Civilian Casualties And The Rules Of War

GUESTS:
Tom Bowman, NPR Pentagon correspondent
Maj. Gen. Mike Davidson (Ret.)
Nicholas Goldberg, deputy editor of the Los Angeles Times' editorial pages

The U.N. reports that civilian deaths in the Afghan war increased by 24 percent during the first half of 2009, compared with the same period last year. The U.S. military has tightened its rules for targeting the Taliban, but the measure may increase the risks for U.S. troops.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. July was the deadliest month for American troops in Afghanistan since the war began seven and a half years ago. And it's been a deadly summer for Afghan civilians, too. Last week, the United Nations released a report that about 1,000 civilians were killed through June. That's up 25 percent from the same period last year. With the arrival of tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops, the emphasis now is to protect civilians, tighten rules on airstrikes - tactics that could increase risks for U.S. troops.

Today we begin in Afghanistan, then widen the conversation on civilian casualties and the rules of warfare. We especially want to hear from those of you with experience in uniform or in Afghanistan. If you want to weigh in, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org, and you can join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the hour, Murray Horwitz and the best movies about food. If you'd like to make a nomination, the email address again is talk@npr.org. But first, civilian casualties, and we begin with NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, who recently returned from Afghanistan. He's with us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you with us today, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN: Good to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And the U.S. military says it wants to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan and changing tactics to do that.

BOWMAN: That's right, and the big way to do this is is really to stop airstrikes. That was the big reason that we had this increase in civilian casualties, at least from the American and allied side. And General McChrystal has put in more restrictions on the use of airstrikes. And I was out in Helmand Province with the Marines, and what General Larry Nicholson told his troops is that listen, if you find Taliban in a house, rather than engage them, rather than call in an airstrike, just try to surround that house and just wait them out rather than call in the bombing strikes, which again, leads to a lot of civilian casualties. Nicholson also told his Marines listen, if you kill innocent civilians, that village will never like you again. They'll never listen to you. They'll never deal with you. So be very, very careful about civilian casualties.

CONAN: Does this cut the other way because, as you read that U.N. report, yes, that number of Afghan civilian casualties is way up, but the majority of those casualties, caused by the Taliban.

BOWMAN: That's right. The U.N. says about two-thirds of the civilian casualties are caused by the Taliban, mostly by roadside bombs and also suicide attacks. And they've gone up 25 percent during the first six months of this year compared to last year. And they also talk about the Taliban increasingly using roadside bombs and suicide attacks, getting away from ambushes and frontal assaults on U.S. troops. They'll never be successful that way. They don't have enough strength to go man-on-man with the American and allied troops. So they're turning to this roadside bombs, suicide attacks. They do it, and consequently, a lot of civilians die.

CONAN: You say reduce the number of airstrikes - much tighter rules. You were one of the reporters who went and investigated, not in Helmand Province, but out in the western part of Afghanistan, the airstrike that, well, it's become notorious.

BOWMAN: Exactly. It was in Farah Province back in May, and we don't know exactly how many were killed. The Americans say roughly 30, 35 civilians were killed. The Afghan government said it was 140. And that happened when airstrikes were called in, including a B-2 bomber, a huge bomber. And again, this is a case where, you know, the Taliban are shooting back at the Americans. There were some Afghan police and army involved in that, caught up in that. And the decision by the commander on the ground, to save Afghan forces and to save his forces, he felt he had to call in those bombing strikes. But again, it leads to a lot of civilian casualties sometimes.

CONAN: Is there any indication that the Taliban deliberately fights from behind cover of civilians?

BOWMAN: Oh, absolutely. They use human shields. And the U.N. report that just came out said that they got a memo or something from one of the deputies to Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, who told his people to actually go in there, into civilian areas, and start shooting from these houses and buildings, hoping that there'll be a response, a larger response from the Americans that will kill civilians. So this is a tactic that they use and talk about.

CONAN: And if you're denying one of the great forces U.S. - advantages U.S. and NATO forces have is command of the air. If you're restricting that, aren't you restricting one of your great advantages?

