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As Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting points out, until a video surfaced of South Carolina policeman Michael Slager murdering Walter Scott, the media was reporting a package of lies manufactured by the police: a fight that never occurred, witnesses who didn't exist, the victim taking the policeman's taser, etc. The lies collapsed because the video appeared.
I find myself asking why videos of missiles blowing children into little bits and pieces can't dissolve the stories churned out by the Pentagon. With several qualifications, I think part of the answer is that there are not enough videos. The struggle for the right to videotape the police at home in the United States should be accompanied by a campaign to provide video cameras to populations targeted for wars. Of course the struggle to videotape people dying under a bombing campaign is at least as great a challenge as videotaping a murderous policeman, but enough cameras would produce some footage.
There are other parts to the answer as well, of course. One is complexity, exacerbated by intentional obfuscation. To explain the current war in Yemen, the Washington Post finds someone to quote saying, "nobody can figure out either who started this fight or how to end it."
Really? Nobody? The second U.S.-armed dictator in the past few years is overthrown by militants empowered by opposition to U.S.-armed dictatorship. This after a Yemeni man told the U.S. Congress to their faces that the U.S. drone strikes were empowering terrorists. A larger neighboring U.S.-armed dictatorship in Saudi Arabia starts bombing and threatening to take over, as in nearby U.S.-armed dictatorship Bahrain. Saudi U.S. weapons are destroying piles of Yemeni U.S. weapons, and nobody can figure anything out?
Here are some U.S. children hiding from Soviet nukes many years ago, and a Yemeni child hiding from U.S. drone strikes more recently (source). How does that alone not indict anyone?
Here are photos and stories of innocent children murdered with U.S. drones in Yemen. How does that not indict anyone?
Beyond complexity and obfuscation and the justification of pretended rationales and euphemized explanations like "collateral damage," lies the problem of getting Americans to give a damn about people far away. But the U.S. government is horrified by the idea of releasing more photos and videos of torture in Abu Ghraib. It seems that direct, personal violence, even short of murder, is seen as more offensive than mass-murder by aerial assault.
I think these weaknesses in how visual documentation of killing in war is perceived can be overcome, and that in fact a greater volume of videos and photos obtained more rapidly could have a qualitative impact. Most Americans imagine a video like collateral murder to be an exception. Most have no idea at all that U.S. wars are one-sided slaughters killing primarily civilians and overwhelmingly the people who live where the wars are fought. One video of a family being dismembered by a bomb could be dismissed as accidental. Tens of thousands of such videos could not be.
Of course, logically, war victim selfie videos ought not to be needed. It's no secret that the U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and Libya have fueled greater violence and failed utterly to drop little baskets of liberty and democracy on the people being burned to death. It ought to be no secret that 80 to 90 percent of the weapons in the supposedly inherently violent region of the Middle East are U.S.-made. The White House does not deny that it has significantly increased weapons sales to that region among others. With no plan for success and open confession that "there is no military solution" it rushes more weapons into war after war with no end in sight.
But words don't seem to do the job. Explaining that police were getting away with murder wasn't producing any indictments. A video finally indicted a cop. Now we need the video that can indict the world's policeman.
This may be a first: a television ad campaign in a U.S. state capitol appealing to someone to stop murdering human beings who have, in most cases, already been born.
A new 15-second television ad, a variation on one that's aired in Las Vegas near Creech Air Force Base, is debuting this week in Sacramento, Calif. Take a look:
The ad was produced by KnowDrones.com, and is cosponsored by Veterans for Peace/Sacramento, and Veterans Democratic Club of Sacramento. It is airing on CNN, FoxNews and other networks starting Tuesday in the Sacramento/Yuba City area, near Beale Air Force Base.
Producers and promoters of the ad campaign have planned a press briefing at 8:30 a.m. PT on Tuesday, March 31, at the main gate to Beale Air Force Base. The ad's appeal for pilots to "Refuse to Fly," they say, "is aimed at drone pilots, sensor operators, support personnel and their families as well as the general public."
While killing people with drones by the thousands has become so routine that elite lawyers argue for making "wartime" permanent, and the United States is selling armed drones to nations around the world without apparently the slightest consideration that any undesired consequences are possible, the reality of what is happening is rarely seen in U.S. media. Comcast cable has decided that the advertisement above cannot be shown before 10:00 p.m. because it shows a glimpse of what "targeted drones strikes" do.
