It would be easy to pass judgment on the video that has just surfaced from a 2007 incident that involved the deaths of a reporter, his camera-man, and several bystanders on a street in Baghdad. The first thing that we need is a show of hands: How many of us have been involved in actual combat? The correct answer would be not many. It is easy to Monday morning quarterback the situation and conclude that the street scene was nothing short of slaughter, but that would not take into account a hostile and violent world of warfare. The object of the game is to kill your enemy, by any means necessary, and even gun ships are not beyond the danger. The deaths of the men on the ground are a horrific tragedy, but the rules of engagement are clear- kill or be killed in a war zone.
The perception from the helicopter was that the men were a threat and that the camera equipment was a weapon. It would be fair to assume that the men in the Apache helicopter had been under fire (during their tour) prior to the incident. It would also be fair to assume that hesitation in a combat zone can lead directly to sudden death, and not the kind found in an overtime hockey game
The radio chatter seemed to indicate that the soldiers felt a threat from ground attack was imminent, and they acted accordingly. The secondary incident involved an attack on a civilian van that was actually on a rescue mission for a wounded survivor.
The optics are not good on the entire sequence of events, including the light banter from the men in the Apache during and after the attack. All of the events lead directly back to the same point: It took place in a war zone and people act slightly out of the norm when other people want to kill them. Dark humor is a part of any job where tragedy is part of the territory. It’s called a coping strategy.
Throw in an invisible enemy in an urban landscape without a clearly defined uniform and things get complicated. Friend or foe? You make the call and you better get it right. Because your life will depend upon it.
So it is easy to pass judgment upon the men in the gunship who mistakenly wiped out a dozen lives in a blood-soaked instant. We have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight in this horrible situation. But, before anybody grabs a perch on moral high ground, they should think about the actual mechanics of war. Sometimes it is difficult to second guess your first decision when you are dead because of your first decision. That is the reality of war.