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Death from Above

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A little while ago, WikiLeaks released a video showing a U.S. helicopter in Iraq on patrol in 2007. During its patrol, it engaged and killed several Iraqis. Despite several Freedom of Information requests, the Pentagon refused to release the video because two of the slain turned out to have been reporters for Reuter's. The full, unencrypted video was finally leaked by Pentagon personnel and posted on the Internet. There is a 38--minute version and a 17--minute version. The shorter version is more editiorial in nature, but the longer version does not materially alter the impression given by the shorter one (in this author's humble opinion), despite claims to the contrary. Those that express horror at the content of the film are either faking their shock or have heretofore been quite deluded or hypocritical about what war entails. It's hard to believe that the video shows anything particularly unique about daily life in Iraq's larger cities for the seven years since the U.S. invasion. This impression is supported by several sources, both in the military and those independent of it. <h>Attacking Civilians</h> The U.S. is a signatory to conventions of war that explicitly do not allow such behavior. It is also a self-described subscriber to the notion that it itself is a "force for good". Leave aside whether this is even potentially true or not, how do such situations continually arise despite these ostensible safeguards? Is there some one person or group at fault? Is it, as we are so often led to believe, the fault of the Iraqis for making themselves such tempting and plausible targets? The U.S.---along with the rest of the civilized world---has already trod this path, has already followed this line of moral reasoning and come to the following conclusion: Civilians are not the enemy and should not be attacked. America was, after all, rightfully outraged when its own civilians were attacked and bin Laden offered the justification that <i>all</i> Americans were complicit in the actions of their government. Though it can be argued that participants in a democracy are more responsible for the actions of their government than those living under a dictatorship, the difference is largely academic. And the way to get Americans to stop supporting their empire is certainly not by attacking the civilians directly. Such tactics haven't ever worked for America in all of its dirty conflicts and it certainly won't work for anti-American terrorists. Attacks on civilians <i>always</i> result in a renewed resolve among the survivors. The only hope for success using this strategy is to commit genocide. Or do such transgressions of basic human decency simply arise naturally from war itself? Take the video: the officers granting permissions to attack are not responsible if they misinterpreted the situation relayed to them---they weren't on the ground and necessarily erred on the side of caution. And the soldiers were in the shit and could not be expected to transmit a wholly unbiased view of the situation on the ground to their officers. That is, the soldiers either consciously or unconsciously bias the information they deliver to their officers in order to ensure commands that will end up saving their own asses. Officers will act to save their own soldiers not only because of loyalty to them, but because the punishment for losing even one soldier is much higher than for mistakenly eradicating slews of animal insurgents. There is a mountain of documentary evidence showing that officers bias their actions to guarantee advancement: The number of foreigners killed hardly ever enters into it. Because we don't place an emphasis on it. This is the type of brutal logic that results in thinking along the lines of the famous Vietnam-era quote, "we had to destroy the village in order to save it." Speaking of animals, the article <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175232/tomgram:_engelhardt,_the_view_from_mount_olympus__/" source="TomDispatch" author="Tom Engelhardt" title="Gods and Monsters: The View from Mount Olympus">The View from Mount Olympus</a> cites the father of the photographer slain in the video as asking, upon seeing the footage, <iq>[i]f such an incident took place in America, even if an animal were killed like this, what would they do?</iq> It depends, really. Some animals warrant no protection; the nation practically cheered as one when regaled with tales of Sarah Palin shooting wolves from a helicopter, so perhaps this gentleman is granting us too much humnaity. But when American civilians were indiscriminately killed, the response was clear. The answer to that question is evident in the flattened villages of Iraq and Afghanistan. But, of course, America doesn't mean it that way. It never means it that way. The mythos is that America is a natural force for good, so that any evil that arises from its actions is purely accidental. At first, Afghanistan was an act of pure revenge and then...it became just another occupation in American history. An occupation of Gods over minions where the lives of the minions are treated by the Gods with the same regard a child gives ants. That's objectively what we do, but the narrative with which we soothe ourselves is quite different. From the Engelhardt article: <bq>We prefer to think of their deaths as so many accidents or mistakes -- ďcollateral damageĒ -- when they are the norm, not the exception, not whatís collateral in such wars. We prefer to imagine ourselves bringing the best (of values and intentions) to a backward, ignorant world and so invariably make ourselves sound far kindlier than we are. [...] we have a tendency to flatter ourselves [...] while creating a language of war that suits our tender sensibilities about ourselves.