Comcast is allowing the version below to air at all hours as it more closely resembles the rest of U.S. television content in hiding reality. It does state "U.S. drones have murdered thousands, including women and children." "Murder," by the way, is the U.S. government's own terminology, and strictly accurate.
Nick Mottern, coordinator of KnowDrones.com, suggested that activists have focused on appealing directly to drone pilots because appealing to the U.S. government has become so hopeless. "The President and the Congress," he said, "refuse to respect law and morality and stop U.S. drone attacks, so we are asking the people who bear the burden of doing the actual killing to put a stop to it."
In fact, drone pilots are suffering post traumatic stress and moral injury in significant numbers, and dropping out in significant numbers. Information on all the factors involved in creating the current, and much desired, shortage of drone pilots is, of course, incomplete. For a discussion of the issue, listen to this week's Talk Nation Radio with guest Brian Terrell. Efforts are also alive and well to get armed drones banned or to at least stop the U.S. government from arming the world with them.
Below is a nice collection of statements gathered by KnowDrones.com as part of its effort to persuade those who are all too much in the habit of obeying immoral orders:
1. “America’s targeted killing program is illegal, immoral and unwise.”
-Archbishop Desmond Tutu – From forward to Drones and Targeted Killing January, 2015
2. “There are two main reasons why drone warfare is neither just nor moral. First, it replaces interrogation by assassination. Specific individuals (including American citizens) are placed on ‘kill lists.’ They are targeted with no accountability for errors in judgment or excesses of attack. All due process is abandoned…Our consciences are stricken by the indefensible loss of life through drone warfare.”
- The Rev. George Hunsinger, Professor of Systemic Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary. January 24, 2015.
3. “They call themselves warfighters. They are assassins.”
- Former Congressman and member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence Rush Holt speaking of drone operators at the Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare held at Princeton Theological Seminary, January 23 - 25.
4. “We are the ultimate voyeurs, the ultimate Peeping Toms. I’m watching this person, and this person has no clue what’s going on. No one’s going to catch us. And we’re getting orders to take these people’s lives.”
- Brandon Bryant – former U.S. drone sensor operator quoted in the documentary Drone. Democracy Now, April 17, 2014.
5. Drone attacks violate basic human rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights including rights to the protection of life (Article 3), privacy (Article 12) and due process (Article 10). The UDHR, born out of the horrors of World War II, was ratified by the United States in 1948 and forms the basis for international human rights law today.
6. “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him of responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
- Principle IV of The Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the Judgment of the Tribunal, The United Nations 1950.
7. “…there are grounds to maintain that anyone who believes or has reason to believe that a war is being waged in violation of minimal canons of law and morality has an obligation of conscience to resist participation in and support of that war effort by every means at his disposal. In that respect, the Nuremberg principles provide guidelines for citizens' conscience and a shield that can be used in the domestic legal system to interpose obligations under international law between the government and members of the society.”
- Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law and practice, Princeton University. From The Circle of Responsibility”, The Nation, June 13, 2006.
8. “According to the Nuremberg Principles, it is not only the right, but also the duty of individuals to make moral and legal judgments concerning wars in which they are asked to fight.”
– John Scales Avery, world peace activist, The Nuremberg Principles and Individual Responsibility, Countercurrents, July 30, 2012.
9. U.S. MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drone attacks have killed at least 6,000* people. That's an estimate by KnowDrones.com based on various reports including those of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
10. In addition, to the death and injury resulting from drone attacks, the presence of drones overhead terrorizes whole populations in drone war zones, leading to disruptions to family and community life and psychological injury.
“…the fear of strikes undermines people’s sense of safety to such an extent that it has at times affected their willingness to engage in a wide variety of activities, including social gatherings, educational and economic opportunities, funerals…the U.S. practice of striking one area multiple times, and its record of killing first responders, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid to assist injured victims.
- Living Under Drones, September, 2012.
IF BEALE AIR FORCE BASE COULD TALK: Facts About Drones and Beale AFB from KnowDrones.com
The MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper are the primary killer drones used by the United States. The Predator carries two Hellfire missiles and the Reaper can carry four Hellfires and two five hundred pound bombs. The Hellfire is designed for use against armored vehicles and structures and has a devastating effect when used against people in the open or in civilian vehicles. People are often dismembered or pulverized.
