Saturday, October 14, 2006

We Have Become the Evil We Deplore

It's been three days since Johns Hopkins released that study concluding that roughly 655,000 Iraqis died since March 2003 who would not have died but for the U.S. invasion. The news caused an uproar on Wednesday, when it was first reported: Right-wingers were up in arms (pun fully intended) over a mortality count they called "outlandish"; "complete and utter crap"; "another bogus study" (the other "bogus" study being the 2004 one by the same team of researchers concluding that at least 100,000 Iraqis had died in the war); "absolute bull"; a "highly dubious ... October surprise"; a "pseudo-scientific hit piece."

Liberal blogger Glenn Greenwald called it "[t]he news item that is certain to (and ought to) dominate our political discussions for the next several days at least. ..."

I thought when I read those words that Glenn was giving the U.S. media and blogosphere too much credit. Now it seems I was right. The ruckus did not even last 24 hours. Mark Foley's cyberspace seductions of teenage boys and the Republican cover-up of same took up more space on aggregators for days upon days than did the news that half a million, plus at least 150,000 more, Iraqis have been wiped out -- "liberated" from their own lives, you might say -- and their deaths justified with claims of terrorist connections and caches of WMDs that did not exist.

I want to try hard not to generalize, because I know that the mouthings of a relatively few high-profile bloggers with a taste for brutality and slaughter do not necessarily mean most, or even large numbers, of Americans feel the same way. That said, much of what I have been reading online -- not just in the last three days, but for months now -- points to a deadening of feeling in this country toward any human life that is not American or Western in general. More than that, I see a growing number of commentators in what most would consider "respectable" media venues openly advocating mass murder as strategic foreign policy.

Commentators like this one, posting on Sister Toldjah, a high-profile conservative blog [emphasis mine]:

Casualty rate, particularly the other sides [sic], is a poor way of judging success. As I said, if you kill all of them, then the original problem is definitely solved. The US tries too hard to limit civilian casualties, to the point of negatively impacting military operations and increasing our casualty rate. One of the major problems in Iraq, one which wasn't as big an issue in WWII, is that the civilian population hasn't suffered enough. People tend not to whine as much about this or that if they are just glad to be alive, after Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Regensburg, and Tokyo, the civilians were much more tractable and easier to manage then [sic] the Iraqi's [sic] are because they were much happier that it was just all finally over. Might be an ugly truth, but truth it is.

An extraordinary statement, don't you think? Especially in view of the fact that Iraqis (and Americans) were told that a key purpose of the U.S. invasion was to liberate Iraqis. Now we have home-grown stalinists and nazis saying that Iraqi civilians haven't suffered enough.

And the same writer again, in response to a detractor (whose comment is in italics):

The very most basic, elementary principle of warfare is that the force used be proportionate to the goal and that civilian casualties also be proportionate to the goal. That isn't liberal-speak; that's West Point, day one.

War as practiced by modern Western militaries, don't assume it's a military golden rule. It hasn't been practiced that way by most military leaders throughout history, and only the staggeringly efficient and accurate modern weapons allows us to even consider such an approach today. When you can destroy a hardened target with one or two smart bombs, you can afford to be picky about collateral damage and casualties. If you don't have the ability to destroy the target without damaging the surroundings and killing civilians, that does not make that target suddenly unimportant or immune from attack. Sucks, but that's the way it is. Honorable, modern democracies worry about civilian casualties, on both sides, brutal dictators don't care, which is why sanctions seldom work against rogue regimes, they care nothing about their people, only their leaders [sic] power. Eventually you will reach a point where you can't afford to be so picky. We are too picky now, I'd not willingly trade the life of one of our servicemen for 1000 collateral civilian casualties.

Put another way: "We" (the U.S.) need to become more like brutal dictators who care nothing about their people.

Furthermore, the statement, "I'd not willingly trade the life of one of our servicemen for 1000 collateral civilian casualties," makes the writer no different from the terrorists who crashed planes into the World Trade Center. Indeed, it's the mindset of a psychopath. The lives of thousands of innocent human beings in Iraq are not real or meaningful or valuable -- just as the lives of thousands of innocent human beings in the Twin Towers were not real or meaningful or valuable to the hijackers who killed them. All human life is an abstraction, except for the one human life, or the highly particular human lives, that are real for you.

Arthur Silber at Once Upon a Time...... nails it:

If you have ever wondered how a serial murderer -- a murderer who is sane and fully aware of the acts he has committed -- can remain steadfastly convinced of his own moral superiority and show not even the slightest glimmer of remorse, you should not wonder any longer.

The United States government is such a murderer. It conducts its murders in full view of the entire world. It even boasts of them. Our government, and all our leading commentators, still maintain that the end justifies the means -- and that even the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocents is of no moral consequence, provided a sufficient number of people can delude themselves into believing the final result is a "success."

We are a nation that has voluntarily renounced all its most crucial values, and all its founding principles. We can appeal all we want to "American exceptionalism," but any "exceptionalism" that remains ours is that of a mass murderer without a soul, and without a conscience. We have destroyed the most basic foundation of liberty -- and the nature and meaning of our act has already, in less than a couple of weeks, almost entirely vanished from public discussion. It is useless to appeal to any "American" sense of morality: we have none. It does not matter how immense the pile of corpses grows: we will not surrender or even question our delusion that we are right, and that nothing we do can be profoundly, unforgivably wrong.

Remember the five-year-old Iraqi girl who was killed by the same bombs that killed al-Zarqawi. ...
For most people, the five-year-old Iraqi girl has no reality. Nor do her parents, or the other members of her family, or all the countless other Iraqis whose lives have been devastated and altered forever by what we have done.

Even now, we continue to talk about all this as if it concerns only us, and as if only our intentions and our goals matter.

Governments are not moral actors. They never have been, and I doubt they ever will be. That's why democracy is so important. It's up to each individual person in this country -- each individual American -- to put the conscience and the ethical, moral center into government. Instead, we are allowing the indifference and immorality of our government to deaden our hearts.

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