</bq> Though the U.S. government in all of its manifestations drives this policy and behavior, the media leads the charge in this national self-delusion. <h>Rules of Engagement</h> An article written by a reporter who's actually been in Iraq and spoken with soldiers is called <a href="http://www.truthout.org/iraq-war-vet-we-were-told-just-shoot-people-and-officers-would-take-care-us58378" source="TruthOut" author="Dahr Jamail">Iraq War Vet: "We Were Told to Just Shoot People, and the Officers Would Take Care of Us"</a>. He argues that the seemingly wanton acts of violence in the video are actually quite common. The discussion should be about whether it is acceptable. What are the rules of engagement (ROE) and what level of amorality are we willing to accept from our officers and their subordinates? The officers make command decisions based on information passed to them by soldiers in the field. The soldiers in the field execute those commands to the letter no matter how despicable because that is their job. There has been much discussion of these so-called "Rules of Engagement" (ROEs). Much of the discussion, though, takes place in a moral vacuum, a place where the inherent humanity of the victims is either never acknowledged or explicitly denied. <bq>"During the course of my three tours, the rules of engagement changed a lot," Washburn's testimony continued, "The higher the threat the more viciously we were permitted and expected to respond. Something else we were encouraged to do, almost with a wink and nudge, was to carry 'drop weapons', or by my third tour, 'drop shovels'. We would carry these weapons or shovels with us because if we accidentally shot a civilian, we could just toss the weapon on the body, and make them look like an insurgent."</bq> That such rules of engagement---extensively documented over the years since the start of the Iraq War---are immoral is not a matter of opinion. Anyone that thinks framing innocent victims to justify their murder is justifiable under any circumstances cannot be taken seriously. And yet, that is what we hear all too frequently. What story can the victims in the video tell to counter that told by the helicopter crew? None. They are all dead and tell no tales, as the saying goes. The article lists more first-hand reports of criminal ROEs that any rational, moral society would not allow or support for its military. <bq>"One time they said to fire on all taxicabs because the enemy was using them for transportation.... One of the snipers replied back, 'Excuse me? Did I hear that right? Fire on all taxicabs?' The lieutenant colonel responded, 'You heard me, trooper, fire on all taxicabs.' After that, the town lit up, with all the units firing on cars. This was my first experience with war, and that kind of set the tone for the rest of the deployment."</bq> The soliders are "not paid to think", as it were. They are also clearly trained not to feel or empathize, and to expect them to do is foolishness. The only way to avoid "towns [being] lit up" is to keep these exceedingly dangerous soldiers out of war situations. War is war. These types of behavior are inescapable and so, the only serious remedy is to avoid war more assiduously than we have. And America is most guilty of storming into one war after another without heed for the mountains of victims it will create. Because the consequences of such actions so very rarely hits home (as it did on 9--11). Instead, we have heavily armed, nearly ammoral soldiers with a mindset formed by indoctrination that allows them to believe that <iq>The difference between an insurgent and an Iraqi civilian is whether they are dead or alive. [...] If you kill a civilian he becomes an insurgent because you retroactively make that person a threat.</iq> That quote comes from the mouth of a very cynical soldier, but it's a pragmatic view shared by many in the armed forces. What are they to believe, after all? This is the view of their superiors as well, to whom they look for guidance. <h>Does the Pentagon Know About This?</h> As documented in the article <a href="http://www.alternet.org/world/146337/" source="AlterNet" author="Pepe Escobar">"Oh Yeah, Look at Those Dead Bastards" -- Collateral Murder Video Shows War Like It Is</a>, even the standard fallback strategy of identifying a few "bad apples" won't work this time. Everyone in the military is aware of how things work, right on up to General Stanley McChrystal, who was recently widely quoted as saying that <iq>[w]e've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.</iq> In case the usual suspects would try to twist his words, he clarified further: <bq>To my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I've been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it.