of the shelter until noon the next day. When the Americans and their guards did come out, the sky was black with smoke. The sun was an angry little pinhead. Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everybody else in the neighborhood was dead.

So it goes.

The guards drew together instinctively, rolled their eyes. They experimented with one expression and then another, said nothing, though their mouths were often open. They looked like a silent film of a barbershop quartet.

So long forever, they might have been singing, old fellows and pals; So long forever, old sweethearts and pals–God bless ‘em–

§

Tell me a story, Montana Wildhack said to Billy Pilgrim in the Tralfamadorian zoo one time. They were in bed side by side. They had privacy. The canopy covered the dome. Montana was six months pregnant now, big and rosy, lazily demanding small favors from Billy from time to time. She couldn’t send Billy out for ice cream or strawberries, since the atmosphere outside the dome was cyanide, and the nearest strawberries and ice cream were millions of light years away.

She could send him to the refrigerator, which was decorated with the blank couple on the bicycle built for two–or, as now, she could wheedle, Tell me a story, Billy boy.

Dresden was destroyed on the night of February 13, 1945, Billy Pilgrim began. We came out of our shelter the next day. He told Montana about the four guards who, in their astonishment and grief, resembled a barbershop quartet. He told her about the stockyards with all the fenceposts gone, with roofs and windows gone–told her about seeing little logs lying around. There were people who had been caught in the fire-storm. So it goes.

Billy told her what had happened to the buildings that used to form cliffs around the stockyards. They had collapsed. Their wood had been consumed, and their stones had crashed down, had tumbled against one another until they locked at last in low and graceful curves.

It was like the moon, said Billy Pilgrim.

§

The guards told the Americans to form in ranks of four, which they did. Then they had them march back to the hog barn which had been their home. Its walls still stood, but its windows and roof were gone, and there was nothing inside but ashes and dollops of melted glass. It was realized then that there was no food or water, and that the survivors, if they were going to continue to survive, were going to have to climb over curve after curve on the face of the moon.

Which they did.

§

The curves were smooth only when seen from a distance. The people climbing them learned that they were treacherous, jagged things–hot to the touch, often unstable–eager, should certain important rocks be disturbed, to tumble some more, to form lower, more solid curves.

Nobody talked much as the expedition crossed the moon. There was nothing appropriate to say. One thing was clear: Absolutely everybody in the city was supposed to be dead, regardless of what they were, and that anybody that moved in it represented a flaw in the design. There were to be no moon men at all.

§

American fighter planes came in under the smoke to see if anything was moving. They saw Billy and the rest moving down there. The planes sprayed them with machine-gun bullets, but the bullets missed. Then they saw some other people moving down by the riverside and they shot at them. They hit some of them. So it goes.

The idea was to hasten the end of the war.

Kurt Vonnegut (1969), Slaughterhouse-Five, chapter 8.

Kurt Vonnegut (1922–2007) was an American novelist known for his works blending black comedy and science fiction to illuminate the human condition. His most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death, written in 1969, drew from Vonnegut’s own experience in World War II, where he was captured by Nazi forces and witnessed the firebombing of Dresden as a prisoner of war. After surviving the bombing in a meat locker, he and his fellow prisoners were put to work by their guards cleaning up bodies until they were found and freed by Soviet forces in May 1945. Before the publication of Slaughterhouse-Five, few people in English-speaking countries knew about the bombing of Dresden and it was rarely discussed by historians of the war.

Vonnegut died at the age of 84 on Wednesday, April 11, in Manhattan, New York, from complications related to a fall in his home.

Rules of Engagement: The Fallujah Legacy

November 2nd, 2006

On March 31, 2004, precisely two years before Captain McConnell and his Kilo Company came home from their momentous tour in Haditha, four American employees of a security firm called Blackwater were ambushed and killed in Fallujah. Their corpses were hacked apart and burned, and two of them were hung from a bridge amid celebrations on the street. Images were beamed around the world. Judging correctly that it could not leave the insult unanswered, the Bush administration, after brief consideration of the options, decided on an all-out assault against the city. That decision continues to stand as one of the worst of the war, ranking only below the decision to disband the Iraqi Army and the initial decision to invade. At the time, for those of us living independently in Iraq outside of the American security zones, and with some sense therefore of the mood on the streets, it demonstrated once again the inability of officials to imagine the trouble that the United States was in, and the astonishing insularity of Washington, D.C.