Since the U.S. began drone warfare in Afghanistan in 2001, drone attacks have been undertaken in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Libya, and possibly in Syria.
About 6,000 people have been killed by US Drones in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, according to estimates provided by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the foremost independent monitor of drone war casualties. Of this total up to 230 are children killed in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, according to Bureau statistics. The Bureau does not have an estimate of women killed in these countries or across the whole drone war. But judging from what little is known of women being killed in drone attacks and the international scope of the drone attacks, it appears that many women have been killed, probably numbering in at least the hundreds. It is impossible to know with any certainty how many people have been killed by U.S. drones. The U.S. has withheld all information on the extent of the drone attacks, and drone attacks occur in very remote areas, making independent accounting difficult and grossly incomplete.
Drones flown out of Beale AFB are "accomplice drones." Global Hawk drones controlled from Beale are used in the targeting of Predator and Reaper attacks. The 48th Intelligence Squadron at Beale AFB processes information gathered by the MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper and RQ – Global Hawk drones to permit attacks by U.S. forces worldwide. Predator and Reaper drones are not flown from control centers at Beale.
At least 100 Predator and 200 Reaper drones are believed to be operating now; exact figures are not available. At any given moment the U.S. has at least 180 Predator and Reaper drones in the air; 60 combat patrols, comprised of three drones each. The Air Force wants to increase the number of constant combat patrols to 65, putting 195 drones in the air at any given time.
As of December 2013, there were about 1,350 drone pilots in the U.S. Air Force, according to an April 2014 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which said that the Air Force had not been meeting its recruiting goals for drone pilots. Further, more drone pilots are quitting than can be trained, as reported by TomDispatch on March 26, 2015, which said the Air Force would like to have 1,700 pilots to cover the 65 combat patrols. A key factor in the attrition is said to be over work, increasing even more as missions expand in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. It appears likely that the stress is also leading to mistakes being made, further endangering those under surveillance.
The GAO report says that the U.S. Air Force “has not fully analyzed” the “stress” faced by pilots who go home every day after flying missions. The report said: “…pilots in each of the 10 focus groups (which included Beale pilots)…reported that being deployed-on-station (going home every day) negatively affected their quality of life, as it was challenging for them to balance their warfighting responsibilities with their personal lives for extended periods of time.”
"If others have their will Ann hath a way. By cock, she was to blame. She put the comether on him, sweet and twentysix. The greyeyed goddess who bends over the boy Adonis, stooping to conquer, as prologue to the swelling act, is a boldfaced Stratford wench who tumbles in a cornfield a lover younger than herself." —James Joyce
Can it matter that a famous actress will play a drone pilot on stage in New York and play it as a troubled murderer with an updated effort to wash out the damn spot of blood on her famous hands?
April 7 to May 17, Anne Hathaway stars in Grounded. I've read the script, or at least an earlier version of the script, and believe this could make the difference that's needed.
Of course this other movie about a troubled drone pilot has come and gone.
The patterns of stress and suicide have been documented. Moral injury and post-traumatic stress plague the desk-bound flight-suited pilots at Creech Air Force Base where the commander told a reporter he was surprised by and unable to meet the demand for counselors and chaplains.
One proposed solution is allowing a drone pilot to instruct a computerized personality, like Siri in iPhones, to do the killing for him or her. A better solution might be to deprive President Obama of that trick. When he goes through his Tuesday list of men, women, and children and picks which ones to have murdered, he doesn't have to do the murdering. Presidents spend countless hours visiting all kinds of workplaces and taking part in all variety of ceremonies; why not require that they take a brief shift at the drone joystick when the victim has been spotted and fire the missile themselves, and watch the body parts scatter themselves, and see the little children who were in the wrong place blown to bits themselves, and feel the sweat and the guilt themselves?
Perhaps the next best thing will be seeing a celebrity, whom people imagine they know, play the role of drone pilot on stage. Anne Hathaway has acted in many films and plays but is familiar even to people who've seen none of them. Seeing her in Grounded has the potential to cause people to engage in the activity that seems the absolute hardest to provoke, namely thinking.
Grounded won't give you the statistics on how most of the people murdered with drones are no threat to the United States at all, or how drone murders are producing more enemies than they kill, or how the idea that a drone war on Yemen is better than another kind of war falls apart when you realize that the drone war replaced no war at all and has now predictably generated a ground war as, in fact, some of us predicted it would.
