The Moral Weight of War

By Baird, Julia | Newsweek, April 5, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Moral Weight of War


Baird, Julia, Newsweek


Byline: Julia Baird

Marines deserve to know the truth.

"We don't have the luxury of choosing our wars. We go where and when our president tells us to--without hesitation. I know it's hard for some to understand: no matter how much it sucks at times, we love what we f--king do" (Mike Scotti, in the documentary Severe Clear).

Seven years after the war in Iraq began, it's still refreshing to hear frank words from a Marine who has fought there. Who has endured, killed, seen hell, and returned. Who admits the only thing Marines think about more than sex is their rifles. Perhaps it is because the debate about war is usually dominated by pundits, perhaps because our news coverage of Iraq has plummeted. (Andrew Tyndall, who keeps track of major-network nightly news, found that there has been only one report from a correspondent on the Iraq War this year. One! This is doubtless due to progress made, but 98,000 troops remain.) Or maybe it's because we don't often see real footage of soldiers drinking, being anointed with oil before battle, or getting high on combat, and shouting: "This is the coolest thing ever! It's raining bombs! Steel rain!" Nor do we too often see graphic images of dead, bloodied U.S. soldiers, or the brains of a young Iraqi girl lying on the road after her father did not obey a signal to stop his car.

Mike Scotti's story is particularly arresting because as he fought on the front lines of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, he recorded what he saw on a mini-DV camera. This footage forms the spine of Severe Clear , which is raw and thought-provoking. It reminded me of two lessons of war that are both obvious and constantly forgotten--and a third that is urgent today. The first is that soldiers need a clear, true reason to fight. The second is that surviving a war requires enormous mental strength. The third is that if we send men and women to battle under false pretenses, our responsibility to care for them afterward is even greater.

The first is why Scotti carried a photo of Beth Quigley, a friend who died on September 11, in his pocket when he went into combat. As he watched a bombed patch of land burn with leaping flames, he says: "I knew people were dying out there, but to be honest I didn't give a f--k. For me this was payback for September 11." He wrote in his journal, "There will be no debate once we find Saddam's weapons. …

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