</bq> Though he was talking about a few dozen people at certain border crossings in Afghanistan, his assessment applies to all current American war fronts. The highest-ranking officer in the Afghanistam theater of operations knows that innocents are being killed by the tens of thousands. He freely admits it without fear of retribution, punishment or even recrimination. Instead of being condemned as a leader of a mass-murdering army, he is lauded as a realist. How else to explain such inhumanity than by a surfeit of self-worship among Americans---just for being Americans? Sadly, the helicopter attack recently released by WikiLeaks was Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). It depicted nothing out of the ordinary from the American military's---and pretty much <i>any</i> military's---way of doing business. The article <a href="http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/04/06/iraq" source="Salon" author="Glenn Greenwald">Iraq slaughter not an aberration</a> concurs. <bq>That's why the administration fights so hard to keep torture photos suppressed, why the military fought so hard here to keep this video concealed [...], and why whistle-blowers, real journalists, and sites like WikiLeaks are the declared enemy of the government.</bq> The military is fully aware of how it wages war. It understands better than most of us on which side its bread is buttered. It knows that it must maintain the firehose of propoganda in order to keep the American people on its side. Since Vietnam, the U.S. military has gotten much better at marketing or, as they would likely call it, "information management". The only reason that this particular incident is on the radar is because, after two years of Freedom-of-Information (FOI) requests, the video was finally leaked by an unknown hero within the military. And the only reason that there is so much coverage is because, instead of just indiscriminately slaughtering the herd animals posing as human beings that are the Iraqi population, this helicopter crew took out <iq>two Reuters employees</iq>. That's the hook; that Western journalists were killed. The slaughter of a dozen Iraqis by extraordinarily deadly machine-gun fire from above (or aerial bombing or drone attack or ... whatever) would not otherwise be particularly noteworthy because it happens too often. For example, in the same week that the video was released, Afghan police discovered that American Special forces had killed three women---two of them pregnant---then dug the bullets out of their bodies and washed the wounds with alcohol. They also pried bullets out of the wall to cover up evidence of the shootings. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/06/world/asia/06afghan.html" source="NY Times" author="Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Abdul Waheed Wafa">Afghan Investigators Say U.S. Troops Tried to Cover Up Evidence in Botched Raid</a> and <a href="http://chris-floyd.com/component/content/article/1-latest-news/1946-night-watch-afghan-atrocity-and-american-values.html" source="" author="Chris Floyd">Night Riders: Afghan Atrocity and American Values</a> have more information about the night raid that killed five members of a family celebrating a newborn child. Events like these are so commonplace that they scarely warrant mention in the media---and, even then, the NY Times---considered to be as far left as it gets in America---describes the raid as "bungled" and "botched" and devotes a large part of the article to citing the denials of NATO officials. "Bungled" and "botched" don't seem to cover the morally outrageous crime of slaying civilians then covering it up and blaming it on their family members. Those words seem, in fact, quite weak and non-condemnatory. But it's the best moral defense the U.S. media has to offer. A week later and the incident is pretty much long forgotten; the <iq>Democrats in control of Congress [will not] rush to set up special committees to investigate the murderous facts behind this admission of atrocity</iq> as so very sarcastically suggested in the post <a href="http://chris-floyd.com/component/content/article/1-latest-news/1952-the-muted-plain-anticipating-the-wake-of-the-wikileaks-revelation.html" source="" author="Chris Floyd">The Muted Plain: Anticipating the Wake of the Wikileaks Revelation</a>. The crime---sorry, morally unsupportable acts---depicted in the video are but a single example of a pattern of practice. Slaying civilians is one crime. But the other crime is the cover-up, the supression by the Pentagon, the constant attempts to prevent the American people from finding out how its military does business in its name. This crime is even worse than the predecessor because it acknowledges that a crime was committed and, instead of ensuring that such crimes do not recur, tries instead to erase them from history. Killed some Reuter's reporters? Suppress the video. Killed some pregnant women? Remove evidence from the crime scene. That the Pentagon goes to great lengths to cover up such incidents is evidence that they are fully aware that their actions would not be considered acceptable by a majority of Americans. They know that what they are doing is wrong, but continue to do so. Is it because they are evil? No. The military is an organism like any other, and likewise responds to stimuli. The military is filled with members that are intensely loyal to one another. These members also have unthinking hatred for the enemy instilled in them. For some of the more overt racists, this is too generous a formulation, but it is essentially true: Americans are subjected to a tremendous amount of propaganda and soldiers even more so. It is fair to say that the pro-America and anti-foreigner indoctrination affects nearly every soldier. The citizens of other countries are sub-human at best in this world-view. The military also