To the Editor;
I am surprised, to say the least, that you chose to follow a report on the inquest into the friendly fire death of British Lance Corporal-of-Horse Matty Hull with a general exculpatory commentary by former US Navy pilot Ken Harbaugh on the fog of war as seen from the cockpit.
Harbaugh began his remarks by disclaiming any deep knowledge of the incident in question and then went on to offer a general "accidents do happen" explanation for the tragedies of airborne fracticide, implicity excusing the A-10 pilots who killed Hull in direct contradiction to the extensively argued conclusions of the British coroner.
Without a doubt, confusion in battle does arise, and it is not always easy to distinguish ground targets from a fast moving jet platform. However, unlike the senarios described by Harbaugh, the pilots who killed Hull were not under ground fire and were not operating at the extremes of their endurance (they circled the British convoy for many, many minutes before attacking). They did however decide to attack their allies despite instructions from their ground controller to check with him before engaging any targets and after amazingly misidentifying the large orange panels identifying an ally as rocket launchers.
The cockpit video, easily tracked down via a few seconds of web searching, makes all of this apparent and for the conspiracy-minded offers ample reasons for why the US military initially refused to release it and why the British military refused to acknowledge it existed. While it is obvious that the A-10 pilots did not maliciously attack an ally, they were at the very least reckless, and this fact needs to be acknowledged publicly. The public radio audience is hardly well served by "yes, but" pieces by commentators seeking to lessen the impact of the actions of their former compatriots.
Death by friendly fire is hardly a new phenomenon. No less a light than General Patton once threatened to turn his guns on the 8th Air Force unless they stopped mistakenly attacking his positions. However, in this time of official reasurances about the accuracy of our smart weapons and the professionalism of our armed forces, NPR should perhaps be asking questions about why we still kill our own troops and those of our allies with such depressing frequency rather than offering airtime for those inclined to blame anything and anyone but those who actually pull the trigger.
The cockpit video:
The pilots who did this were promoted.