Grounded won't tell you that most drone victims are traumatized by the constant threat of instant death with no possible defense. But it will show us what that godlike power does to those who use it. The problem with drone murders is not the distance or the lack of bravery and risk; the problem is the murdering of people. Drone pilots see their victims in new ways, via video, and see them for days or weeks before murdering them.
The transition from mass-murderer to civilian living peacefully in a society that forbids murder must happen every single day for a drone pilot who drives home to sleep. One can imagine how disorienting the shift must be. It should become equally jarring for those of us who live peaceful lives and then read about the latest murders in our names by distant flying robot death machines.
Here's one way to help if you're anywhere near New York: attend the play and while you're there, collect signatures on this petition: BanWeaponizedDrones.org.
A scholarly study has found that the U.S. public believes that whenever the U.S. government proposes a war, it has already exhausted all other possibilities. When a sample group was asked if they supported a particular war, and a second group was asked if they supported that particular war after being told that all alternatives were no good, and a third group was asked if they supported that war even though there were good alternatives, the first two groups registered the same level of support, while support for war dropped off significantly in the third group. This led the researchers to the conclusion that if alternatives are not mentioned, people don’t assume they exist — rather, people assume they’ve already been tried.
The evidence is, of course, extensive that the U.S. government, among others, often uses war as a first, second, or third resort, not a last resort. Congress is busily sabotaging diplomacy with Iran, while James Sterling is on trial in Alexandria for exposing a CIA scheme to gin up supposed grounds for a war with Iran. Then-Vice President Dick Cheney once pondered the option of having U.S. troops shoot at U.S. troops dressed up as Iranians. Moments before a White House press conference at which then-President George W. Bush and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed they were trying to avoid war in Iraq, Bush had proposed to Blair that they paint planes with UN colors and fly them low trying to get them shot at. Hussein was willing to walk away with $1 billion. The Taliban was willing to put bin Laden on trial in a third country. Gadaffi didn’t really threaten a slaughter, but Libya’s seen one now. The stories of chemical weapons attacks by Syria, invasions by Russia into Ukraine, and so forth, that fade away when a war fails to begin — these are not efforts to avoid war, to hold war off as a last resort. These are what Eisenhower warned would happen, and what he had already seen happen, when huge financial interests are stacked up behind the need for more wars.
But try telling the U.S. public. The Journal of Conflict Resolution has just published an article titled “Norms, Diplomatic Alternatives, and the Social Psychology of War Support,” by Aaron M. Hoffman, Christopher R. Agnew, Laura E. VanderDrift, and Robert Kulzick. The authors discuss various factors in public support for or opposition to wars, including the prominent place held by the question of “success” — now generally believed to matter more than body counts (meaning U.S. body counts, the massively larger foreign body counts never even coming into consideration in any study I’ve heard of). “Success” is a bizarre factor because of its lack of a hard definition and because by any definition the United States military just doesn’t have successes once it moves beyond destroying things to attempts at occupation, control, and long-term exploitation — er, excuse me, democracy promotion.
The authors’ own research finds that even when “success” is believed likely, even the muddle-headed people holding that belief tend to prefer diplomatic options (unless, of course, they are members of the United States Congress). The journal article offers some recent examples beyond the new research to back up its idea: “In 2002–2003, for instance, 60 percent of Americans believed that a US military victory in Iraq was likely (CNN/Time poll, November 13–14, 2002). Nevertheless, 63 percent of the public said they preferred a diplomatic solution to the crisis over a military one (CBS News poll, January 4–6, 2003).”
But if nobody mentions nonviolent alternatives, people aren’t uninterested in them or dismissive of them or opposed to them. No, in large numbers people actually believe that all diplomatic solutions have already been attempted. What a fantastic fact! Of course, it’s not that shocking given that war supporters habitually claim to be pursuing war as a last resort and to be fighting war reluctantly in the name of peace. But it’s an insane belief to hold if you’re living in the real world in which the State Department has become a minor unpaid intern to the Pentagon master. Diplomacy with some countries, like Iran, has actually been forbidden during periods in in which the U.S. public apparently thought it was being thoroughly pursued. And what in the world would it mean for ALL nonviolent solutions to have been tried? Could one not always think of another? Or try the same one again? Unless a looming emergency like the fictional threat to Benghazi can impose a deadline, the mad rush to war is unjustified by anything rational at all.
