Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Some time back I wrote that I worried about how our troops would fight under a microscope when all sorts of surveillance systems track their every move:

When we have a battlefield where we see all of our troops and record all that they do, how will we treat our soldiers? Even in "good" wars that are universally agreed to be justified, such as World War II, we had our share of criminal actions and mistakes that cost lives. Civilians were killed or abused. Prisoners were shot or robbed or abused. Americans died from incompetent commanders or shoddy equipment or just bad luck.

Our military fights very clean based on any combat standards you want to apply--from a historical basis to a contemporary comparison. But war will never be completely clean. Even police commit crimes and abuse prisoners or detainees. Combat is far more stressful and so our troops will commit crimes or simply make
lethal mistakes on occasion. How will we react to this? How will we make sure our troops fight even cleaner and how will we protect out troops from unfair prosecution?

We may be seeing an example of this in the Haditha incident:

As Tom Ricks has reported in the Washington Post, individuals familiar with the investigation have indicated that message traffic and video from an unmanned drone may affect the outcome of the investigation.

I would never suggest that our troops should not be held accountable for crimes. They should. That isn't the question. But will this result in troops being judged guilty for simply fighting?

This ability to scrutinize every action, let alone every crime, in the midst of battle is a very new development. Where every battlefield action could be seen and recorded, how do we address this and prepare our troops to operate successfully in this environment? How do we prepare our officers who see such possible violations of the rules of war?

I still don't have any answers. But the need to get them is growing more urgent every day. We want a military that fights clean--but we need a military that fights and wins even more.