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"Supporting the Troops"? By: Thomas Sowell
Townhall.com | Thursday, November 18, 2004


During the recent election campaign, it has been a liberal mantra that they "support the troops" while opposing the war in Iraq. Just what does supporting the troops mean -- other than just a throwaway line to escape the political consequences of a long history of being anti-military?

It certainly does not mean making the slightest effort to understand the pressures and dangers of combat, so as to avoid the obscenity of sitting in peace and comfort while second-guessing at leisure some life-and-death decisions that had to be made in a split second by men 10,000 miles away.

The latest example is the now widely-publicized incident in which an American Marine in Iraq shot and killed a wounded terrorist in Fallujah. Chris Matthews on Hardball spoke of "what may be the illegal killing of a wounded, unarmed insurgent" -- the politically correct media term for a terrorist -- and asked: "Is there ever a justification for shooting an unarmed enemy?"

The unreality of this question is breath-taking, both logically and historically. How do you know that someone is unarmed, when finding out can cost you your life? A hand grenade is easily concealed and can kill you just as dead as if you were shot by a machine gun or hit by a nuclear missile.

American troops in Iraq have already been killed by booby-trapped bodies. During World War II, wounded Japanese soldiers sometimes waited for an American medical corpsman to come over to help them and then exploded a hand grenade, killing them both.

Assuming that somehow you are certain that an enemy is unarmed, perhaps because you have already searched him or disarmed him, is it ever justified to kill him anyway? That question was answered more than half a century ago, when German troops wearing American uniforms and speaking English infiltrated American lines during the Battle of the Bulge.

Those German troops, when captured, were lined up against a wall and shot dead. And nobody wrung his hands about it.

The rules of war, the Geneva Convention, do not protect soldiers who are not wearing their own country's uniforms. To get the protection of rules, you have to play by the rules.

Terrorists are not enemy soldiers covered by the rules of war. Nor should they be. They observe no rules.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations can all talk about "the Geneva Convention." But that agreement on the rules of war has never applied to combatants not wearing the uniform of any country that is a party to the Geneva Convention.

Terrorists wear no uniform and show no mercy, as they have repeatedly demonstrated by beheading innocent civilians, including women.

Why any such terrorists should be captured alive in the first place is a real question. Maybe they have information that could be useful. But every terrorist our troops try to capture alive increases the risk of death for American combat troops.

Their information better be damned important for that.

It is more than enough to ask a man to put his life on the line for his country, without needlessly increasing those risks by trying to be nobler than thou or playing to the international gallery. The very fact that this Marine in Fallujah has been taken out of combat and is under investigation can only have an inhibiting effect on other troops.

The inhibitions under which American troops have already had to fight have needlessly jeopardized their safety while we tiptoe around the delicate sensibilities of the media, European critics and "the Arab street."

The Times of London refers to a Marine "killing an unarmed man in cold blood." If that was his purpose he could have opened fire when he entered the room, instead of waiting until he saw an Iraqi terrorist faking being dead -- for what purpose the Marine had no way of knowing.

We cannot fight wars to please The Times of London or the other nay-sayers and nit-pickers who have been against us from the beginning. There is no point trying to appease people who are not going to be appeased anyway. And to do so at an increased risk to American lives would be criminal.


Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.


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