[In the morning] I just kind of walked down there and looked at the vehicles and saw the civilian bodies. And on the side of the road there were a couple of civilians who were burying the bodies, and one of them spoke a little bit of English. He had been in one of the vehicles and told me what had happened. And so I was able to see with my own eyes the result of what had happened. I was able to see dead civilians, cars along this road that were shot full of holes, the bodies were still there, and there were witnesses there. The title of the story in The New York Times Magazine was “Good Kills,” because the battalion commander, [Lieutenant Colonel] Bryan McCoy, when I was with him during the battle, I had asked him, “How are things going?” And he had a cigar at that moment, I think, and he said, “Oh, you know, it’s a day of good kills.” And that, “good kills,” is kind of a military term that officers and soldiers will use, meaning their job is to kill people, the right people. But he didn’t know, at that time he didn’t know that there were civilians being killed.
He did realize afterwards. And a lot of people in that battalion knew, not just the ones who shot those vehicles. And I think, actually, when they were shooting, they didn’t know whether there were civilians in them or not, they were just scared. There was one marine who I quoted in the story, who was on the road checking out the bodies. And one of the photographers was with me at that moment, and the photographer was saying, not in a whisper, “This should not have happened. This was wrong.” And, this particular marine heard that and swore, said something. So I went up to him and said, “Well, what do you think about what happened?” — because he was amid all the bodies, as I was — and he kind of said, “Look, you know, you can’t second-guess it. We’ve got to keep ourselves safe. We didn’t know who was in the vehicles. This is war, and this is what happens in war.” And so I put that in, paraphrasing his words, into the story. Two days later, Baghdad falls. This battalion, by the way, was the battalion that took down the statue of Saddam.
I remember the day the Americans came into Baghdad [April 9], and I was standing by the side of the street watching the convoy go by. And some of the Humvees had little American flags on the antennas, just a couple of them. An Iraqi ophthalmologist — there were two from the eye center nearby — saw me going to the crowd and they spoke some English. And they said to me, “Look, you’ve got to tell them to take these flags off the Humvees. They’re going to make people so mad.” And I said, “Well, what makes you mad about it?” And he said, “They’re Americans and that’s the American flag. That’s what occupiers do. That’s an occupation and that’s what people don’t want here.” And I think a lot of us picked up on the first day a lot of very ambivalent feelings, and those feelings were basically completely overwhelmed by the images and, most important, the superficial event that took place that day — the statue being taken down, the Americans taking control of the city.
The toppling of statue — yes, there were people celebrating, but there were as many people standing in shock. It was not just one big party, as I think the cameras tried to make it out to be. In fact, Morning Edition called me after the first feed, and they were seeing the TV coverage, and said, “Do you want to redo it for the next feed, because it seems like the pictures are people celebrating.” And I said, “Well, there are so few people trying to pull down the statue that they can’t do it themselves; the Marines have had to intervene, rightly or wrongly, with a crane to pull it down.” Many people were just sort of standing, hoping for the best, but they weren’t joyous; there was a very mixed feeling about seeing American soldiers in their midst.