Monday, April 12, 2010

Murder Does Not Require Context


As a fellow scribe, I'll give credit where it's due: John Cory in his two part series for Reader Supported News "Of Wars and Videos" has been eloquent.

But as he admits in the opening paragraphs of part two, his offense at what happened on July 13th, 2007 in Baghdad isn't as strong as some of that he's seen since Wikileaks courageously brought the video and some context of the Apache helicopter attack to light.

I'd like to know why.

Every war, as with every dramatic movie or novel, has what we in the writing business call "dramatic spikes." Much of narrative fiction or movie-making is spent in exposition, introductions in character delineation, establishing mood, conflict, backstory, constructing plot devices and so forth. War is no different. Troop movements are boring, even heated battles can get monotonous as both sides get entrenched and peace talks amid the hostilities get bogged down in petty squabbling.

But as with every dramatic movie or novel, there are in wartime dramatic spikes, or in this case, news spikes, that offer such a shocking or unexpected revelation that it must by all rights be as widely disseminated to the public as possible, moments that actually redefine the war or our perception of it. Such a moment came in the form of the Downing Street Memo. Another came when we discovered Blackwater had murdered 17 civilians in a one-sided firefight in Nisour Sq. in Baghdad on September 16, 2007.

Both moments were dramatic because it revealed, respectively, that our military was lied into a war in which hostilities were already preordained rather than being just another option and the Nisour Square bloodbath was notable not just for its brutality against innocent civilians, many of whom being women and children but also for the coldly sociopathic response before Congress by the responsible company's founder, Erik Prince.

The Apache gunship attack on over a dozen innocent men and children is another such spike.

So how can a man who can so eloquently decry war in general, especially this one, feel removed from this years-old atrocity to the point of feeling inured to the cold-blooded sociopathy of the chopper pilots who laughed about running over a man's body with a tank and blaming others "for bringing their kids into a battle"?

Cory seems to be honestly trying to play Devil's advocate here and reminding us that none of us were very likely there and therefore cannot accurately judge what the ground conditions were, what dangers may have been faced by the men in the choppers and what their actual mindset was or actual reasons for their disgusting jocularity.

I guess the same thing could be said for the My Lai massacre. None of us, I'm assuming, were there on March 16, 1968. We know that there was exactly one American casualty and that was a black man who'd shot himself in the foot. How do we know if some of the children and babies who were among the 400+ slaughtered weren't strapped with guns or grenades?

We weren't there, either, Mr. Cory. We cannot judge. And, after all, out of the 46 men in Charlie Company who were charged with war crimes, only one got any jail time and that was for 72 hours.

But not everything requires context. Some horrors are self-evident, such as the Holocaust, yet some deny even that happened just as they deny the Apollo 11 manned lunar landing and that the earth is more than 6000 years old.

Some atrocities are so obvious and readily apparent to even sleepy, cursory examination that no context is necessary. When Sean Hannity, in the first days after Katrina made landfall, told a hysterical Shep Smith to calm down as he was in the Superdome and asked for context, Smith looked behind him and bawled, "Context, Sean?! This is your context!" pointing at the thousands who had been packed in the building and forgotten, essentially left for dead.

So, no, Mr. Cory. We didn't need to be there to see the woman and child scuttling off after they opened up on those men. We don't need to speculate if these people were terrorists using the children as human shields or just ordinary family men taking their children for a spin around their neighborhood.

And these men who carried out these war crimes don't need to be given the benefit of the doubt because their identities are not known and therefore will not likely face a military tribunal. I do not care what their state of mind was or whether or not they were employing coping mechanisms used by paramedics (a profession that saves lives, not takes them).

Maybe the rest of you have tucked away in your goldfish memories stories we'd heard of US troops derisively referring to Iraqis as "hadjis" and busting Coke bottles over their heads as we drive by them or have forgotten the once-notorious video of a mercenary randomly shooting at cars along an Iraqi freeway while playing hillbilly music.

We had rounded up untold hundreds, if not thousands of innocent Iraqis and tortured and even killed some of them in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere and sent a few soldiers to jail for those crimes and considered justice done while their families have to pick up the pieces.

Perhaps we've also forgotten that during the Vietnam war, we were also wantonly killing and torturing South Vietnamese, the very same people we went there to protect from the scourge of Communism, and considered all of them the enemy. We called them "gooks" and "slopes" and our burnt-out, paranoid military no longer made any distinctions between North and South Vietnamese. They were all, in this new-fangled yet ancient type of guerilla warfare, potentially the enemy, even the children.

