It Just breaks your heart

I have always told people that the horror of war is not killing an enemy that is trying to kill you. In fact that is generally easy because of our primal and #1 instinct as a human and that is survival. We are all programmed to survive and we will die trying. Because of this instinct that is in our DNA I am convinced that is why the human psyche can pretty much deal with killing another human that tries to kill you.

The real “horror of war” is the killing of innocent people and the destruction of a country’s infrastructure that impacts innocent lives. Innocent people trying to live their life in a war zone as just that, trying to live. The worst kind of innocent to be killed is really kids in my opinion (and the opinion of many other warfighters I have known). Kids are just that, they are truly innocent, they are vulnerable, they have done nothing to bring on pain, injury or death. Their parents may have done something, but not the kids. 

It was kids that impacted me the most when I was in Afghanistan. There were times that it was seeing their smiles and it was times seeing them hurt or killed. I wrote about several of these incidents on this blog in 2006 when I was deployed there. As a father, uncle and god-father it would turn my stomach to see kids seriously injured or killed. Of all the injuries I think seeing kids burned was the absolute worst. The pain and screams would cut through the air right to your heart. It is a pain that you know is not going to go away for a long time and this kid is going to suffer for a while if they survive. 

I read a story recently on Stars and Stripes website that infuriated me. I could not (but part of me could) believe that a father would do this to his own child. 

Lt. Colin McCormack, the Navy doctor who runs the clinic at Patrol Base Jaker, looked closely under the big light at the girl’s tiny, ruined feet. Third-degree burns on both soles glowed bright red. All 10 toes were gone.

“What happened?” McCormack asked through an interpreter.

“She just dropped into the cooking fire,” her father replied. It had happened three months ago, he said, and he’d sought medical help then. She’d been in a hospital for two weeks in Lashkar Gah, he said. Then they sent her home, and her toes fell off.

He noted that the burn went all the way around one ankle, like a sock — a “circumferential” burn strongly indicating someone had held her leg in boiling liquid and that the child had not been able to recoil from the pain.

“More likely than not,” McCormack said, “this was punishment.”

Like I said, part of me could believe it, because many in that culture are beyond our western ways of understanding. Even after spending a year with these people and then still studying their ways, continued talking with many who were my terps still today, I have a hard time comprehending how someone could do this. How could a man hold his 2 year old daughter in stick and then hold her feet in a boiling pot of water as “punishment”. 

See people, sometimes that is what our war-fighters face. Imagine if you can if you were walking through a village and talking to some elders and then having one of your soldiers come over and tell you he caught a man punishing his daughter this way, his 2 year old daughter…by holding her feet down in boiling water. 

Now that you are imagining yourself in that situation, how would you react?

1. Say “Enshala, it is an Afghan problem” and turn and walk away?

2. Tell the Afghan Soldiers or Police that they should really stop the punishment and hope they arrest this father and get the girl treated?

3. Push the father away and grab the girl and then try to treat her wounds?

4. Grab the girl while putting your 9mm pistol between his eyes and pulling the trigger?


This is not far-fetched. This is some of the stuff our young men and women face and deal with. They have to make the “right” decision and not necessarily the decision based on how our culture or western ways would dictate. For me I would hope that all I would do would be #3 above, however I am afraid that I would put my career and life at risk for this unknown, screaming child and I would end up doing #4 above. That is me, not that it is right, but I am afraid I would make that decision in the heat of the moment. 

The reason I painted the scenario above for you is to highlight the fact that the next time you hear that a US service-member has been accused of murdering a local, that you should not always pass judgement too quick. Sometimes it could be something as horrible as this which could cause them to snap. 

To read the entire story on the Stripes website, check out

5 thoughts on “It Just breaks your heart”

  1. Troy- As we all know this happens, sadly though most of the time it is due to ignorance on behalf of the Father. In FOB Badlands, we had a father dunk a baby girl into a boiling pot of water. We expended 50% of our medical supplies (which needed to take care of a team of 14) to keep her stable while waiting for the Italians to finally arrive with a dust off to BAF, that took another 48 hours.

  2. Obviously awful…I often wonder how police in the United States deal with the worst child abuse cases, murder, rapes, etc…the fact that clearly guility people in any country are ever brought to trial is a testament to good order and discipline.

  3. I would choose option #4; their is never justification hurting any child anytime, especially in a manner described-it’s pure evil.
    I guess when ideology from their Koran is hammered into their heads all throughout their life, rational thinking is missing.
    Children, like you’ve said, are the only innocent onces.

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