knows that a lost soldier results in not only emotional pain but in trouble for those involved. A loss of villages full of the enemy or collateral damage is often ignored. How else would any other organism respond? That the military works like this is not only understandable from the standpoint of motivation, but also from the standpoint of statistics. How else do Americans imagine that the war has cost <iq>hundreds of thousands of dead innocent civilians in Iraq</iq> if the U.S. military---with its incredible amount of murderous hardware---was always on its best behavior? As Greenwald puts it, attacks on groups of people of all stripes <iq>is what we do</iq>. And we do it for the reasons outline above: To save our own asses or those of our compatriots, we are willing to accept untold deaths of insignificant others. Do you think you might die if try to get back to your base through a neighborhood known to have a few snipers? Call in air support and have them bomb the whole neighborhood flat from 20,000 feet. Sure, the attack probably killed hundreds of innocents as well as the snipers, but <i>they don't matter</i>. <h>Whom to Punish?</h> But it's not just the person who calls in the air strike who is at fault: It's the whole chain of command that allows such murder in our name. As Greenwald points out: <bq>As the video demonstrates, the soldiers in the Apache did not take a single step -- including killing those unarmed men who tried to rescue the wounded -- without first receiving formal permission from their superiors.</bq> However, it is more than a bit disingenuous to absolve the soldiers in the Apache of all wrongdoing. They are part of the wink-and-nod agreement about how things work. You can cite the Milgram experiment to "prove" that <i>any</i> person in the same situation would react in the same way---as if morality didn't exist at all. You could claim that focusing on the soldiers actually perpetrating the murders increases the likelihood that those ordering the murders go scot-free. Though this is possible---even likely---it is likewise morally inconscionable to let the soldiers avoid punishment. One could argue that they are indoctrinated, brainwashed. They live in an environment that encourages their obedience to orders, that trains them to believe that they are absolved of all sin when they unthinkingly carry them out. They are trained to hate that which they unthinkingly shoot. They are taught that the enemy is inhuman, alien, incomprehensible and bent on killing them and wiping out everyone they know and love. They may believe fervently that those they kill would gladly reciprocate given the chance. You can argue that these soldiers are products of their environment and situation. It is interesting to note how much weight such arguments carry when applied to soldiers and how little similar arguments carry when applied to inner-city youth. Why are Americans so quick to absolve their soldiers' bad behavior? Is it because they feel guilt for using those soldiers as shields against their own fears? Why is the decision to absolve so knee-jerk, as if were a wholly reasonable conclusion instead of one to which one arrives, with heavy heart, after long consideration and soul-searching? Soldiers burn down villages, flatten neighborhoods, shoot up civilians---and then try to cover it all up. And we are willing to allow them all this because (A) they are doing it all to protect us and (B) they are doing it to far-off, unknown others in a far-off, unknown places. We may be willing to forgive them, but are their acts truly forgivable? As noted above, the video shows the soldiers carefully asking for and receiving authorization every step of the way as they floated God-like above the people below. The officers approved everything for them. But are we really absolving people with such massive firepower of all responsibility for thought, for morality? Just because Stanley Milgram showed that most people are evil fucks in the right situation? Just because the Stanford Prison Experiment showed how easily most people are brainwashed? The soldiers carefully worded their requests in order to elicit the right response. The officers authorized because the punishment for losing a chopper and soldiers to an RPG overwhelmingly exceeds that for killing innocent Iraqis. In fact, as demonstrated above, both parties are equally aware that the rules do not allow for any dead, innocent Iraqis. They are all insurgents once they're dead. The first hail of bullets tore up the entire street as well as the crowd of people. Against all odds, one of the victims survived. The second hail of bullets was targeted at what one of the soldiers called "an SUV ... no, a Bongo Truck", whatever the hell that is. Presumably it's code for something dangerous that needs to be blown up because---<i>on that description alone</i>---the commanding officer gave clearance to fire. The soldiers did not describe the situation as "it looks like they're picking up wounded in an impromptu ambulance". No, instead, we hear them muttering "pick up a gun, c'mon, pick up a gun", looking for an excuse to open fire. They received the go-ahead without a weapon in evidence and first on two men carrying another, clearly heavily-wounded man back to their truck. They opened fire on a truck with two little faces peeking out of the passengeer side. We were to find out later that the driver of the truck went into danger with his two children in order to save any survivors---and was filled with