Dead-Check in Falluja

Embedded with the Marines in Iraq

The Marines constantly debated the morality of what they were engaged in. A sergeant in the platoon told me he had consulted with his priest about killing. The priest had told him it was all right to kill for his government so long as he didn't enjoy it. By the time the unit reached the outskirts of Baghdad, this sergeant was certain he had already killed at least four men. When his battalion commander praised the unit for "slaying dragons" on the way to Baghdad, the sergeant later told his men, "If we did half the shit back home we've done here, we'd be in prison." By then, the sergeant told me, he'd reconsidered what his priest had told him about killing. "Where the fuck did Jesus say it's OK to kill people for your government? Any priest who tells me that has got no credibility."

He and several other Marines recently returned from Iraq (many from their second tours) whom I've talked to about the Falluja shooting say they are not sure they would have dead-checked the wounded man in the mosque had they been in the same position. Most say they probably would have, even though the mosque had already been cleared once. "What does the American public think happens when they tell us to assault a city?" one of them said. "Marines don't shoot rainbows out of our asses. We fucking kill people."

Another Marine in the unit I followed—a Democrat's dream, he returned home from fighting in Falluja in time to vote for Kerry—added, "Americans celebrate war in their movies. We like to see visions of evil being defeated by good. When the people at home glimpse the reality of war, that it's a bloodbath, they freak out. We are a subculture they created and programmed to fight their wars. You have to become a psycho to kill like we do. To most Marines that guy in the mosque was just someone who didn't get hit in the right place the first time we shot him. I probably would have put a bullet in his brain if I'd been there. If the American public doesn't like the violence of war, maybe before they start the next war they shouldn't rush so much."


Evan Wright is the author ofGeneration Kill, about a Marine reconnaissance unit in Iraq.

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