A Feminist Looks at Masculine Rage and the Haditha Massacre

A Feminist Looks at Masculine Rage and the Haditha Massacre

by Kathleen Barry

Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich will be in military court this summer of 2011 for a massacre that killed 24 in Haditha, Iraq in November of 2005. Six years after the massacre that killed more than two dozen civilians, he is scheduled to be tried by a military jury made up of combat veterans. Charges against eight others involved in the massacre that day in Haditha have been dropped. The question of whether anyone will be convicted for the massacre drives deeper than the question of justice for Iraqis under U.S. occupation. It strikes at the very core of the masculinity of war.

None of the residents
lived to testify.

How do we feminists speak of what soldiers do every day, regularly, as a matter of fact in combat, where the masculinity of war is most alive? Or, like almost everyone else, do we speak of it at all? Americans have yet to come to terms with the unspeakable that happens in combat. When a massacre is exposed, such as Haditha, it is treated as the exception.

Haditha is one of the subjects I looked at in my latest book, Unmaking War, Remaking Women, published in 2011. While I was writing the book and bringing my feminism to look at what men actually do in combat and what they do to women who are in combat zones with them, something very familiar came into my field of vision, something I’ve called “blinding macho.” (While machismo is grammatically correct, it also has a Latin American ring to it, which is why I choose to use the word “macho.”) It is the same uncontrollable rage of male violence against women that women around the world experience in their private lives, homes, bedrooms and walking down the street.

Here is what is alleged to have happened in Haidtha in November, 2005.

A U.S. convoy going through Haditha, Iraq was attacked with an IED (improvised explosive device) — a roadside bomb — blowing up the first humvee and the Marine driving it. For a U.S. soldier, that is the worst thing that can happen to you in war – your buddy is killed in front of you, blown to smithereens. Marine Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich immediately took command: “my responsibility as squad leader is to make sure none of the rest of my guys get shot or killed,” he told Scott Palley in a “60 Minutes” interview. This sounds rational after the fact, but in the heat of combat, just as in the midst of wife abuse or sexual violence, rage reverberates: she’ll have to pay for talking back; Iraqis will pay for some one rendering U.S. soldiers impotent to protect their buddies.

Blasting Away

Immediately after the attack on their lead truck, Wuterich stopped a taxi, which happened to be the next car coming down the road. Ordering the five men out of the taxi, Wuterich allegedly shot and killed them. We can only imagine that everything around them seemed like a threat to Wuterich and his soldiers. Wuterich alleged that they were running away. But when the cases of the Marines charged went to military court between April 2007 and June 2008, one soldier testified that, at the time, he told Wuterich “Those men are not running, sir,” and that Wuterich alone shot the men who were standing still. A later search of the taxi revealed no weapons and the passengers were identified as students at the Technical Institute in Saqlawiyah.

Next, Wuterich allegedly led his men to the nearby village, presumably because that was where the houses closest to the IED explosion were. Overriding both common sense (how likely is it that whoever set off that IED would retreat to the closest house or ride to the scene in a taxi?) and their own humanity, Captain Stephen Tatum entered one house and allegedly ordered Lance Corporal Humberto Mendoza to shoot all of the Iraqi women and children huddled on a bed in a corner. In a short time, 24 Iraqis were dead. Nine year old Iman Hassan watched US marines kill her mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, four-year-old cousin and two uncles.

In the subsequent court cases in 2007 and 2008, the Marines introduced new details, saying they heard small arms fire from houses nearby at the time of the incident. It was reported in court that in one house they heard an AK 47, an assault rifle, ratcheting, and that they threw in a grenade and killed everyone. According to the Marines, the one Iraqi man was wielding an AK-47 and another was reaching for a gun when they shot them. It is not clear whether those residents in the nearby homes took possession of their legally permitted weapons to defend their families when they heard U.S. Marine gunfire in two of the houses – and none of those residents lived to testify. They said that, in one house, the Marines took the men back in the house and killed them.

The military provided a different account of what transpired: the Marines broke into the third house and found a group of 10 to 15 women and children. “The troops say they left one Marine to guard that house and pushed on to the house next door, where they found four men, one of whom was wielding an AK-47. A second seemed to be reaching into a wardrobe for another weapon, the officials say. The Marines shot both men dead; the military’s initial report does not specify how the other two men died.”