lead for his efforts. Is it too harsh to call this murder? No. Would these actions be considered murder in almost any other context? Yes. It is only because the U.S. declares war on and then invades another country that this situation exists at all. We brought whatever danger those pilots were in on ourselves. Sure, they feared for their lives, but they are in an incredibly advantageous position vis-ŗ-vis the Iraqis. The Iraqis have much more to fear from the soldiers than vice versa. But, when the soldiers apply indiscriminate force to allay their miniscule fears they are still considered by many to only be defending themselves. Comedian and political critic Bill Hicks already pointed this out during the <i>last</i> Gulf War in a bit called <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKfFpi0qLgM" source="YouTube" author="">Arming the World</a>. <bq quote_style="none">We keep arming these little countries then we go and blow the shit out of em. We're like the bullies of the world, you know. We're like <i>Jack Palance</i> in the movie <i>Shane</i>. <b>Palance:</b> <n>[Throwing the pistol at the sheep herder's feet]</n> "Pick it up." <b>Little guy:</b> "I don't wanna pick it up mister, you'll shoot me." <b>Palance:</b> "Pick up the gun." <b>Little guy:</b> "Mister, I don't want no trouble. I just came down town here to get some hard rock candy for my kids, some gingham for my wife. I don't even know what gingham is, but she goes through about 10 rolls a week of that stuff. I ain't looking for no trouble mister." <b>Palance:</b> "Pick up the gun." <b>Little guy:</b> <n>[Hesitantly starts to pick up the gun]</n> <b>Palance:</b> <n>[Shoots twice thunderously]</n> "You all saw him. He had a gun."</bq> <h>Appeal to the Wallet, not Morality</h> And what of the psychologically damaged goods that return to us after they are finished waging war? That is a matter that hits much closer to home, doesn't it? Since the moral argument so rarely establishes a foothold in the American conscience, perhaps the economic one can, as it so often does. Instead of appealing to a sense of moral outrage, appeal instead to the wallet. It's the only thing that matters in America, if you've been following along. These damaged soldiers are, more often than not, a menace to their families, their neighborhoods and themselves. They are treated poorly and consigned to the lowest echelons of society. If we take care of them properly, they will cost us dearly; if they do not, they still will, but in other ways. That argument is, I think, far too abstract: Again, the people most affected by the rampaging of returning soldiers are those that had nothing to do with starting or continuing this war. And then there are the drone pilots, who have been bombing civilians for years and who go to work right in the good old continental U.S. America's is a demented obsession that seeks to solve all problems militarily when, in fact, almost none can be truly <i>solved</i> in this way. Instead, like the Hydra of Hercules, violence only begets violence, ad infinitum. <h>Armchair Generals and Other Supporters</h> Just about the only people defending these actions are the same armchair generals who started these wars in the first place. They and their stupid, immoral horde of supporters, who are perfectly willing to allow the slaughter of millions of innocents in order to allay their wholly irrational fears. The true left and the military themselves do not allow themselves the luxury of fooling themselves about the real nature of war. But, as put so nicely in the article <a href="http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2010/04/people-thought-obama-would-be-progressive-because-hes-black-big-mistake-but-he-could-still-be-the-mo.html" source="3QuarksDaily" author="Evert Cilliers" title="People thought Obama would be progressive because he's black. Big mistake. But he could still be the most transformative president since FDR">People thought Obama would be progressive because he's black</a>: <bq>Being anti-war in America doesn't make you progressive. It just means you're not a total oaf. It means you're slightly out-of-tune with most Americans, who think our troops are heroes, when all they are is misguided, poor youngsters trained to be serial killers.</bq> Though this description is apt for many soldiers---and many Americans who mindlessly support war---there are those whose experiences have made them <i>more</i> human rather than less. It's worth citing in full one soldier who wrote to Glenn Greenwald: <bq>90% of what occurs in that video has been commonplace in Iraq for the last 7 years, and the 10% that differs is entirely based on the fact that two of the gentlemen killed were journalists. War is a disgusting, horrible thing. As cliche as that excuse has become, for people to look at the natural heartbreaking nature of it and say that they're somehow anomalous just shows how far people who have not experienced war have to go to understanding it.</bq> The head honcho, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, was less forthcoming and went instead on the attack, saying <iq>Youíre looking at a situation through a soda straw and you have no context or perspective.</iq> (as cited in <a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/04/13/they-killed-the-wounded-and-drove-over-their-bodies-iraqis-speak-about-wikileaks-video-but-who-is-listening/" source="AlterNet" author="Liliana Segura" title="'They Killed the Wounded and Drove Over Their Bodies': Iraqis Speak About WikiLeaks Video, But Who Is Listening?">Iraqis Speak About WikiLeaks Video, But Who Is Listening?