However moral our reasons for invading Iraq or any other country, no matter how lofty our aims are in protecting the civilian population, the actual justice and life and death that will be dispensed to them on their streets will always begin with the ground troops and the chopper pilots and gunners that monitor them like angels of death. From 6, 7, 8000 miles away, there's only so much control a President, Secretary of Defense or Supreme Commander has over their own men. Given enough time, a war will always produce atrocities and the resultant round of lies, denials, rationalizations and coverups. It is the same old war movie or novel, only told with different place names with a different foreign language embedded in the narrative.

And, as with Vietnam and its people, we hate Iraq and its people. We wish Iraq would go away into the mist even if it's a blood mist. We eventually hate the indigenous population over whose welfare we are mandated to protect because eventually everyone sickens of war and the sacrifices it entails. They remind us of the monsters that war almost inevitably makes of those who live in it long enough.

Yet, like an incurable and stubborn disease, we remain in Iraq and attack the host body from time to time and we shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, that's what disease does." And once we've turned that corner, once we've rationalized brutalizing and murdering the civilian population, we've lost the last shred of moral credibility for invading and occupying their land to begin with.

18 Comments:

At April 12, 2010 at 1:28 PM, Blogger Utah Savage said...

There is not a word here that I disagree with. I want us out of the middle east. I want us to do here at home, what we claim we want to do for Afghanistan; Build new and better schools, give opportunities to women and children, turn farms that grow crops that kill into crops that nourish. We need so much help here. And not least, we need to rehabilate the soldiers we've turned into murderers. I want to take the billions we pay for war and use it to rebuild our economy. We must do away with the "contractors" who are just a mercenary army-paid killers where none of the rules apply. We need to start over. We need to be peacekeepers, to have a presence in the places where genocide is unchecked. We need to help with disasters, not create them.

 
At April 12, 2010 at 4:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess thats why its called war.

 
At April 12, 2010 at 4:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

War (murder) is our new economy --- we don't have anything else left.

 
At April 12, 2010 at 6:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous

I might not sure were you been but that been the way of Amerika for some time. It's just more in the open but the sheeple are use to it don't complain even when their own world is coming down around them.

Utah Savage
I would like to think that we might become peacekeepers in my life time but I don't think I'll live to 1000. Sad


Spot on JP
jo6pac

 
At April 12, 2010 at 8:56 PM, Blogger CP said...

"Julian Assange, a WikiLeaks editor, acknowledged in an interview Tuesday that it's "likely" some of the people in the video were "carrying weapons."

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/04/11/gates-defends-soldiers-iraq-shooting-video-says-footage-lacks-context/#

Let's forget for a second the video posted on Wikileaks is missing 17 minutes of footage so we don’t REALLY know what happened. The pilots saw what they thought were weapons, made sure the battle space was clear of friendly forces, and fired.

It's war, mistakes happen. To call these Soldiers murders is wrong. What about the Soldiers who are on patrol in a town or village and return fire after being fired upon. Are they murders in your eyes too? Once you start that it's a slippery slope downhill and before you know it people are showing up at Fort Bragg to spit on Soldiers when they come home. As a veteran, it would be my worst nightmare realized.

As far as the conduct of the pilots during the attack and their language, once again it’s war. One would expect you would have contempt and hatred for the enemy wouldn’t you? Maybe it’s not a side of things you are used to seeing and can’t comprehend how people could act like that. But in their eyes, at that moment for all they knew they could have just prevented the next convoy from rolling through there from getting ambushed because they just eliminated a threat. Cause for celebration.

 
At April 13, 2010 at 12:12 AM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

There's no dispute they were carrying weapons. At least one had an AK 47 and another had an RPG. So what? That isn't the issue. Like I'd pointed out in another comment, you turn a country into battle zone, the people in that country will carry weapons for their personal security. That doesn't make them terrorists any more than cowboys carrying weapons in the Old West were gunfighters and outlaws.

They tried to hide those weapons, not to aim them at the gunships. How were those men threatening in any way, shape or form?

Don't you think it's kind of odd that Wikileaks would've made such a damning admission that, oops, maybe we were wrong after throroughly sourcing this video?

You're building up these hypothetical scenarios in order to build an alternate reality of what actually happened. I don't recall seeing any ground troops in that video.

And don't you want to know what was in that missing 17 minutes? The FOIA being gutted the way it's been, whatever the govt' doesn't want you to know they don't let you know, FIOA or not.

