How do you go about apologizing for an act that could so easily have been lost in the fog of war?
In a powerful article published in this month's New Yorker, Dexter Filkins examines that question through the tale of Lu Lobello, an Iraq war veteran who was part of a unit that mistakenly killed three civilians in a family of nine.
The Kachadoorian family, all nine of them, traveling in three separate cars, attempted to flee a chaotic battle in the streets of Baghdad in 2003 when they unwittingly drove toward U.S. Marines engaged in combat. Amidst the confusion, Lobello and a group of soldiers, following protocol, opened fire on the vehicles.
By the time the family's mother, Margaret, screamed at the soldiers "We are the peace people!" it was too late: The family's three men, all driving cars, had been killed, and two more wounded. (An entire account of the incident, also written by Dexter Filkins, is available via the New York Times)
Fast forward to present day. The Kachadoorians have immigrated to the United States as refugees, and Lobello, still haunted by the incident, contacted Filkins to see if he could put them in touch.
"It wasn't all just about my guilt from this one day," Lobello explained in a recent NPR "Fresh Air" episode. "It was about feeling as though there was somebody out there who was greatly affected by our actions as a unit, and that we had a duty to them, to reach out to them, to find out how they were doing, and if I could do that I knew I'd feel better."
And so, Lobello and Filkins traveled to California, met with the family, and Lobello apologized. The situation, described as "unbearably tense" on NPR, eased a bit after Lobello shared a cigarette with one of the Kachadoorian's husbands.
Lobello recalled afterward, "Just letting me into their home and feeding me and meeting with me," it's as if "they were saying, 'We forgive you, and we understand.'"
Lobello has also set up a fundraising account online, soliciting donations to help the Kachadoorians.