Take a look, and think about it:
There are several horrible questions that arise from this footage, some with obvious answers; to name a few: why was this footage not made public immediately? At least the US government would have prevented looking like they wanted to cover it up. Why does the killing that occurs here happen almost casually? Why didn’t the helicopter fighters check more thoroughly before ‘engaging’ their targets? Why didn’t they let the late arrivals take away the dead and wounded?
The answer to the first question is probably easiest: they thought they could get away with it better this way. It’s a gamble you take. Some one might leak the footage from the archive and show it to the world, or someone might not. You win some you lose some.
As for what actually happens, I believe a lot of it has to do with the physical and conceptual distance between the different participants (and collaterals) in a war. The official context of this attack seems to be that there were Iraqi insurgents active in this city, using rocket launchers to assault the helicopters, which is probably the only feasible way for ground troops to even stand a chance against such an airborne opponent. In that light, the chopper crews in this video were looking for such warriors, and this was now an active war zone by their standards. Cue a group of men, some brandishing objects with longish attachments, which, with a bit of wartime imagination, might look like guns (the ubiquitous AK-47s) or RPG launchers.
There’s the key: imagination. As a soldier, in order to be able to actually kill an opponent, you have to make them into an abstract in some way. When you peer through your targeting system, you better make sure you believe the people between your crosshairs are bad guys, or even animals, otherwise you won’t be able to pull the trigger.
In many violent video games, this abstraction is delivered to you on a silver platter. When you swing that sniper rifle across a certain target’s head, the crosshairs turn red to indicate that you’ve got an enemy in your sights; pow, and they’re gone. In the Baldur’s Gate series, and similar games, if it’s an enemy, there’s a red circle about it, inviting you to click it with the attack command, and unleash your very own barrage. To be fair, any creature that’s hostile to you, and not necessarily bad or evil, will have a red circle in Baldur’s Gate. However, unless you did something to anger ‘the red circle’, you can be sure it’s a baddie, and it can be killed without consequences to your game and game world.
Only rarely are these distinctions presented in a more nuanced way in games. Whom you kill usually has little effect on the way a game progresses, or on anyone’s emotions, including your own. It would be a challenge to game designers to make games that incorporate more of the realities of soldiering and violence in this respect. How can you ever be sure if the people you’re fighting are really ‘the bad guys’, and is there any country or government that inherently ‘evil’ as a whole? A game that plays with such uncertainties would be a big challenge to a player’s moral compass as well. To successfully implement such elements, you would have to design a game where conflicts thrown up can be solved from many different angels, each with its own pros and cons, without forcing a single ‘good’ solution onto the player. To make things even more challenging, why don’t we drop the red circle completely? Let the player make her or his own assessment about the level of threat, hostility, and opposition of the ‘target’.
Perhaps our culture as a whole would be better off giving a little more thought to the matter of the red circle. It is only beneficial to one party: the commanding officers and officials who want their wartime orders (for whatever purpose) carried out without question and without too much moral indignation by their soldiers. For the rest of us, the civilian victims, the soldiers who don’t really know who they’re killing, nor for what reason, we’re better off without it, with our fingers just that bit further off the trigger.