BOWMAN: Well, you really are. I think there's no question you're putting U.S. troops at greater risk by doing this sort of cordon-and-search or just cordon operation as opposed to calling in airstrikes. But as they say, the most important thing in this counterinsurgency fight is winning the people over from the insurgents, but I think there's no question they'll be taking a little more risk.

CONAN: 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. We're discussing Afghanistan and civilian casualties with NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, and Keith(ph) is on the line with us from Boston.

KEITH (Caller): Yes, hello.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

KEITH: Hi, yes. I was just going to add in there that I spent a year working for the International Security Assistance Force, and during that time, I actually went down to Helmand Province. And I covered Operation Kajaki, and we had a very interesting situation on the ground in the lead-up to the - essentially, Operation Kajaki was the movement of turbines into the Helmand River. It was a bring project to bring…

CONAN: Electricity.

KEITH: …electricity to the people of Helmand Province and again, as a way to show, in practical terms, what coalition forces can do for the civilian population that the Taliban cannot do.

In any event, during this operation, I was actually embedded with a group of Royal Irish Guards and Afghan National Army troops. And we were going in to clear an area, actually they were securing it in the lead-up again to the transport of the turbines. And we came to a - we were on not a routine patrol, but we were on a patrol to secure and make sure this area was clear. And we actually ended up stumbling upon two brothers who, in an aborted attempt, tried to blow up a group of people that I was with. Had they been successful, they probably would've killed at least four of the Royal Irish Guards, including myself. And in any event, I actually have this photographed, but I don't know if I can mention where that is, but if you're interested, I can give you information on that, but in any event…

CONAN: Send us a link, and we'll put it on the Web site.

KEITH: Okay, I appreciate it. But I photographed - excuse me. These two, they turned out to be brothers. One was probably about 15 years old, and he was the one that actually tried to detonate the IED. And when he was seen, he immediately threw the detonator, it was a cell phone actually, to his younger brother, who I suspect was more along the ages of seven or eight. Now for me, I thought that was fairly typical of, again, looking at the way the Taliban operate. I've seen civilian children being utilized all over the country. I've seen, you know, I saw an eight-year-old boy who was strapped with explosives by the Taliban in Ghazni. I've seen young, you know, little boys who've been transporting 120-millimeter mortar shells up in Kunar in the Korengal Valley.

CONAN: Just to clarify, the Royal Irish Guards, the royal part should tip you off as part of the British Army. Certainly…

KEITH: Oh, I'm sorry.

CONAN: …the Irish Army is not in Afghanistan. Tom Bowman?

BOWMAN: He raises a good point. They estimate that maybe 80 percent of the Taliban, they're doing it for economic reasons. They're not ideologues. And also, you know, the younger people, some people out of work, will plant bombs and take part in this for economic reason. They call them $10 Tabbies(ph).

They basically make $10 for, you know, planting an IED or working with the Taliban, which leads you to the whole point of what the Americans are trying to do over there, you know, clear an area, try to hold it, and then the most important part is build a country, build institutions, build the economy of Afghanistan as a way to get out of all of this.

CONAN: And Keith's point, though, it's often very difficult to tell the difference between Taliban and civilians.

BOWMAN: That's the hardest thing in a counterinsurgency is to figure out who's the enemy and who's not. They're not wearing uniforms.

KEITH: If I may just add, the Americans have actually done a very good job in Afghanistan working - there's a program, they call them the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and they're scattered in strategic locations around Afghanistan. And essentially what they do is they direct aid, and they're looking at infrastructural support and development, political and, of course, security. But I mean, all three areas have to be developed in order for the Americans to be successful.

And I mean, the bottom line is we're in Afghanistan because we have to be in Afghanistan. If we don't fight them there, we're going to be fighting them here. And I think there are a lot of people, you know, in the - I hate to say it - but the liberal elite who second-guess all this. But the fact of the matter is, if you're not vaporized when you walk out your door, that's because there are Americans dying on foreign battlefields, making sure that you're safe.

CONAN: Okay, Keith, thanks very much, appreciate the phone call.