When it was over, the Haditha Town Council reported the massacre to the U.S. Marines stationed nearby. The day after the massacre, on November 20, a U.S. Marine spokesman from a Marine base in Ramadi reported: “A U.S. Marine and 15 civilians were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb in Haditha.” “The Marines communique went on “the gunman attacked the convoy with small-arms fire” prompting the Marines to return fire.”

Back home in America, we heard on U.S. news that an IED killed an American soldier and some Iraqis. But like women who seek police or court support often find, the next stage of male-bonding was moving into effect. By military law, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani, the commanding officer, was required to initiate an investigation and report the Haditha massacre up the chain of command. Chessani made the report, but did not initiate an investigation. The Marine Corps promoted Wuterich.

Massacre! Revenge! Male Bonding!

Time magazine reporters persisted. They gathered accounts from survivors and those at the local hospital and presented their evidence to military officials in Baghdad of the massacre. In January 2006, a local human rights activist and journalism student, Thaer Thabet al-Hadithi, provided video footage he had taken of the carnage after the massacre. Time published an exposé.

Only then did the military investigate and relieve Wuterich and others in his platoon of their command. Initially they were charged with murder. Those charges were reduced to involuntary manslaughter for Captain Tatum who allegedly ordered Mendoza to shoot the women and children cowering together in a bed. By 2008 all charges had been dropped or otherwise dismissed for seven of the Marines who were arrested, except Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich. Iraqis, deprived of access to justice under American military occupation, were also left with no protection. And that, too, sounds familiar to women all over the world who are abandoned by the police and criminal justice system in the face of violence against them.

Humanity and Crimes Against Humanity

A closer look at Haditha reveals that, rather than an isolated incident, crimes against humanity are the everyday stuff of today’s wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and elsewhere. Soldiers are trained to kill without remorse, to shoot anyone they think might be threatening, and from there, many take it upon themselves to shoot randomly or for the fun of it.

Authoritarian power,
irrational blinding macho,
violence and murder.

In following the Haditha incident, I saw the rage of blinding macho that is not unfamiliar to women who are victims of male violence. It does not matter whether or whether not whether a woman is “guilty” of the charges he hurls, or if a woman “provoked” a man to rape her, as men claim, or if a person was merely riding in a taxi. When the world of blinding macho is unleashed, devastation follows.

As I pushed further to look at how the military responds to the uncontrollable male violence it trains them into for combat, I found the same kind of systems of male-bonding that abused or raped women are up against when they try to get protection or even justice for violence against them.

Wuterich would argue later that he did what he was trained to do, and as I describe military training in Unmaking War, Remaking Men, that is likely true. After all, he followed the Rules of Engagement, which tell soldiers that they must shoot if they have a “reasonable certainty that a proposed target is a legitimate military target.” How can you make that reasonable decision when you are raging with anger and likely trembling with fear? Trauma and military training that focuses on “Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill without remorse!” engages blinding macho. In their violence against women, men make themselves into the sole arbiters of women’s fate. Their control is authoritarian, totalitarian and irrational. That is the power that U.S. soldiers hold over the people they occupy.

Whatever the results of Wuterich’s trial, the entire Haditha massacre leaves untouched the U.S. military’s daily reproduction of patriarchal, authoritarian power, irrational blinding macho, violence and murder of men who are perceived as the “other” — Arabs, Muslims, Afghans. Feminists know the violence of the masculinity of war because it is the same as the masculinity of violence against women. And we are beginning to chart different paths to dismantling it through state demilitarization, remaking men. Empathy for those who are at the other end of U.S. guns and for those reduced to killing machines by the US military can engage us with a new consciousness in which the old masculinity of violence against women and in war is no longer possible. That kind of empathy in all of us makes war personally intolerable and will give rise to new political action. For feminists, those kind of connections are already embedded in our politics.

Kathleen Barry, Professor Emerita, is a sociologist, feminist activist and the author of Unmaking War, Remaking Men: How Empathy Can Reshape Our Politics, Our Soldiers and Ourselves (2011). Of her five books, the first Female Sexual Slavery (1979) launched a global movement against trafficking in women.

Also see Violence Against Women Surges When War Is “Done” by Yifat Susskind in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See The Cruel Lie: Bombing To Liberate Women by Debra Sweet in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

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