Sunday, May 23, 2004

How to Dehumanize

Bob Herbert's brief but powerful NYT column "'Gooks' to 'Hajis'" tells the story of Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia, a 28-year-old member of the Florida National Guard who has been charged with desertion. He served six months in Iraq, went home, then refused to return to Iraq.

Herbert writes:
Sergeant Mejia's legal defense is complex (among other things, he is seeking conscientious objector status), but his essential point is that war is too terrible to be waged willy-nilly, that there must always be an ethically or morally sound reason for opening the spigots to such horror. And he believes that threshold was never met in Iraq.
Mejia also details some of the horror he saw in Iraq, including an incident in which a friend of his, a sniper, shot dead a 10 year old boy carrying an automatic weapon.

Mejia also describes how some troops refer to all Iraqis as "hajis" in much the same way soldiers called the Vietnamese "gooks." Guess it's much easier to kill innocents when you've dehumanized them that way. Doubtless, not everyone in our military condones that sort of blanket hatred, but you have to wonder just how widespread it is, especially in light of the photos and stories we been hearing about in the past few weeks. Abuse against Iraqi prisoners and journalists. If this stuff we're hearing about, what else is going on out there?

And why are we treating the people we came to liberate this way?

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