Morale: Frightening Friendly Fire Facts


August 6, 2007: The media hoopla over the revelation that Ranger Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire, has put media, political and next-of-kin pressure on the military to provide more information on friendly fire incidents. Thus, in the last two months, the U.S. Marine Corps has revised their friendly fire statistics from two incidents (since 2001), causing 19 casualties, to 23 incidents (82 casualties).

There's more to this story than what gets reported in the mass media. Friendly fire incidents in past wars were routinely misreported, usually at the lowest levels (friends of those who got shot, or did the shooting.) Any attempts to get to the bottom of friendly fire statistics from old wars, would open too may psychological wounds. Same with the misreporting of dead soldiers as "missing in Action" during World War II. This was often done by the dead soldiers friends, so the widow could collect the soldiers pay (which was higher than widows benefits) for a while longer.

The basic problem is that, for as long as there have been wars, there have been "friendly fire" losses. This only increased with the appearance of gunpowder weapons a few centuries back, and all the smoke these new instruments of destruction generated. What has changed recently, at least in the American military, has been the appearance of a historically low casualty rate, and increasing monitoring of the battlefield. All those surveillance cameras you encounter downtown or at the mall, are all over the battlefield as well. A lot more radios too. There's much more evidence to work with, if you want to find out what really happened. But one thing that has not changed is the psychological shock to soldiers who are involved, as the shooters, or just bystanders, in a friendly fire incident. There's still the urge to pretend it didn't happen. The troops are thinking of the next-of-kin as well, for it's common for a dead soldiers friends to visit the family of the deceased, or at least get in touch. Coming by and saying, "I killed your son by accident," is a message few troops are capable of delivering.

But friendly fire stuff makes such great headlines. It attracts eyeballs, and that's how the mass media says in business. That won't change either.


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