Sunday, June 7, 2009

Explain the Purpose

In November 2004, after one unsuccessful attempt by the US military earlier in the year to drive out a strong insurgent presence in Fallujah, Iraq, the situation had grown truly dire. More than any other city in Iraq, Fallujah was so packed with insurgents that the US military officially considered it an insurgent stronghold. Several months prior, four private US contractors were ambushed and killed there, their bodies desecrated and dragged through the streets, and then proudly hung on a bridge. It was a taunt, and one that the US military would directly address.

After extensive preparation, the city was cordoned, civilians were permitted to leave, and as roughly 5,000 insurgent fighters dug in, laid IEDs and booby traps, and transformed mosques into strongholds, over 15,000 US troops readied to clear the city of insurgents indefinitely. They anticipated heavy resistance. In fact, the Marine Corps doctrine estimates that Military Operations in an Urban Terrain (MOUT) will result in an 85% casualty rate. Nevertheless, the city needed to be silenced.

On November 8th, Marines, soldiers, and Iraqi forces began advancing into the perimeter of the city, immediately encountering a caliber of insurgent fighter rarely seen in Iraq. They were well-organized, prepared, and they stayed to fight rather than fire and run. Their preparedness was astounding, as were their elaborate fighting positions, IED “daisy chains,” and deadly booby traps on nearly every door. Snipers audaciously inflicted heavy casualties from mosque towers, necessitating intense airstrikes by US fighter jets.

With ferocious surgical precision, the combat forces – mostly Marines and Army Cavalry – moved from house to house, eliminating insurgents hellbent on fighting to the death. Tragically, took many Marines with them.

On November 13th, Marine 1st Sergeant Bradley Kasal, traveling with a Combined Anti-Armor platoon, heard an explosion of small arms fire erupt to his flank and turned to observe Marines tearing out of a nearby building. There were wounded Marines pinned inside, they yelled, held down by some number of insurgent fighters. Kasal drew his pistol, fell in on a stack of Marines rushing to their aid, and plunged into the building.

After taking down an insurgent in the first room, he and others moved rapidly to aid the wounded Marine in the next room, whereupon he was shot repeatedly in the legs and fell. Unable to stand and losing blood, he still dragged himself over to the injured Marine and, as the insurgents threw grenades to finish them off, he shielded the young Marine with his own body, receiving at least 40 shrapnel wounds. As he lay bleeding out on the floor, other Marines continued pushing through the house, firing as they maneuvered on the insurgents upstairs.

As the Marines kept firing, Kasal yelled encouragement to those still clearing the building, refusing medical attention until the other wounded Marines around him were first treated. When he finally consented to evacuation, they lifted him and dragged him out, his pistol still tightly clenched in his hand. He had lost 60% of his blood.

Throughout the battle for Fallujah, these acts were common, as Marines and soldiers encountered fierce resistance, took casualties, and mounted brave rescue missions to free the wounded laying in harm’s way. Kasal later was awarded the Navy Cross for his bravery and selflessness. He has since undergone 21 surgeries to save what remains of his leg.

In another area of the city, a good friend of mine nearly died as he was singularly targeted by multiple snipers. One bullet pierced his uniform, but amazingly, none hit him.

One Marine captain, leading his company through some of the thickest fighting, lost thirteen of his troops. Elsewhere, a Marine sniper, removing his helmet for a clearer shot through his scope, was promptly shot through the head and killed. My great friend, his spotter laying beside him, is still grieving to this day.

To the south, my unit came under attack by Zarqawi’s forces, long-since escaped from Fallujah.

In the city, the carnage continued, and another friend held his wounded comrade in his arms as he died. 94 other US troops were similarly cut down in battle, and 560 were evacuated with injuries. Despite their losses, they successfully secured the city, killed an estimated 1,350 insurgents, and captured roughly 1,500. The intensity of the house-to-house fighting in the battle for Fallujah was historical, rivaling that of the 1968 battle for Hue City in Vietnam. And as before, the US military proved its skill and valor before a well-armed enemy.

Yet now, less than five years later, as the injured still recover from their wounds and the bereaved still dearly miss their fallen loved one, the battle is being recreated as a video game (click here for the article).

To my surprise, the Marines and soldiers involved in the battle have been enthusiastic about the effort and provided as many facts as they are able. They want the game to be realistic. The families of the fallen, insulted that the tragedy of war that claimed their sons would so quickly be transformed into first-person shooter entertainment, are loudly protesting. No game, they say, does justice to the fighting, and no player will ever understand the gravity of the battle. The game developers, despite the controversy, continue to seek sponsorship and millions of dollars for marketing. They claim it will honor those that fought for Fallujah. How, I ask? Games are intended for entertainment, not historical enlightenment. If they wish to learn about the battle, ask a veteran.

And so, less than five years after Iraq’s bloodiest battle, socially awkward teenaged boys eagerly await the arrival of perhaps the most realistic combat game yet, and developers seek a successful business venture. But the Marines and soldiers in the Battle for Fallujah just want their story told. The key question, however, is this: is anybody truly listening, or are they looking for their latest fix of mindless entertainment? Another Marine friend put it quite eloquently: “It’s not just stupid shooting; it was a war, and my friends died there. That’s not a game; it’s an insult to my brothers.”

“War is awful. Nothing, not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify war. War is wretched beyond description and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality. Whatever is won in war, it is loss the veteran remembers.”
- Sen. John McCain

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved


  1. Everything, even war can be reduced to economics.

  2. Thank you for this most memorable tale, and the quote by (the now perhaps forgotten) McCain.

    May I say something in the game's favor? If it is done respectfully, I'd rather see them losing their inhibitions in favor of what our govt. currently needs them to do, if that's what they choose to do with their time. I'd rather see them pretend to do a noble deed than pretend to steal cars and shoot cops. I'm not saying the game's the best choice, but in a world of bad, worse, and worst, I don't think such a game would place as worst, though it might be somewhere in the range of Not the Best.

  3. A video game to simulate war? It's just a modern day extension of cowboys and indians.

    How about a video game to simulate survivors guilt or the death of a loved one who gave his life for his country. No video game can simulate that.