The role that the researchers attribute to a belief that diplomacy has already been tried could also be played by a belief that diplomacy is impossible with irrational subhuman monsters like ________ (fill in the government or residents of a targeted nation or region). The difference made by informing someone that alternatives exist would then include in it the transformation of monsters into people capable of speech.
The same transformation might be played by the revelation that, for example, people accused of building nuclear weapons aren’t actually doing so. The authors note that: “average support for the use of force by the U.S. military against Iran between 2003 and 2012 appears to be sensitive to information about the quality of available alternative courses of action. Although the use of force was never sup- ported by a majority of Americans during George W. Bush’s presidency (2001– 2009), it is notable that a significant drop in support for military action against Iran occurs in 2007. At that time, the Bush administration was seen as committed to war with Iran and pursuing diplomatic action half-heartedly. Seymour M. Hersh’s article in The New Yorker (2006) reporting that the administration was devising an aerial bombing campaign of suspected nuclear sites in Iran helped confirm this sense. Yet, a release of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 because of international pressure, undercut the argument for war. As an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney told The Wall Street Journal, the authors of the NIE ‘knew how to pull the rug out from under us’.”
But the lesson learned never seems to be that the government wants war and will lie to get it. “While public support for military operations against Iran declined during the Bush administration, it generally increased during President Barack Obama’s first term (2009–2012). Obama came to office more optimistic than his predecessor about the ability of diplomacy to get Iran to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. [You notice that even these scholars simply assume such pursuit was underway, despite their inclusion of the above NIE in the article.] Obama, for example, opened the door to direct talks with Iran over its nuclear program ‘without preconditions,’ a position George Bush rejected. Nevertheless, the inefficacy of diplomacy during Obama’s first term appears to be associated with gradual acceptance that military action might be the last viable option capable of getting Iran to change course. Paraphrasing former CIA director Michael Hayden, military action against Iran is an increasingly attractive option because ‘no matter what the U.S. does diplomatically, Tehran keeps pushing ahead with its suspected nuclear program’ (Haaretz, July 25, 2010).”
Now how does one keep pushing ahead with something that a foreign government persists in wrongly suspecting or pretending that one is doing? That’s never made clear. The point is that if you declare, Bushlike, that you have no use for diplomacy, people will oppose your war initiative. If, on the other hand, you claim, Obamalike, to be pursuing diplomacy, yet you persist, also Obamalike, in promoting the lies about what the targeted nation is up to, then people will apparently feel that they can support mass murder with a clear conscience.
The lesson for opponents of war seems to be this: point out the alternatives. Name the 86 good ideas you have for what to do about ISIS. Hammer away at what should be done. And some people, though generally accepting of war, will withhold their approval.
*Thanks to Patrick Hiller for letting me know about this article.
Video of David Swanson, Brian Becker, and Patrick Henningsen on Crosstalk on RT: here.
Some killings are reported on in a slightly different manner from how the Charlie Hebdo killings have been. Rewriting a drone killing as a gun killing (changing just a few words) would produce something like this:
Freedom Fighters Gun Strike in Europe Is Said to Have Killed 12 Militants
PARIS, France — At least 12 foreign militants were believed to have been killed in a freedom fighter gun strike in the North Paris tribal region on Wednesday morning, a Liberation security official said.
The Liberation official said guns fired 128 precision bullets into a compound in the Cafe Au Lait subdistrict at 6:40 a.m. The area is close to the headquarters of numerous French businesses.
“The guns targeted a base of a French commander known as Francoise, killing 12 French militants. Two militants are wounded,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the news media.
It was unclear whether Francoise was there at the time of the attack. The local news media has reported that he is allied with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and engaged in plans to ship troops and weaponry to Western Asia.
Gun strikes in France, often attributed to Muslims, prompt regular diplomatic protests from the entire Western world.
Separately, the Liberation military said four terrorist hide-outs and a training center for bombers were damaged by gun strikes late Saturday in a remote suburb of the nearby South Paris tribal region.
In a brief statement, the military said that “6 terrorists, including some bomber pilots, were killed in precise gun strikes.” There was no independent confirmation of the military’s claim.
Last summer, the Liberation military launched a long-awaited offensive against French and foreign militants holed up in the Western Europe region. The military claims that it now controls 0.4 percent of the region.