</a>) Gates should aim that accusation reflexively. That's not to say that there aren't interesting opinions that are more supportive of the helicopter crew than this author is willing to be. There are: This massive discussion on Reddit, <a href="http://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/bmu2d/saw_the_video_wikileaks_posted_heres_a_measured/" title="Saw the video Wikileaks posted; here's a measured interpretation from someone who's been over there">Saw the video Wikileaks posted</a> is full of views far more nuanced than those voiced in the mostly jingoistic media. Unfortunately, many of the clearer voices from the "supporter" camp still end up slipping in stuff like this: <bq>As for the van that was attacked, I'll admit that it's slightly sketchier, but I'll clarify that by noting that insurgents often clean up their own wounded, so an black van showing up with three or four adult men who immediately jump out and start aiding wounded insurgents is absolutely suspicious enough to make a case for engaging it.</bq> The attack to which the comment refers is the most disturbing part of the video. It's exactly as the commenter describes: The helicopter fires on unarmed men picking up bodies. What the commenter and many others in his or her camp doesn't want to acknowledge is that it doesn't matter that those people might also be insurgents. If the U.S. wants to insist on calling everything it does a "war" in order to ensure domestic support, then it has to abide by the laws of war to which it is a signatory. Shoe on the other foot: How would the U.S. feel about its own medical personnel being slaughtered as they tried to rescue the wounded? Such a line of argumentation is so tedious because it hasn't a leg to stand on: Anyone arguing that their side is morally entitled to protections of tactics to which the other side is not is not contributing materially to a rational discussion. <h>Military good; Government bad</h> There is also this interview on <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/online/jesse-ventura-we-have-been-practicing-terrorism-for-50-years/" source="" author="">FOX News with Jesse Ventura</a>, a former Navy Seal, professional wrestler, movie star and governor of Minnesota and now an outspoken critic of American foreign policy. He, too, says, <iq>Iím giving you a veteran whoís been there, not a coward who hasnít been [...] notice it's us veterans that are the [sic] least want to go to war.</iq> He may be a 9--11 truther, but not everything he believes is a lie. And he seems to have a much better grasp of the implications of war than the guy who interviews him. That guy can only see military solutions: either we use troops or nukes. It's good to see people like Ventura who do not accept the military-is-the-hammer-for-every-nail mindset. Unfortunately, the President isn't one of them. It's hard to think of a President who could completely avoid military solutions to problems. Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton? All fond of lobbing missiles. Carter? Got the ball rolling in Afghanistan, though he did resort to military means remarkably little for a U.S. president. Obama? Escalating the hell out of Afghanistan as we speak. The article <a href="http://www.alternet.org/world/146406/moyers:_obama's_bad_gamble_on_afghanistan_--_100,000_soldiers_used_as_chips_for_a_bet_the_us_can't_win" source="AlterNet" author="Bill Moyers" title="Obama's Bad Gamble on Afghanistan -- 100,000 Soldiers Used as Chips for a Bet the US Can't Win">Obama's Bad Gamble on Afghanistan</a> includes a medium-length interview with Andrew Bacevich, who <iq>served 23 years, some of them in Vietnam</iq> and has written extensively and eloquently on the U.S. penchant for making war. He argues convincingly that the situation in Afghanistan---among many others---are not best solved by the military or the Pentagon. In recent decades, Americans have gotten accustomed to thinking that the military actually <i>should</i> be building schools, educating citizens and feeding the hungry. The media trains Americans to believe that government is useless and too costly---unless it's the military. The military! Now there's an organization that can do no wrong and can never cost too much. But it's ridiculous to think that they can "fix" other countries. They are trained to destroy, not to fix. Instead, as suggested by Bacevich, <bq>I mean, why, if indeed the purpose of the exercise in Afghanistan is to, I mean, to put it crudely, drag this country into the modern world, why put a four-star general in charge of that? Why not put a successful mayor of a big city? Why not put a legion of social reformers? Because the war in Afghanistan is not a war as the American military traditionally conceives of war.</bq> Why not indeed? It would probably be a hell of a lot cheaper and a hell of a lot more effective. The military costs a lot because they have managed to convince the people that losing even a single soldier is too much. With rules like that, the sky's the limit for costs and the sky's the limit for amenities. Gas costs $100 per gallon in Afghanistan? It's worth it! A soldier costs $1 million per year? It's worth it! Health care for millions? Let's nearly have a civil war about it. Ridiculous. Bacevich again: <bq>Well, we don't learn from history. And there is this persistent, and I think almost inexplicable belief that the use of military force in some godforsaken country on the far side of the planet will not only yield some kind of purposeful result, but by extension, will produce significant benefits for the United States.