Monday, 12 March 2012

This Is Not Who We Are?

This is not who we are.

The words of US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton today as she reacted to the brutal murders of 16 innocent Afghan villagers - including two year old babies shot in their heads - by a US trooper who set out on a long walk from his base with slaughter his sole aim. Clinton looked suitably shocked as President Obama called Afghan President Karzai to offer apologies and condolences.

Not who we are?

Doubtless, within hours, or days at most, the American soldier will be declared insane, his terrible act of destruction the foaming fury of a madman out of control, a man possessed by crazy delusions. Not one of us at all. Perhaps, deep down, not even responsible for his own awful actions - gripped instead by some sort of traumatic stress disorder, in turn a symptom of the great stress he was under while on his fourth tour of duty in war torn Afghanistan. Indeed, when you look at it that way, perhaps his actions were caused by the Afghans. Maybe, deep down, these unruly people with their civil war and unholy faith were really asking for it. Perhaps, he had become one of them in his red mist blood lust...

Not who we are?

Tell us another Hilary. The soldier's actions were extreme, in some respects, but his only "crime" was to do what he did without being under orders at the time. Because increasingly, the American military has become defined by precisely this sort of arrogant brutality, a death-soaked zeitgeist that lifts so-called western civilisation above the value of troublesome mountain peasants and Muslims. This was evident in spade in Farenheit 9/11, when Michael Moore interviewed American tank crews who revealed that driving into Iraq in 2003, they sat in their tanks with their MP3 players streaming music to kill by as they shot up the ill-equipped Iraqi fighters outside their mobile armoured fortress - "It was like a computer game!" one gunner approvingly revealed."The ultimate rush!"

And so it went on - the horrors of Abu Ghraib, where American troops subjected Iraqi prisoners, many taken there on the slenderest of pretexts, to tortures and "heavy interrogation" that a good number did not survive. Photos that were released were just the tip of the iceberg - showing hooded prisoners menaced by dogs or threatened with electrocution. President Obama decided in the end to suppress hundreds of photographs, including many allegedly showing the rape of many of the women prisoners kept by the US soldiers in the former Saddam prison.

And then there was the case of six US soldiers charged with plotting for some weeks before seizing a 14 year old Iraqi girl, Abeer Qasim Hamza, and repeatedly raping her. They then murdered her, her 5 year old sister and her parents and set their bodies on fire. The crime only came to light when one of the soldiers revealed the incident months later to his psychologist.

Abeer - raped and murdered by the US army
The same army later spawned the "Kill Squad" in Afghanistan under one Sargent Morlock, who led his men in killing innocent Afghans for sport. Other instances that have come to light - collecting body parts as trophies, playing football with the decapitated heads of Afghans, firing at random into queues of civilian vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan, and pissing on the corpses of the dead. There are many, many more, few covered by the mass media and, of course, there will be many others we know nothing about. 

What drives them to these things? The standard excuse is stress and fear - except that nearly all these cases have taken place outside of combat zones, where the perpetrators were in no fear of their lives and where their victims represented no threat at all. The arrogant dehumanizing of their enemies by these men reaches something of a hubristic crescendo in their apparent eagerness to display their exploits, caught on ubiquitous mobile phone cameras, on youtube and Facebook. The immensity of their war crimes seems to slip by these "warriors".

Referring to the Kill Team in an interview following yesterday's atrocities, Mark Boal, screenplay writer of the Hurt Locker, explained a key motive was boredom and frustration with lack of kills of Taliban fighters. He reported a high level of racism endemic among the regiment involved and how this, in turn, affected their attitude and behaviour towards the Afghans. No hearts and minds here - just pure, brute force. Brute force and profit, of course - because alongside the US army in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the Blackwater mercenary company has implanted thousands of security contractors into both countries. Even less disciplined that the regulars, Blackwater has been associated with dozens of violent incidents, including killing 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Nisour square in Bagdhad in order to "clear a path" through people shopping at market.

From the My Lai massacre of 500 innocent villagers in Vietnam to the gunning down of ambulances and children by whooping helicopter gunners above Bagdhad in the video below (released by Wikileaks), the brutality of the American army is frankly far beyond doubt. If the Taliban are vicious, the US forces are constrained purely by the light restraint of vaguely possible bad publicity, a factor that clearly has little impact on what happens on the ground.
American soldiers raped and killed over 500 people at My Lai.
But then, it is not just the poor bloody infantry on the front line defending the corrupt Karzai regime, the young western lives being thrown away on a pointless war, that are responsible for the brutality of the American war machine. The massive carnage among non-combatant civilians that goes by virtually unacknowledged, allowing both the alienation of the Afghans and the continuing brutalisation of often young soldiers, is in fact a product of formal American military policy and planning.

In spite of the dreadful deaths and injuries, Afghanistan actually represents one of the safest wars for US and allied troops in history. The casualty rate pales into insignificance beside the tolls of the second world war, and even of the Korean war. This is because, ever since Vietnam, driven by the exposure of sensationalist 24 hour TV news, US policy has been to promote military adventures as being comfortable, even risk free - the safety of their own troops utterly paramount regardless of the impact on innocent civilians - defined now by the sick and sinister sanitised term, collateral damage.

Hence the use of drones, piloted from thousands of miles away, to spy on and increasingly attack ground targets - indiscriminately causing collateral damage. And plans are increasingly concentrating on making the US military capable of massive armed interventions with the use of fewer and fewer soldiers by means of "smart" weapons and robot technology. Popular with western media for its protection of western soldiers, this strategy will simply make armed conflict all the easier for the Pentagon and the collateral damage all the more acceptable, and the bitter harvest of terrorism and war without end all the harsher and more severe for decades to come.

The American soldier's "inexplicable" actions yesterday then become very explicable indeed - the mindset developed to turn ordinary humans into brutal killing machines inevitably dehumanizes their targets, whether combatants or civilian bystanders. With much military training neatly segued from increasingly life-like computer gaming into training programmes into reality, the boundaries are blurred between fact and fiction, like the tank commanders storming into Bagdhad to the sound of drums: and what the rogue soldier did becomes routine, becomes precisely who we are. It may not be what many of the troops put into the front-line start out being, but the cynical exploitation of their commitment - and often their dire economic circumstances when they sign up - means that the strategy and tactics of the Armed Services sooner or later makes it what they become. And, as America seeks to shore up its declining world power, we will see more and more of this in the years ahead as  the USA continues to spend more on its military than every other nation on the planet put together.

So, this is not who you are?
Are you so sure Hilary? As you stand next Commander-in-Chief Obama, you should know better.



  1. shan oakes, Green Party13 March 2012 at 02:26

    War brutalises, so this terrible event is not surprising at all. We have to stop it - ALL..NOW... Stop weapons production, stop Trident, stop our taxes being used for conflict, stop recruitment of troops. Its not about waiting for others to stop first. WE have to just stop.

  2. more cognitive dissonance ... the American (?) disease is becoming obvious everywhere in the media ... from Iranian nuclear warheads to domestic terrorism ... as a culture, I find America to be increasingly out of touch with reality