general petraeus’ letter to the troops

general petraeus’ letter to the troops

It is good, very good, to hear General Petraeus talk about dignity, respect, and integrity, values, law, and doing what is right. It is good to hear him take an unequivocal stand against torture, both because it is wrong and because it serves no useful purpose. It is good to hear him emphasize the first reason, stating clearly that war is not just about doing what works, not just about gaining the upper hand by whatever means necessary, but about doing the right thing the right way.

We need voices like his in leadership, in the military and in government. The threat of terrorism — both real and imagined — has engendered a fear among us that has clouded our commitment to “the moral high ground.” We have granted our tacit approval to tactics of warfare and interrogation and homeland security that just a few short years ago would have been considered unthinkable, the tactics of a people without values, a people with no regard for human dignity.

I applaud his plea for honor and respect — and righteousness — among the armed forces deployed in Iraq. Yet, even so, even in his letter, some jarring contradictions remain.

We are, indeed, warriors. We train to kill our enemies. We are engaged in combat, we must pursue the enemy relentlessly, and we must be violent at times. What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight, however, is how we behave … While we are warriors, we are also all human beings.

Yes, we are human beings, but making war brings to the surface what is inhuman in us — killing and violence, relentless and merciless pursuit. War as such is about destruction, taking life, reckoning your own life or the lives of your companions or the lives of your compatriots — or even a cause, whatever cause it may be — as more valuable than other lives. Torture and disregard for human dignity may not be a necessary adjunct to war, but they differ from “just war” practices only in degree, not in kind.

If there is a better way than torture, there is also a better way than war.

Here is the text of General Petraeus’ letter:

10 May 2007

Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen serving in Multi-National Force—Iraq:

Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right. Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy. This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we—not our enemies—occupy the moral high ground. This strategy has shown results in recent months. Al Qaeda’s indiscriminate attacks, for example, have finally started to turn a substantial portion of the Iraqi population against it.

In view of this, I was concerned by the results of a recently released survey conducted last fall in Iraq that revealed an apparent unwillingness on the part of some US personnel to report illegal actions taken by fellow members of their units. The study also indicated that a small percentage of those surveyed may have mistreated noncombatants. This survey should spur reflection on our conduct in combat.

I fully appreciate the emotions that one experiences in Iraq. I also know firsthand the bonds between members of the “brotherhood of the close fight.” Seeing a fellow trooper killed by a barbaric enemy can spark frustration, anger, and a desire for immediate revenge. As hard as it might be, however, we must not let these emotions lead us—or our comrades in arms—to commit hasty, illegal actions. In the event that we witness or hear of such actions, we must not let our bonds prevent us from speaking up.

Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary. Certainly, extreme physical action can make someone “talk”; however, what the individual says may be of questionable value. In fact our experience in applying the interrogation standards laid out in the Army Field Manual (2-22.3) on Human Intelligence Collector Operations that was published last year shows that the techniques in the manual work effectively and humanely in eliciting information from detainees.

We are, indeed, warriors. We train to kill our enemies. We are engaged in combat, we must pursue the enemy relentlessly, and we must be violent at times. What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight, however, is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. While we are warriors, we are also all human beings. Stress caused by lengthy deployments and combat is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign that we are human. If you feel such stress, do not hesitate to talk to your chain of command, your chaplain, or a medical expert.

We should use the survey results to renew our commitment to the values and standards that make us who we are and to spur re-examination of these issues. Leaders, in particular, need to discuss these issues with their troopers—and, as always, they need to set the right example and strive to ensure proper conduct. We should never underestimate the importance of good leadership and the difference it can make.

Thanks for what you continue to do. It is an honor to serve with each of you.

David H. Petraeus
General, United States Army

6 thoughts on “general petraeus’ letter to the troops

  1. Greg, your comment is received and noted … though you should explain yourself further. What is it in particular to which you object? Do you believe there is a time and place for torture? If so, when and where and why? Do you believe in a time and place for war? When and under what circumstances?

  2. I see that Greg has not answered so I will answer for him. Yes there is a time for torture and yes there is a time for war. In reading in the bible it was not uncommon for God to kill over a 100,000 people in one night. This happened in Jordan and many other places. God used war to destroy his people that were excepting homosexuality and idol worship. God is a just God and he turned the enemy of his people against them. Not only using war but war like we have never seen. He allowed his people to die horrible dealths. Just because Christ died on the cross doesn’t mean that the character of God changed. He still hates sin and can not look upon it. We are crazy as a nation not to believe that he would do the same to us today. Until we step up to the plate as a nation and understand that the islamic faith doesn’t worship our God and are our ememies we are in trouble. Not only should we be in Iraq but it is our biblical duty to be there. Daily 100 or more Iraqis are being saved because the Christians that are there are able so speek freely of Christ’s name. The soldiers that we have lost there died fighting for a just cause. Most of their parents are beign destroyed by people that are saying it differently. This war would be over if we didn’t have blogs like this.

  3. It’s hard to understand in your view, Ed, what Christ’s death on the cross means at all, since it seems it’s up to us to save ourselves. If God hates sin and punishes sinners without mercy, then we are all doomed. Yes, God hates sin … because of what it does to the people God loves, all the people God loves, which is all of humanity. The character of God doesn’t change, and Jesus shows us clearly what God’s character has been all along. God comes to us in grace to save us, all of us, to do for us (and with us) what we have failed to do.

    And Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” I cannot see how torture is any way of showing love!

  4. No where does it say in the bible that God saves all of us. There is sin in the world and it says that people will perish. God wants all people saved but it comes down to us having a choice. There is a large difference between sinning and living in sin. Every person is a sinner. However some choose to live in sin which the bible separates from beign a sinner. The death of many people in the bible at Gods hand was not because they were sinners but because they lived in sin. Why would God use war in the old testiment to destroy his people and his enemies and not do the same still today. Whether you believe it or not God has enemies. Today President Bush realizes that and has waged war against that enemy. When the Jews were given the promise land God told them to destroy the people that lived there. They choose not to and still suffer today because of that. We have never in the History of our country had a President that has governed our country in a more biblical way. God didn’t hold back from destroying people in bad ways. The people that were killed at his hand suffered. It is sad that some people will not be in heaven. That is the way that it went. People have choices we can choose to follow Christ and his teaching which does say love your enemies which I do. However I think that love has been defined wrongly. Love is not all bubbles. Sometime it is important to use tough love. Because God loves the world he will not let his enemies destroy it.

  5. Love is not all bubbles. Love can and should be tough — which means not standing by and letting injustice or idolatry or cruelty or sin in any of its forms go unchallenged — but it is still love. And love does not destroy another person’s dignity or livelihood or body to protect one’s own dignity, livelihood or body. Jesus in fact did the opposite, giving up his dignity and his life for the sake of those who loved him and for the sake of those who hated him.

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