KEITH: Thank you.

CONAN: And Tom Bowman, thank you very much for your time today.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Neal.

CONAN: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman with us here in Studio 3A, and let's bring another voice into the conversation. Joining us, as he often does when we discuss military matters, is retired Army Major General Mike Davidson, who's a Vietnam veteran and the author of "Victory at Risk: Restoring America's Military Power: A New War Plan for the Pentagon." He is also with us here in Studio 3A. General Mike, nice to have you with us.

Major General MIKE DAVIDSON (U.S. Army, Retired; Author, "Victory at Risk: Restoring America's Military Power: A New War Plan for the Pentagon"): Thanks for having me back, Neal.

CONAN: And the inability to tell civilians from soldiers, that must strike a chord with you going back to Vietnam.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: It does. They don't issue ID cards that say militant or innocent civilian. And there are a lot of similarities between Afghanistan and Vietnam. Fortunately, most of the lessons learned in Vietnam are being applied well and properly and thoughtfully, I believe, in Afghanistan.

CONAN: And as people look at the numbers of civilians killed in Iraq, obviously that's a very controversial number, and Afghanistan, nevertheless these are vastly smaller than the numbers killed in combat in Vietnam.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: They are, but we also have a vastly smaller army in Afghanistan. We had 527,000 troops in Vietnam at the height of the war. Big difference, though, I think, General Westmoreland thought he could win the war by killing people. And we now understand, and Petraeus knows this to his fingertips, you have to win their hearts and minds. Killing people will not win this war for anyone in Afghanistan.

CONAN: And this is the strategy adopted in Iraq. The first rule is to protect the civilians, and it's now being applied in Afghanistan.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Absolutely. And that, again, started when I think Petraeus was the 101st Airborne Division commander in his area. He started the hearts-and-minds approach. And also let me add, when we talk about the surge working, generals always ask for more soldiers. It doesn't - there are not enough. Generals are always going to - McClellan did it in the Civil War, every general. The change that was important in the surge was the change of strategy, to get the kids, get the soldiers, out in the communities where they can impact the day-to-day life.

CONAN: And change people's lives, exactly.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Absolutely.

CONAN: Stay with us, if you would. We're talking about civilian casualties, specifically Afghanistan. But we're going to broaden the conversation to include the rules of warfare and what's gone on in the past, how armies justify civilian casualties, whether there is any justification. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. NATO's secretary general visited Afghanistan today. Anders Fogh Rasmussen said there has been a drastic decline in the number of civilian casualties recently. And he said it is our clear intention to do everything possible to reduce the number of civilian casualties to an absolute minimum. In historical terms, civilian casualties are down significantly from previous wars. At the same time, public acceptance of civilian deaths as a consequence of battle has also dropped dramatically.

Our focus today, on the calculus of civilian casualties and the rules of war. We especially want to hear from those of you with experience in uniform or in Afghanistan. If you want to weigh in, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Retired Major General Mike Davidson is with us, who served in Vietnam, later was assistant to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff for National Guard matters. And let's get a caller on the line. This is Mike(ph), Mike with us from Washington, D.C.

MIKE (Caller): Hi, thanks for having me, and thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

MIKE: Well one thing, I have experience as an artilleryman in Afghanistan and Iraq. We did a lot of great work there, but one of the things I wanted to bring up was the idea of expectation management.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

MIKE: Because we keep talking about how we have great smart bombs and great technology and gee-whiz gadgetry, but honestly, the rules of war, the fog of war aside, is that, you know, sometimes these things fail. And if we don't manage the expectations of the locals, people are going to have to assume hey, you meant to hurt that other person.

CONAN: Ah, because these weapons are so precise, if it hits something, and there are civilians there, they think you meant to hit them.

MIKE: Yeah, they say the Americans never miss. So they must have hated that child or hated that person, that civilian.

CONAN: And by extension, all of us, too.

