And no man recalls things the same. Each member of Bravo Company of the 2-16 — Second Battalion, Sixteenth Infantry Regiment of the Fourth Infantry Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division — played a slightly different role, in different locations, affording various perspectives. They have reached two broad, opposite conclusions about what happened that day.
Ethan McCord — who says he scooped up the children — and at least one of his comrades say the incident revealed the bankrupt brutality of the war. Michael Bailey — a medic who treated some of the wounded Iraqis — and an apparently larger number of 2-16 veterans say it showed soldiers acting honorably amid the inevitable horror of war.
The two views might have remained frozen there, to be rehashed into old age in the twilight of VFW posts — except that unlike so many fading war stories, this one comes with a DVD.
First, a classified video of the action as seen from the Apache was released by WikiLeaks in April 2010. Now a 22-minute documentary of the “Incident in New Baghdad” by director James Spione is up for an Academy Award at the Oscar ceremony Sunday.
Yet for all the documentary evidence — video doesn’t lie, does it? — collective truth remains elusive. Nobody, including the Pentagon, disputes the authenticity of the video. What it means, however — and what happened before, what happened after, what were the intentions of the actors — those are different questions.
Rather than clearing things up for the men who were there, if anything, the politically motivated dissemination of the video — which WikiLeaks called “Collateral Murder” — dug the two camps more deeply into their positions. The prospect of an Oscar for “Incident in New Baghdad” — based on the video and featuring McCord’s take on events — has driven defenders of the 2-16’s honor to a furious activism of their own.
“We’re angry at McCord, because he’s making us out to be heartless killers,” says Bailey, who created a Facebook page for 2-16 vets to challenge McCord and the documentary. “He’s the only man who’s been given a microphone. His opinion of the war is the only one that’s been carried, and his opinion of his fellow solders is not one that people should take so much to heart.”
McCord does not fault his comrades, although he says troops killed civilians “every day” in Iraq because of the way the war was fought, as dictated by politicians and superior officers.
“You can’t blame soldiers for being put in this situation,” McCord says. “Blaming soldiers is like slapping a child because his mother is ugly. This is what we’re trained to do.”