Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Fuss This Time

"Let no one ever, from henceforth say one word in any way countenancing war. It is dangerous even to speak of how here and there the individual may gain
some hardship of soul by it. For war is hell, and those who institute it are criminals. Were there even anything to say for it, it should not be said; for its spiritual disasters far outweigh any of its advantages."

-- Siegfried Sassoon, WW I Veteran

So much fuss about photographs of our countrymen and women abusing prisoners – rather, “terrorists”. I don’t want to see photos of human beings with light-sticks shoved up their rectums…or beaten senseless…or raped… or photographed with their tormentors …or any of the other atrocities that President Obama insists are too sensitive to share with me -- and you, and “the Muslim world.” But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t see them: they illustrate what we have become.

The nonsense that these images would “inflame the Muslim world” is moot. After decades of war, that world knows far better than America the effects of war -- it is already inflamed! More Americans ought to be inflamed since our tax dollars pay our abusive countrymen and women. Instead of fussing about our visual sensitivities our president should focus on our moral and cultural insensitivities!

The fundamental issue is not whether these photos belong in the public domain but whether releasing them would realign mainstream American thinking about war: from the worldview that war is, somehow, “good” or “patriotic,” or “for national security” to the worldview that it is morally, legally, and financially destructive, debasing, and pornographic. Realigning our thinking would benefit this One Nation under God – or gods -- and empower our community to utterly refuse war.

This latest porn from the war zones is a distraction from the central questions: Why do We, the People allow our children and fellow citizens to be used up by war? Why do we bicker about seeing photographs of troops’ and contractors’ actions in prisons yet pay little attention to their day-to-day actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, now, Pakistan? Would We, the People have prevented the War on Terror if we’d seen photos of America’s last go-rounds of war? Do we even remember them? Bush senior’s tenure brought the abysmal destruction of Panama City, the “turkey shoot” massacres of Mutla Ridge, and the abandonment of south Iraq’s Shia to Saddam’s forces. Clinton’s tenure included a dozen years of devastating economic sanctions that killed half a million Iraqi children.

In our hearts and heads Americans know what war is about…and we choose to address the superficial symptoms and not the underlying pathologies.

We’ve known at least since Vietnam that troops and officers caught in war’s madness are implicated in horrors that far outstrip civilian imaginations. Yet we insist that my son, my husband, my friend, my neighbor… could not abuse prisoners, kill and rape civilians, or murder children. But they can…and they do.

We are shocked – shocked! - that our troops are killing themselves at sky rocketing rates. Yet we’ve known since the American Civil War about war’s psychological trauma – called “soldiers’ heart” back then, “battle fatigue” and “shell shock” during World Wars I and II, “Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome” during Vietnam, and, now, “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Vietnam era veterans are still killing themselves decades after that war ended. We’ll see a lot more suicides and a lot more War on Terror veterans joining their Vietnam-era band-of-brothers on America’s streets.

The surprise is not that troops are killing themselves but that military training was unable to snuff out their humanity and their shame. To rectify this lapse, the military is turning to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – UAVs or drones – to bypass the messy complexities of training that fails to numb trainees. There’ll be no bickering about photos when UAVs rule – out of sight, out of mind -- although we may reiterate the national lament of Bush junior’s tenure: “Why do they hate us?”

If President Obama wants to protect The American People from “anti-American sentiment,” let him orate about what really happens in war: we betray our children, our souls, our integrity, and our honor; we maintain the veneer of “freedom” to gloss over the reality that our economy depends upon war; we obfuscate our oligarchic imperialism by redefining democracy; we sacrifice our idealistic and vulnerable youth to the pentagon’s version of patriotism and an arms industry that enriches a few; we murder civilians and call it “collateral damage”; and we scapegoat our troops by acting as if there is something different, more heinous, about this war, this batch of photographs, and them.

Then let him support The American People as we grapple with real challenges: how to wrestle our tax dollars back from those who’ve bankrupted us; how to realign an economy focused on manufacturing weapons that pulverize human beings to one focused on enterprises that educate and empower human beings.

It is when we grasp what those photos say about what America has become that we can envision and co-create who we want to be.

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