MIKE: Right. And so if we - you know, I mean, the people, the real hard-to-hit targets, the Osama Bin Ladens, the Saddam Husseins, they already know how smart our weapons are, or they'll learn the hard way. But everyone else - I think we need to work on some expectation management, and this goes from the top all the way down.

CONAN: And General Davidson, if you're fighting in a war, it seems to me civilian casualties are unavoidable.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Some, but not as many as we've had, and those smart bombs are not as smart as we say they are. We only show the video where it works. I was in the Pentagon when we bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade - not once, actually we hit it three times. And so there are - and that was an intelligence failure, which is not unknown in war. So smart bombs are smart, but they're not quite as smart as we say they are.

CONAN: Mike, thanks very much for the phone call.

MIKE: Thanks for taking it.

CONAN: Joining us now is Nicholas Goldberg, a deputy editor at the Los Angeles Times. He works on the editorial pages there. Last month, he wrote a piece called "The Rules of War" and joins us from the studios at the Los Angeles Times. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. NICHOLAS GOLDBERG (Deputy Editor, Los Angeles Times; Author, "The Rules of War"): Nice to be here.

CONAN: And as we mentioned very briefly, in the past, by comparison with previous wars, Afghanistan, even Iraq, are miniscule.

Mr. GOLDBERG: Oh yeah, they're really quite small. The Brookings Institution estimates that about, you know, 5,000 or a little more civilians have died in the war between 2006 and 2009. If you look at Iraq, that number's closer to 60,000. If you look at Vietnam, the number of civilians who died was in the millions, and in World War II, nearly 40 million non-combatants were killed. World War I, there were about six million non-combatants killed. So you can see that the numbers in Afghanistan, although worrisome, although bad, are much, much, much smaller.

CONAN: And why, in those previous conflicts - well, obviously you had mass bombing campaigns - this is the anniversary of Hiroshima, after all, but Dresden and the fire-bombing of Tokyo and things like that, where it was seen as somehow legitimate to attack cities.

Mr. GOLDBERG: Well, it shouldn't have been. You know, for most of man's history, it was considered legitimate to do, you know, whatever you wanted in war. Armies were free, from the beginning of history until the 17th century, pretty much to legally kill, wound, enslave the civilians of another country that they were at war with, and that finally began to change in the 1600s, after the terribly, terribly destructive Thirty Years' War. And from that period on, thinkers and philosophers and statesmen were trying to limit what could be done in war, and they started to make distinctions between civilians and armies. And they started to say you have to fight against armies, and you can't just kill all the civilians you want.

But despite that, in the 20th century, during the First World War, Second World War, Vietnam, these were terribly, terribly destructive wars against civilians.

CONAN: General Mike, compare the training that you got before you went to Vietnam. Was there any emphasis put on protecting civilians? What were you taught?

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: There was very little emphasis put on protecting civilians. Vietnam was an infantry war, small-unit-leader war, combat war. There was a separate program called pacification. It obviously should have been the same program from day one, and the pacification should have received more emphasis from day one. And pacification never caught up with the combat part of the war.

CONAN: Were you ever involved in incidents where you or your men were pointing weapons at somebody, you said I don't know who they are?

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Yes. I had the advantage of being on a Ranger team, doing long-range reconnaissance patrols. So if we found someone where we were going, they were not supposed to be there. So that was not an issue that I had to face very often.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Colby(ph), Colby with us from Charleston, South Carolina.

COLBY (Caller): Good afternoon, Neal.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

COLBY: I was a former Marine and a joint-terminal air controller with three tours in Iraq, and something that's not obviously or openly discussed is some of the checks and balances that it takes to actually release ordinance, and I actually did a mission (unintelligible) and some of the things that happened on the radio and behind the scenes. And one thing that each troop has when they kind of go out is that priority of mission, from left and right, to protect each other. And having that air cover and that observation, and knowing that you have that card in your pocket to actually drop ordinance is something that's really important to everyone on the mission, even down to the lowest soldier, to Joe on the field.

And while we all know that protecting the civilians and increasing the security is the ultimate goal, protecting left and right is a big one. And I was just wondering if your guest knew of any backlash on the ground, amongst the troops, what have you, with the tightening of the ROE and the actual release of ordinance there. And I'll take my answer off the air, please.

