November 20th, 2009
09:06 PM ET

Band of Brothers

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/05/25/obama.memorial.day/art.civil.war.wreath.cnn.jpg]

Clint Van Winkle
Special to AC360°

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart...
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.

I've struggled coming to terms with CNN’s The Killings at the Canal special investigation that highlights the murders of four insurgents at the hands of U.S. soldiers. At first I felt betrayed by the soldiers' actions, and then my feelings moved towards empathy. I've walked in their boots, so to speak. I know what it is like to have to make decisions that impact the lives of many. I never took my duties lightly and always tried to do the correct thing. And while internet tough guys and armchair generals will take it upon themselves to second-guess the actions at the canal, the men and women who have "been there" will reserve judgment. Those who have tasted battle know where second-guessing leads. Combat is measured in seconds. Indecisiveness gets people killed. Hesitation gets people killed. And for a Marine/soldier, the worse loss is the loss of a brother/sister-in-arms.]

A special bond is formed between Marines/soldiers, which is so strong that they are sometimes referred to as a Band of Brothers. The phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Henry V (Act 4, Scene 3). The Saint Crispin's Day Speech, as it is known, is the rousing call-to-arms made by an English King to his warriors. The fictionalized account, written by a man who never served in the military, captures the very heart of combat service, the way one feels about the people he fights alongside. Truer words have never been written: The Marines I served with in Iraq are my brothers. That bond drove me, kept me pushing through the darkest times. It is no different for any combat arms unit. It is the force that propels all warriors.

I'd like to think the sergeants that executed the insurgents were acting in good faith, that they made the decision to kill because they didn't want to see any more of their brothers killed. It appears the men thought the murders would save the lives of soldiers. They were in a desperate situation and committed a desperate act. It was wrong, but I understand their line of thinking, understand what war does to a person, and know that sometimes actions can't be understood unless you were there.

I know these words will ring hollow to many who have never been in combat. Some will think that I am praising the misguided actions of the soldiers. However, I am not. I don't think what they did was heroic in any way. Still, these men, who answered the call and ventured into the unknown, are my brothers, too. They had the stomach to fight and, except for one horrible moment, were dedicated soldiers.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother

Editor’s Note: Clint Van Winkle is the author of Soft Spots: A Marine's Memoir of Combat and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Clintvanwinkle.com.

Filed under: Killings at the Canal
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