By David Swanson
Over the past half century we’ve made tremendous progress while sliding backwards quite destructively. The progress has come in our domestic relations. We do unbelievably better (not perfectly by any means, but radically better than 50 years ago) at treating people decently even if they aren’t white, male, Protestant, educated, handsome, or even heterosexual (there’s still particularly room for improvement on that last one). This progress has drastically improved the lives of millions.
Not that everything is perfect on the home front. If you’re poor or especially if you’re poor and accused of a crime, you might as well be an oil-dipped pelican. But you can take comfort in being smothered by us higher beings in knowing that it wasn’t because of your group identity; it was just your lack of funds. And we don’t dislike you at all; we just never see you. But this isn’t so new. What’s new is fair treatment for women and racial minorities in the United States. There really has been earth-shattering progress, with good prospects of more to come.
How we’ve come to treat the 95 percent of people who are not Americans is another story altogether. I don’t mean immigrants. I mean those people who, believe it or not, live outside the United States. They’re 95 percent of our species, and we treat them as something lower than cockroaches. We drop weapons on their children that melt the skin off. We scatter cluster bombs that resemble food packets. We poison whole populations with depleted uranium. We shoot up families at check points or in night raids or with drones from on high. And, first and foremost, we bomb, bomb, bomb the hell out of them. As with poor people, we don’t see them, but — when so instructed — we’re also happy to viciously hate certain groups of these foreign beings.
We don’t do lynchings in the South anymore, but we kidnap Muslims around the world, imprison them without charges, and in some cases torture them to death. American husbands don’t tend to beat their wives, but we burst through the doors of other women’s homes with guns firing. Is the net result of our having become more accepting at home while becoming an empire abroad positive or negative? I don’t know, and the two areas need not be in conflict. We could give equal rights to all Americans to get married, or we could ban discrimination against gay Americans in the workplace, while at the same time ending the wars and shutting down the empire.
But here’s something that should make us pause. The central civil rights demand of the moment is for gay and lesbian Americans to have equal opportunity to participate in our illegal foreign wars. One of the most powerful actions promoting an end to those wars was the recent leaking of a video showing what our helicopters do in Iraq, and it appears quite possible that part of the leaker’s motivation was the military’s unfair treatment of him due to his sexuality. Whether that turns out to be the case or not, the mass murder that our so-called Department of “Defense” engages in is something we ought to be trying to bar heterosexuals from joining, not struggling to get homosexuals an equal crack at.
Should we repeal the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) law, so that gay genocidists can be as easily identified as targets for attack as women warriors are within the U.S. military? A more interesting question is how many gay people believe the prestige of joining the imperial murderers is more important than the right to job protection in the ethical economy. And why in the world should repealing DADT take priority over repealing AUMF, the Authorization to Use Military Force? This law, created one week after the World Trade Center fell, declared:
“That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
This is used to justify an illegal war in Afghanistan, illegal drone bombings in Pakistan, lawless imprisonment and torture, and the stripping away of all sorts of rights. The result has been an increase in terrorism, and the sacrifice of thousands of U.S. lives alongside hundreds of thousands of non-Americans. I will always blame the deciders at the top above all others. But nine years into this madness, it must be possible to start attributing a little responsibility to the young men and women who sign up to take part in the crimes. Is that what they should be doing, and should we be helping them? Should defenders of civil rights be working to expand the very enterprise that has facilitated the shredding of our most basic liberties, not to mention killing great masses of people?