CONAN: All right, Colby(ph), thanks very much, and Tom Bowman has left. ROE stands for rules of engagement. General Mike, what would you think?

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: It hasn't had much effect on the individual infantryman. They're still out on combat patrols. A young Marine is doing what his staff sergeant, what his squad leader, tells him to do. Hearts-and-minds, strategy, mission, the United Nations, don't loom large in his consciousness when he's getting shot at.

CONAN: Nicholas Goldberg, in a way we're discussing this as a practical matter. It is, if you want to win the conflict, it's best not to kill civilians to put other civilians on the other side. It's also a moral issue.

Mr. GOLDBERG: Sure it's a moral issue. I mean, there have been philosophers trying to figure out, you know, what should be the fair rules of a moral war, you know, for almost as long as there's been war.

The difficulty is that the more moral you are, the more you try to limit your airstrikes, the less you can accomplish. So a really elaborate set of rules has been established. One rule is that you can't target civilians. That's - by this point, although I said, it was ignored to a great degree in the 20th century, it's pretty much accepted now that military operations may not target civilians the way they did in Hiroshima and the way they did in the fire-bombings of Dresden.

But a more complicated issue is the question of collateral damage. You know, if we're engaged in a legitimate military operation, but there's a fear that civilians may get caught in the middle of it, how do we deal with that? How do we decide whether to go ahead, and there's a been a very sort of complicated, part philosophical, part practical discussion of what's called proportionality, to figure that out. And that means that before you engage in an operation, you have to figure out whether the benefit you're going to gain from hitting your legitimate military target, you know, outweighs the anticipated cost in innocent lives and destroyed property. And it's with that complicated calculus that the moral - that people try to create a certain morality to war.

CONAN: Which some people might say is an oxymoron to begin with. But let's see if we can get another caller in on the conversation. Alex(ph), Alex is calling from Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

ALEX (Caller): Yes, sir, how are you guys doing?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

ALEX: All right. I just wanted to bring up a few things I'm thinking about as I'm listening, one being that you have to think about the more civilian casualties you cause, as was brought up earlier, you're losing, obviously, you know, the hearts-and-minds mission. But along with that, if you allow the enemy, such as the Taliban to be the one killing the civilians, indirectly, you know, there's two sides to this. They're coming to your side. You're not the one blowing their buddies up, first.

Second off, I don't think that we really brought up, but how important civilian intelligence is? You start to kill off the people who are on the ground living in the villages. You really lose a lot of that intel that could be gathered otherwise. They want the Taliban out, for the most part. They want the same thing we want. So, you know, if we can, you know, keep casualties low, civilian wise, keep gathering the intel, and win these hearts and minds I think that, you know, we're going to be in good shape. I'm going to go for around three here, real shortly so.

CONAN: Oh, well, we wish you the best of luck there. But let's get back Davidson.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Alex, before you hit off, are you serving in the Army now?

ALEX: Roger that, sir.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Okay. When I used to try cases for living, at this point, I would say, your honor, I rest my case.

(Soundbite of laughter)

It's a great example of a smart, young soldier who will be successful at this mission.

ALEX: Yes, sir.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: In addition to being in the Army, Mike Davidson is a lawyer. So, we hate to admit that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: I carry many burdens in life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: The point he made though about getting intelligence from the local people, that's an invaluable part. And, again, if they're angry with you, they're not going to tell you things.

ALEX: Yes, sir. Obviously.

CONAN: And do you know where you're going in Afghanistan?

ALEX: For operational security reasons, I can't say. But I can say the wild, wild west.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Good luck to you. Thank you very much.

ALEX: Always, sir.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's get an email, this from Gabe in San Francisco. I was wondering if the soldiers are receiving different training on how to do this community building work. As of now, the focus of military training is fighting efficiently not necessarily protecting civilians and providing support to them. So, it's one thing to change tactics. Do you change training, Mike Davidson?

