Friday, December 23, 2011

956 What Killed Danny Chen?

956 What Killed Danny Chen?

This is the kind of war story that gets lost at a time when the focus is soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, surprising their children at school band concerts or on the tarmacs of airports in their home towns.

Danny Chen was a casualty of the war in Afghanistan. He wasn’t the victim of a roadside bomb or a Taliban attack.  He wasn’t the victim of friendly fire or an accident. Eventually the army will figure out whether he put a gun beneath his chin and pulled the trigger or someone else did that for him or to him. He is most certainly dead. But he didn’t kill himself.

They held a funeral in October, in New York’s Chinatown, where Chen lived and his parents live in public housing, and there, read his letters home out loud.

Here’s part of one of them, as quoted by the NBC New York website:
"Feb. 27, 2011: Since I am the only Chinese person here, everyone knows me by Chen” "They ask if I'm from China a few times a day... They also call out my name Chen in a goat-like voice sometimes for no reason."
"People crack jokes about Chinese people all the time. I'm running out of jokes to come back at them."

Pvt. Chen was 19 years old and in a guard tower in Kandahar when the shot rang out.  He was on duty with the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division.  And now, eight of his fellow American soldiers have been charged in his death.

Would they have been charged without pressure from Chen’s mother,  Su Zhen Chen?  His father?  His neighbors?  

So, now come accusations out of the law books and the Uniform Code of Military Justice:  dereliction of duty.  Telling lies to the MPs.  Assault. Manslaughter.

What was Danny Chen’s crime, something that would provoke the kind of treatment he is said to have received from his fellow soldiers?  Well, he was a Chinese American and that’s a start.  One night he forgot to turn the water heater off after taking his shower.  So others, apparently including some of his superiors, dragged him out of bed and showered him with physical abuse and racial slurs.  Can’t let a switch in the “on” position go unpunished, no way!

But there were other instances in which Chen was singled out, some of them undisclosed as of now. The army is trying to figure out what, if anything, to do and who do it to.

One thing they haven’t done and maybe won’t do is release the soldier’s diary, possibly a careful record of what went on over there.  But they promise a thorough investigation, whatever that means.  Maybe we’ll eventually know if one of the eight charged men pulled the trigger or put Danny in to position to pull it himself.  And maybe we won’t.

But it’s pretty safe to say these are eight guys -- no, make that nine guys -- who shouldn’t have been together, or maybe shouldn’t be in the army at all.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them.
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© WJR 2011

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