NATO attacks in recent years have left hundreds of thousands dead.
In contrast, rewriting a Charlie Hebdo report as a drone report might produce something like this:
Drone attack on Pakistani house kills 12
Drone pilots have shot dead 12 people at the home of their grandmother in an apparent militant Imperialist attack.
Four of the family's youngest generation, including its new-born infant were among those killed, as well as two friends visiting at the time.
A major police operation is under way to find three drone pilots believed to be hiding out in Langley, Virginia.
President Mamnoon Hussain said there was no doubt it had been a terrorist attack "of exceptional barbarity".
It is believed to be the deadliest attack in Pakistan since last Tuesday, when another drone -- or possibly the same one -- sent a missile into a picnic killing 18.
The distant faceless attackers opened fire with hellfire missiles in the sky above the family's home and faced no opposition. They later flew the drone higher in the sky, presumably recording video footage, the buzzing of their deadly machine still audible below as rescuers waited for it to leave before daring to search for survivors.
People had been "murdered in a cowardly manner", presidents and leaders around the globe remarked in unison. U.S. President Barack Obama has condemned the "horrific shooting", offering to provide any assistance needed "to help bring these terrorists to justice".
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: "It was a horrendous, unjustifiable and cold-blooded crime. It was also a direct assault on a cornerstone of democracy, on the safety of a family in its home."
UK Prime Minister David Cameron said in a tweet: "The murders in Pakistan are sickening. We stand with the Pakistani people in the fight against terror."
Eurocentric clubs and Christian churches around the world rushed to condemn the killing.
Footage shot by an eyewitness outside the house shows scattered rubble and what appears to be bits of flesh and clothing hanging from a nearby tree.
A former Governor of Virginia is expected to be sentenced to a long stay in prison. The same fate has befallen governors in states across the United States, including in nearby Maryland, Tennessee, and West Virginia. A former governor of Illinois is in prison. Governors have been convicted of corruption in Rhode Island, Louisiana, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Connecticut, and (in a trumped-up partisan scam) in Alabama. The statewide trauma suffered by the people of states that have locked up their governors has been . . . well, nonexistent and unimaginable.
Locking U.S. presidents up for their crimes is a different story. Former President Richard Nixon's understanding that whatever a president does is legal has not been challenged since he made that comment. The Washington Post -- not exactly a Nixon supporter -- has the same understanding now. The Post recently justified the latest proposal to re-ban torture by explaining that even though torture was already banned, President George W. Bush tortured and therefore had found a legal way around the law. In other words, because he hasn't been prosecuted, what he did was legal.
The New York Times, which urged prosecuting former President George W. Bush for torture six years ago, recently wrote this:
"Who should be held accountable? That will depend on what an investigation finds, and as hard as it is to imagine Mr. Obama having the political courage to order a new investigation, it is harder to imagine a criminal probe of the actions of a former president. But any credible investigation should include . . . "
The editorial goes on to list the people who should be prosecuted, up to and including the former vice president. But the president gets a pass, not on the basis of some reasoned argument, but because the authors cannot imagine a president being held accountable for crimes. They or their colleagues could imagine it several years ago but have progressed to the point where it has become unthinkable.
The state flag of Virginia, or any other of the 50 states, can be turned into a table cloth or a picnic blanket. It can be used to keep the rain off your firewood. Or it can be burned to get your fire started. Nobody cares what you do with it. Children aren't forced to pray to it every morning in school. It's just a flag. And because it's just a flag, nobody has any interest in abusing it, and virtually nobody would recognize what it was if they saw it burned or trampled or turned into a bathrobe or a bikini. The flag of Virginia, although we don't actually imagine it as having feelings, is treated just fine. So are state songs, even though nobody is required to stand and sing them with a fascistic pose as troops march by.
The same is true of state governors. They're treated with civility and respect. They're honored when they perform well and held accountable when they abuse power. Understood as human beings, they aren't abused as anything less. But they are not gods. And they are not gods because they are not makers of war.
Presidents make wars. And they now do so without any formal checks on their power. They can destroy the earth with the push of a button. They can destroy a hut or a village or a city at their discretion. Their killer flying robots rain hell from the skies worldwide, and neither Congress nor the Washington Post nor the people who lock up governors for taking bribes can even imagine questioning that power, that privilege, that divine right.