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Oh, we would probably say that we have. I doubt very much that we have frankly. A combat infantryman is still a combat infantryman, that's his first priority.

The crux of the matter, I think, is to target that military combat power on security so that the pacification programs can go forward. And the hearts and minds is the phrase that developed a bad odor in Vietnam. It's still a very valid concept.

The person that I think is doing the most to advance American interest in the region right now is this guy Greg Mortenson, that's opening 150, 175 schools for girls in that area. Our military power should be giving him a secure environment in which to do things like that, and really, some of these other non-government organizations.

CONAN: We're talking with retired Army Major General Mike Davidson and with Nicholas Goldberg of the Los Angeles Times.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Nicholas Goldberg, as - oh, I've done that way too early, have I? Nicholas Goldberg, as we - Nicholas Goldberg asked - one of the questions you raised is, really it's about a matter of definition. How does the Army justify any civilian casualties?

Mr. GOLDBERG: Well, that's right. You know, there are people out there who are absolutists who say there's just simply no justification ever for killing people. And then, there are other people who come from a philosophical tradition known as utilitarianism, and they say, well, we have to work that proportionality idea. We have to weigh the killing of civilians against what it is we're trying to do. And probably, the most famous example of this is the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

I mean, in those bombings, about 200,000 people died, most of them noncombatants. But the argument, in favor of them, was that the Japanese then surrendered unconditionally and an allied invasion of the Japanese mainland, which everyone's thought would have caused cost many, many more lives, was avoided. So, the government said, you know, we had no choice but to do this, you know?

And historians are still arguing over whether that was a fair and valid balancing of the costs and benefits or whether it was simply immoral to kill that many noncombatants.

CONAN: Similar arguments about Sherman's March through Georgia that, indeed, a terrible destruction was wrought upon the civilian population. Nevertheless, it hastened the end of the war and made it a war that at one side, the South, was convinced it would not win. And therefore, did not rush off to fight a guerilla war in the hills.

Mr. GOLDBERG: Interestingly, the Civil War was one of the first wars where this distinction between soldiers and civilians was made. And there was something called the Lieber Code which was written in 1863, that governed the behavior of Union troops. And in that, they wrote that the unarmed citizen is to be spared as much as the exigencies of the war will admit. And that was the first step towards trying to make sure that soldiers just didn't randomly go in and murder civilians as a sort of, almost terroristic effort to win the war.

CONAN: Joining us is Ralph. Ralph, on line from Ann Arbor in Michigan.

RALPH (Caller): Oh, yeah. Hi, Neal.

CONAN: Hi, there.

RALPH: I think that we need to - our military needs to give us more - how to really touch a - tell us heart to hear that killing any civilian even by accident in combat should evoke and as broad of a feeling as it would evoke, if we accidentally kill someone, you know, driving on the road while drunk. And I think that it fails to do that, because, yes, we know with - maybe less people have died than in Vietnam, but we have to keep in mind that not one American was killed by Iraqis and over a million Iraqis, just as precious as the million Americans, have been killed by us either directly through our ordinance which was greater than the World War II that we dropped all of Europe and Japan, or indirectly by destroying the one ordering that nation and, well…

CONAN: Ralph, people would dispute the - your numbers, but let's get a response from Mike Davidson.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: But I wouldn't dispute the idea. One of the teachable moments when you're young soldiers when you see your first body that you caused, and it makes no difference whether it's a civilian or an enemy soldier, you feel awful. Just awful.

CONAN: Are you taught to feel awful?

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: No. You can't teach that level of emotion. It just happens. You'll do it again the next day. You'll probably do it a little more carefully, but there is no difference among infantry soldiers of the source of the body. It's awful.

CONAN: Ralph, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

And we'd like to thank our guests. Nicholas Goldberg, deputy editor of the Los Angeles Times, joins us from the bureau at the Los Angeles Times. Thanks very much.

Mr. GOLDBERG: Thank you.

CONAN: And Mike Davidson was with us here in studio 3A. His book is "Victory at Risk: Restoring America's Military Power." Thanks as always.

Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Thank you, Neal.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.