I don't believe those Reuters journalists would've been cavorting with terrorists or looked so relaxed in their company. Those guys murdered them, plain and simple. And when you start making excuses for them and creating hypothetical scenarios to rationalize their war crimes, that's the slippery slope.

It's not enough to say, "That's war. Mistakes happen." That smacks of Rumsfeld and I and we've heard it all too many times before. Its gets old after a while. Collateral damage is not acceptable, certainly not to the families of the victims.

And, once again, this is a war that never, ever should've been started.

And, in case you haven't noticed, we around here don't accept Fox "News" as a reliable source of "fair and balanced journalism."

I've said everything I have to say on this subject.

 
At April 13, 2010 at 2:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JP,would you ever serve to protect your country?

Its pretty damn obvious just why you former wife dumped you and stops you from any contact with the
"grandson," she does'nt want the kid to grow up as a coward.

 
At April 13, 2010 at 6:57 AM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

If you knew anything about my military history, you'd know better than to say that.

There's a difference between cowardice and refusing to murder innocent civilians. It would be interesting to see if you would say that to Hugh Thompson if he was still alive. Don't know who he is? Look him up, asshole.

 
At April 13, 2010 at 12:30 PM, Blogger LanceThruster said...

My friend’s son was with Marines 1/5 for the fall of Baghdad. When I asked him what his experience over there was, the first words out of his mouth were, “We killed people for no reason.” He went on to relate how their checkpoints would regularly open up on approaching vehicles that often were full of nothing but women and children because maybe they didn’t slow down enough or heed hand signals properly. He also had to render aid to these same occupants with wounded children screaming in anquish and terror next to their dead or dying mothers and aunts. He told of a six year old girl with the back of her skull blown off by a rifle round stumbling about unaware of anything but her dead mother on the ground.

He said he learned first hand just how much we were all lied to about Iraq. His attitude was, “Support the troops, but not the mission” (this sentiment gets regularly mocked on right wing sites). Several of his friends I met at his homecoming never came back from their next tour of duty.

Other sites that I have posted this account at have said either he or I are liars(right wing of course). That’s how badly they need to deny the horror done in our name. Yes, they have given much to try to help the Iraqis, but also saw how much misery they brought due to corrupt US leadership.

 
At April 13, 2010 at 1:55 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

I've heard many stories similar to those you just mentioned.

First and foremost, they must lie to the military and to the American people before going to war. Public support for a war is essential.

Just that very fact proves that we are still a people that runs its government, not the other way around. And the sooner we come to terms with that fact, the faster we can finally start getting some respect around here and put the power back in the hands of the people where it belongs.

"Power to the people." What a concept, one that the teabaggers have been drumming home from the beginning. Sounds vaguely... Socialist, doesn't it, Lance?

 
At April 13, 2010 at 5:31 PM, Anonymous Longtime P'ville reader said...

FWIW, JP, the peoplewho got MURDERED by the chopper pilots were not carrying an RPG. The chopper pilot, operating from close to a mile away, mistook their telephoto lens for an RPG. Making the sneering chopper-snipers even more of a bunch of murderers, killing people over an asshole mistake. As for the AK, would YOU walk around in Baghdad without a security guard packing a weapon if you were there, Mr. murder-excusing CP?

 
At April 13, 2010 at 7:31 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

Jesus Christ, I thought I saw one, too. You mean there really wasn't an RPG launcher???

 
At April 13, 2010 at 7:47 PM, Blogger CP said...

JP since you brought it up, what is your military background?

Longtime, yes I would walk through Baghdad unarmed. Why draw attention to yourself. And since people are throwing the word murder around, was there a trial and conviction I missed? I believe even the SECDEF came out in their defense.

 
At April 13, 2010 at 8:52 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

Navy Seal. And at least I can state with absolute certainty that I never took out a civilian either deliberately or accidentally.

Look at that video closely again as I just did for the third time. There were two gunships firing down at those people. One appeared to be firing a .50 cal full automatic, the other seemed to be firing the 30 mm mortars (the ones that produced the flares and all the dust).

Then we lied to those who came upon the aftermath and said the two Reuters photojournalists were dead when they first got there, that they were killed in an air attack an hour before, strictly by coincidence.

Who the fuck else has an air presence anywhere in Iraq besides the Iraqi security forces? Who else has gunships? Not al Qaeda, not the insurgents. Those are ground-based troops. It's not even a question of air supremacy. We and the Iraqi military are the only ones who have any air presence whatsoever. Al Qaida or the insurgents haven't even got a fucking blimp.