</bq> How brainwashed can we actually be? We didn't know where Afghanistan was when the Russians invaded, then we were told to hate them because they blew up the World Trade Center. We invaded, flattened what wasn't flat already, scattered the Taliban...and watched them re-form. Nothing was accomplished because we didn't even know what we wanted to accomplish. We wanted to blow shit up and look big and strong and prove that the world had not moved on without us. We wanted to prove that we had the biggest rockets and we could make everyone else suffer far more than we did. We wanted to win at a loser's game. Bacevich again: <bq>We are now close to a decade into what the Pentagon now calls, "The Long War." And it is a war in which one-half of one percent of the American people bear the burden. And the other 99.5 percent basically go on about their daily life, as if the war did not exist.</bq> But it does exist and it costs all of us so much every day. But for Americans, it's an opportunity cost that goes wanting. Delivering freedom from the barrel of a gun is a stupid concept that the sleepwalking masses mutter to themselves in order to avoid having to think about how much death and destruction their money is buying; in order to avoid having to think about how much health care and education and clean living it <i>isn't</i> buying at home. The article <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175228/" source="Tom Dispatch" author="Tom Engelhardt">Numbers to Die For</a> addresses this disparity that hides in plain sight, invisible to the brainwashed masses: <bq>Itís striking, of course, that all this is happening at a moment when, domestically, small businesses canít get loans and close to 10% of the population is officially out of work, while state governments are desperately scrabbling for every available dollar (and some that arenít), even as they cut what would once have been considered basic services. In contrast, the Pentagon is fighting its distant wars as if American pockets had no bottoms, the national treasury had no limits, and there was quite literally no tomorrow.</bq> <h>Building Foreign Armies</h> For those countries in which our strategy-free military roams, the costs are far more tangible. They get to lose loved ones, infrastructure and decades of advancement. They lose safety and security. They lose freedom because a foreign army cannot deliver freedom. But those abroad, those under our bootheels, they know. They know what's being done to them and who's doing it. <bq>[...] ultimately, the perpetuation of this unnecessary war does, I think, serve to exacerbate the problems within the Islamic world, rather than reducing those problems.</bq> We lose thousands of soldiers, which is supposed to sound like a lot. And it is. To Americans. But to the country that was invaded by those soldiers, it doesn't seem like enough. To the country that tallies up a thousand dead for every dead U.S. soldier, it doesn't seem like nearly enough. Iraqis aren't crying rivers over the paltry few dead Americans. And even Americans pretend to care, but they don't insist on knowing more about the dead. Most American's don't know anyone in the military. And the military? They understandably only care about getting in and out without getting hurt. They might have cared about more at one point, but that's all they're required to care about. That's why the video doesn't bother them: They listened to it and heard that everything was done according to the rules, so they're in the clear. There's no need to apologize because they did nothing wrong. And in the States, an apology or an admission of culpability opens one up to litigation, so apologies and common humanity and empathy have long since fallen by the wayside <i>because we can't afford it</i>. What a funny old world. But the video shows legal acts that are <i>unjust</i>. What to think of a person whose only thought on seeing this video is that it "looks OK"? Does it really? How far from OK is a person like that? It looks like some soldiers rained down death from above on people who were mostly innocent. And the sheer number of innocents that have died in very similar situations suggests that that interpretation is the correct one---and not the one that deems the video to depict a "dangerous situation". They reported spotting an RPG immediately and obtained permission to fire. Then they flew on for at least half a minute before opening fire. That doesn't really sound like the actions of people worried that the person with the alleged RPG was actually going to fire on them. The <a href="http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/260785/april-12-2010/exclusives---julian-assange-unedited-interview" source="The Colbert Report">unedited interview</a> with Julian Assange, one of the founders of WikiLeaks was quite good, with Colbert taking a more thoughtful tack than usual and Assange making good points, but not glibly. He clearly understands how difficult the subject of war is, but knows that the solution can be nothing other than "stop having them". <bq quote_style="none"> <b>Colbert:</b> Until I knew something about Baghdad, I could assume it was paradise. <b>Assange:</b> That's true. <b>Colbert:</b> But this footage puts a face on war that says that