Commentary by
Charles Michael Swagerty
Reprinted with Permission

You Don't Understand

You don't understand the killing of civilians in war only because you were never a warrior fighting a ground war. You believe that war is clean and orderly because you never did it. You think that there is ample time to make life and death decisions in the heat of battle in the jungle because you never lived it.

Believing yourself to be an intelligent person, you think that knowledge and self control would guide all your split second reactions. You believe that your sense of right and wrong would prevail, and you wouldn't let emotion rule any decision in battle, even while you spend hours carrying your dead friends from the battlefield. You weren't trained to "kill, kill, kill," so you can't believe that you would when you were sent to do it.

You never witnessed the enemy kill your brother warriors even as you heard them scream and plead for their lives. You never discovered a man lying dead on his belly, with a picture of his young wife and two small children in his left hand.

You were never shocked by the realization that the enemy who just killed your 18 year old point man was a 13 year old girl. You have never had the lives of 12 men put in your hands, with the obligation of bringing them back any way you can.

You don't understand how someone could decide that killing "civilians" would mean saving your men's lives. You haven't a clue about fighting and dying in vivid, numbing, life taking 130 degree heat or miserable monsoons.

So you sit in your air conditioned office or home and condemn the men who did this. Here's a shocker for you: Many of us killed civilians in the war. We did it to survive and save our men. I don't expect you to understand that; after all, you weren't there.

If you had been, we wouldn't be hearing from you now. You condemn the instruments of war that have faces. You somehow believe that civilians dying from bombs is different from civilians dying from bullets.

Lastly, you ask, "How do these old men sleep at night?" That's the only thing you're right about we don't. But you weren't there, so you wouldn't understand that, either.

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