So who else could've shot up those guys if not ours? Their lies aren't even plausible. It's the old, "The vase was broken when I got here, Ma," lie that kids tell.

We also used the same line in the aftermath of that massacre in Paktia province in Afghanistan on Feb. 12 '10. Our official line at first was that the two pregnant women and the teenaged girl were killed in an honor killing before we got there, meaning that the Taliban came in, slaughtered three women and the police weren't even called and the rest of the family went to bed as if nothing happened.

We now know for a fact they were US special forces, either Navy Seals or Delta Force or Rangers. They then dug the bullets out of the womens' bodies, doused them with alcohol then lied about the events.

The lies are equally identical and equally implausible and time and again we see that if enough pressure is put to bear on the Pentagon, they will have to admit they were caught in a lie.

But we don't see this enough, despite the fact that their lies are easily disproven with even a bit of ratiocination. Look at the circumstances surrounding LeVena Johnson's death in Balad. She was obviously murdered but we're supposed to believe her death was a suicide despite the blood trail leading to the tent, her dislocated shoulder, busted upper lip and loosened front teeth, the attempted immolation of her body and tent and her missing ATM card.

But not enough pressure outside the Johnson family was brought to bear on the Pentagon to confess that her death wasn't, in fact, a suicide, not even after Claire McCaskill's Senate Armed Forces Committee hesitantly got involved.

Our government is run by shiftless, spineless wonders masquerading as military heroes when all they are are lying thugs and murderers.

We lied before my day, we lied in my day, we're lying to this day and we will continue lying in our childrens' and grandchildrens' day. We never learn the lessons of history and we will be doomed to commit them over and over again as George Santayana prophesied.

 
At April 14, 2010 at 2:18 PM, Anonymous Longtime P'ville reader said...

JP, do you read Glen Greenwald in Salon.com? He has been all over the "death from above" issue (and so many other subjects you write about, with more links to original sources of info but fewer cursewords.) It was from him that I learned there were no RPGs. I originally thought there were.

And CP, don't you know that kidnapping is big business in Iraq? Only now it's not Saddam's goons doing the kidnapping -- no "point-source" kidnapping that was at least semi-predictable. ANYONE can be snatched at any time by gangs with guns. So if I was a photographer with valuable lenses, even if I was ethnic Arab, I'd want a AK-47 guard with me to make sure I wasn't grabbed and sold for $1,000. If you want to stroll around Baghdad, be my guest. Blog back and tell us how it went -- if your head's still attached to your neck.

 
At April 14, 2010 at 4:50 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

JP, do you read Glen Greenwald in Salon.com?

Not really. Rarely, anyway. Funny you should ask that.

Back in his "Unclaimed Territory" days, someone attached to Greenwald emailed me and asked if I wanted to review on my blog his new book, "How Would a Patriot Act?" in exchange for a freebie.

Well, Simon and Schuster and other publishers were inundating me at the same time with similar offers. Some I'd taken, some I'd passed on.

But remembering Greenwald's calm, gentlemanly style and how it put me to sleep, I told his sycophant that Greenwald's style "could put an electron to sleep."

I guess they didn't take too kindly to that because the next time I went to "Unclaimed Territory", I noticed that I was being lambasted on one of the comment threads for whoring my blog. Which is funny, because I never went to "Unclaimed Territory" unless I absolutely had to.

Seems some anonymous person linked to one of my posts and everyone there thought it was me and piled on me in my absence.

A week or two later, I was out of blogging for good. Or so I thought.

Greenwald's style may be acceptable and even sought after in the "polite" and "legitimate" blogosphere but I want my bloggers to have some bite, snark, sarcasm and wit to them. That's why I love d r i f t g l a s s, the Rude Pundit and Alicia Morgan. And they make me want to be a better blogger.

 
At April 14, 2010 at 7:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every time another clusterfuck like this comes out, I wonder how many new terrorists we create. It's got to be in the thousands. So, what are we gonna do, kill 'em all?

And when McChrystal says "we've shot an amazing number of people" that had no immediate intent, "amazing" isn't the adjective I would use.

Stu

 
At April 19, 2010 at 4:29 PM, Blogger LanceThruster said...

"Power to the people." What a concept, one that the teabaggers have been drumming home from the beginning. Sounds vaguely... Socialist, doesn't it, Lance?

----

Da, Komrade Pork.

BTW, I totally agree with the whole "bloggers with bite" thing. If blog posts fail to convey appropriate outrage, they often lose that much needed sense of urgency.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Margaret Mead ~ US anthropologist & popularizer of anthropology (1901 - 1978)

 

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