people get killed. <b>Assange:</b> A lot of soldiers have said through blogs and through email, 'Well, war is war.' <b>Colbert:</b> Exactly! War is war. Now I've never fought in a war and therefore, I don't judge it. How can you? <b>Assange:</b> I say, war is war, but what is war? <b>Colbert:</b> War is hell. <b>Assange:</b> Exactly. And we show war is war and you may make the justification that, well, bad things happen in war, but what is it? Well, this is what it is. ... <b>Colbert:</b> You're implying that the only people that suffer in war are civilians, not the soldiers. <b>Assange:</b> Soldiers are debased in war and it's one of the things and that's one of the thing this video shows, is that the character of the young soldiers in the air has been corrupted by the process of war, so we should have some sympathy for soldiers that go to war, but understand that this is the inevitable outcome when we send them there. So stop sending them. </bq> <h>An information-free Zone</h> <img attachment="cnnaljazeeraweb.jpg" align="left" class="frame">And the media, as usual, is partly to blame for completely abdicating their duty to inform the public. Our corporate media are beholden to their sponsors (which includes the Pentagon) and tell the story that endangers their bottom line the least. While understandable according to the rules of a capitalist media system, it leads to situations like that in America today, where the populace is drastically un- and misinformed about issues affecting them that it is indistinguishable from active government propaganda. A comparison of the home pages for <a href="http://www.i-am-bored.com/bored_link.cfm?link_id=48547">CNN and Al Jazeera</a> (see left) illustrates the point nicely: where Al Jazeera features coverage of the video prominently, CNN offers only Tiger Woods and iPad news. There will be those who argue that withholding information is necessary, that in this way the media keeps vital information not only from the American public, but also from our enemies. The media is not "failing" or "traitorous to democracy" but instead "saving American lives". But, as nicely put in the post <a href="http://www.balloon-juice.com/2010/04/06/the-secret-war-in-laos-wasnt-a-secret-to-laotians/" source="Balloon Juice" author="John Cole">The Secret War in Laos Wasnít a Secret to Laotians</a>, the rest of the world doesn't learn about American injustice from CNN: <bq>They learn about [injustices and crimes] because an American helicopter just lit up their next door neighbor and his girls with a 30mm chain gun because he stopped to pick up a bleeding photographer and help him. They learn it because it was their son or their nephew who was whisked away to Abu Ghraib and sexually humiliated and threatened by dogs.</bq> Despite this, the self-suppression continues, with CNN having actually shown at least parts of the video, but with a big, black box over the most sensitive portions (as documented in <a href="http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/04/07/iraq_video/index.html" source="Salon" author="Glenn Greenwald">Follow-up points on the WikiLeaks video</a>). It's a grainy black-and-white video so it's not likely to run afoul of the censors, so why block the video? Because it provides evidence that goes against the grain of the story CNN and their news compatriots are telling about America. The video's been seen 5.5 million times on YouTube---it's likely that some of those were even Americans. This brainwashing leads to a populace all too easily swayed into supporting war---the current clusterfucks in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan are evidence enough but even more damning is the fact that attacking Iran is actually bandied about as a necessity by some of our legislative heroes. Many Americans can't see past their training and their soul-drenching fear to consider any solutions other than military ones. It's why there's nary a peep about military spending when every penny spent on an orphan is discussed on the evening news. For those all-too-frequent victims of American violence, it's not much fun living in a world where military solutions are the only ones that are seriously entertained. And, hell, Americans live in the first world, where the problems engendered by solving everything with violence are largely academic. It's not like anybody's blowing up <i>my</i> wedding party. And, what if the media would report more fairly and openly on the true horrors of war and each American's part in it? The hope is that Americans more viscerally aware of the horrors of war would be less likely to vote for an incumbent who authorized one or more of those wars. That's kind of a long shot, though. Americans hardly give two shits about dead soldiers they don't even know: Why would they suddenly care about dead swarthy foreigners? The justification for slaughter like that shown in the video is that Americans must be kept safe. But the safest soldier is one that never left home at all. Americans more knowledgable about the horrors of waging war wouldn't automatically be less likely to wage it, would they? The problem is not necessarily an indifference to human suffering; it's that Americans prioritize assuaging their irrational fear far above the rights of foreigners to keep breathing. As long as the pants-shitting terror machine that is the American media continues to run, Americans will still elect to send dozens of thousands of soldiers into harm's way to keep the boogeyman in its closet.