The Marines knew better. They wanted to respond to the Blackwater ambush by going after the individual killers, and then following through with a well-crafted counter-insurgency campaign to stabilize and mollify the city. But when they were overruled and ordered to do the opposite—to mount an immediate full-frontal offensive—they set aside their theories, and as professional soldiers they dutifully complied. It was a disaster. Backed up by tanks and combat aircraft, the Marines went into Fallujah dealing destruction, and quickly bogged down in house-to-house fighting against a competent and determined foe. To make matters worse, the showcase battalion of the new Iraqi Army mutinied and refused to join the fight. The battle cost several dozen American dead and many more wounded, and did immeasurable damage to the prospects for American success. It turned into a humiliation for the United States when, after four days of struggle, the Marines were ordered by a nervous Washington to withdraw. Again they dutifully complied. Afterward, the jubilant insurgents took full public control of the city, and with the help of the foreign fighters turned it into a fortified haven which U.S. forces did not dare to enter.

To get a feeling for Kilo Company and the killings in Haditha, it is necessary to remember this. After the spring battle was lost, Fallujah became an open challenge to the American presence in Iraq. There were plenty of other challenges, and to speak only of Fallujah is grossly to simplify the war. Still, Fallujah was the most obvious one, and the United States, unless it was to quit and go home, had no choice but to take the city back. Everyone knew it, on all sides, and for months the antagonists prepared. Because of the fortifications and the expectation of active resistance, there was no question this time of a patient counter-insurgency campaign: the Marines were going to have to go in and simply smash the city down. In November of 2004, they did just that, with a force about 10,000 strong. Before attacking they gave the city warning, and allowed an exodus to occur. Nearly the entire population fled, including most of the insurgents, who spread into Baghdad or up the Euphrates to carry on the rebellion, leaving behind, however, a rear guard of perhaps 1,000 gunmen who, exceptionally, wanted to make a stand. This was their mistake. The Marines attacked with high explosives and heavy weapons. Over the 10 days it took to move through Fallujah, and the following weeks of methodical house-to-house clearing, they wrecked the city’s infrastructure, damaged or destroyed 20,000 houses or more, and did the same to dozens of schools and mosques. They were not crusaders. They did not Christianize the place. They turned Fallujah into Stalingrad.

Many insurgents survived the initial assaults and emerged to contest the Marines at close quarters, room to room and in the rubble. It is said to have been the most intense battle by American forces since Vietnam. The insurgents were trapped inside cordon upon cordon of American troops, and they fought until death. For the Marines the rules of engagement were necessarily loose. Rules of engagement are standing orders that limit the targets of soldiers, defining the difference between appropriate and inappropriate killing according to strategic and tactical goals, and between legal and illegal killing according to interpretations of international law. In Fallujah the rules allowed Marines to kill anyone they believed to be dangerous, and others who got in the way. In addition to those seen carrying weapons, in practice this meant everyone in every structure from which hostile fire came, and any military-age male seen moving toward the Marines or running away. Obviously, the Marines were not allowed to kill wounded prisoners, but in a televised case one of them did, and Marine Corps justice averted its gaze.

The men of Kilo Company fought through the thick of Fallujah. Lance Corporals Terrazas and Crossan, and most of the other men of future Haditha note, ran the course from start to finish. Kilo Company lost four Marines killed and at least 20 seriously wounded, and was involved in the best-known close-quarters combat of the battle—a desperate attempt to clear insurgents from the rooms of a house, which came to be known as the Hell House fight. Toward the end of it, a New York–based photographer named Lucian Read snapped an iconic picture of a blood-drenched sergeant who had been shot seven times and blasted with an enemy grenade, but who nonetheless was emerging on foot from the house, holding a pistol in one hand, supported by a Marine on each side. The photograph showed the Marines as they like to be seen, and as some like to see themselves. There’s a lot to be said for going to war with a photographer in tow, until something happens that you would rather forget.

Fallujah was a victory for the Marine Corps, but a victory narrowly defined. The reality is that a quarter-million people were forced from their homes and, when they returned, were faced with a city in ruins, surrounded by concertina wire and watched over by armed men in towers. Marine general John Sattler, who had led the assault, claimed that the insurgency had been broken. But as the seasons slid by in 2005, guerrillas slipped back into Fallujah, or sprang up from its ruins, and they surged forward through all the other towns of Anbar, including Haditha. Sattler was wrong, and embarrassingly so. Within more contemplative circles of Marines, the battle of Fallujah became less of a triumph than a warning. The consequences were not difficult to discern. A hard-pressed combat officer once put it this way to me: Yeah, we won Fallujah. But before that we made Fallujah. And we definitely can’t afford to make another.

Rules of Engagement, in Vanity Fair (November 2006)