Congress may, it is true, "authorize" one of the current wars for three more years after allowing it to proceed illegally for several months. Or it may not. Nobody cares. The pretense that it matters is a vestige of a time in which we saw presidents differently.
But if murdering large numbers of people doesn't disturb us, if we've all concluded that murder is morally superior to imprisonment and torture and that there is no third option, are we perhaps capable of spotting a problem in what presidents have become in relation to the rule of law? Should it not disturb us that we've given single individuals for 4- or 8-year runs more power than King George III ever dreamed of, and that we've collectively declared any declaration of independence unimaginable?
The cover of the January-February 2015 The Atlantic asks "Why Do The Best Soldiers in the World Keep Losing?" which leads to this article, which fails to answer the question.
The main focus of the article is the by now endlessly familiar discovery that most U.S.-Americans are not in the military. The article is accompanied by another advocating a draft. The claim in the main article is that because most people are disconnected from the military they are more willing to send it off into unwinnable wars.
Nowhere does the author, James Fallows, attempt to so much as hint at what makes the wars unwinnable. He does claim that the last war that was in any way victorious for the United States was the Gulf War. But he can't mean that it resolved a crisis. It was a war followed by bombings and sanctions and, in fact, the repeated revival of the war, ongoing and escalating even now.
What Fallows must mean is that once the U.S. military had done what it can do -- namely, blow stuff up -- in the Gulf War, it more or less stopped. The early days in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq 2003 saw very similar "victories," as did Libya 2011 and numerous other U.S. wars. Why Fallows ignores Libya I don't know, but Iraq and Afghanistan go down as losses in his book, I think, not because there's no draft or because the military and Congress are corrupt and build the wrong weapons, but because after blowing everything up, the military stuck around for years trying to make people like it by murdering their friends and family members. Such occupations are virtually unwinnable, as in Vietnam and numerous other places, because people will not accept them, and because military attempts to create acceptance are counterproductive. A better military with more self-criticism, a draft, and an audited budget would not alter this fact in the slightest.
Fallows' contention that nobody pays any attention to wars and militarism misses the point, but it is also overstated. "I'm not aware," he writes, "of any midterm race for the House or Senate in which matters of war and peace . . . were first-tier campaign issues." He's forgotten 2006 when exit polls showed ending the war on Iraq as the number one motivator of voters after numerous candidates opposed the war they would escalate as soon as they were in office.
Fallows also overstates the impact of public separation from the military. He believes it was possible to make fun of the military in popular culture when, and because, more of the public was closer to the military through family and friends. But this avoids the general downward slide of the U.S. media and the militarization of U.S. culture which he has not shown to be completely attributable to disconnection.
Fallows thinks that Obama would not have been able to make everyone "look forward" and avoid contemplating military disasters if "Americans had felt effected by the wars' outcome." No doubt, but is the answer to that problem a draft or a bit of education? It doesn't take much to point out to U.S. college students that student debt is unheard of in some nations that fight fewer wars. The U.S. has killed huge numbers of men, women, and children, made itself hated, made the world more dangerous, destroyed the environment, discarded civil liberties, and wasted trillions of dollars that could have done a world of good spent otherwise. A draft would do nothing to make people aware of that situation. And Fallows' focus only on the financial cost of a war -- and not on the 10-times-greater cost of the military justified by the wars -- encourages acceptance of what Eisenhower warned would generate more warfare.
Fallows' effort to look backwards also seems to miss the robotization of U.S. wars. No draft is going to turn us into drones, the pilots of which death machines are themselves disconnected from the wars.
Still, Fallows has a point. It is utterly bizarre that the least successful, most wasteful, most expensive, most destructive public program is largely unquestioned and generally trusted and revered by most of the public. This is the operation that coined the term SNAFU for godsake, and people are ready to believe its every wild tale. Gareth Porter explains the knowingly doomed decision to re-launch the Iraq war in 2014 as a political calculation, not as a means of pleasing profiteers, and of course not as a means of accomplishing anything. Of course, war profiteers work very hard to manufacture the sort of public that insists on or tolerates lots of wars, and the political calculation may be related to pleasing elites more than the general public. It is still worth framing as the greatest cultural crisis before us -- alongside climate denial -- that too many people are willing to cheer for wars and even more to accept the permanent war economy. Anything that shakes up that situation is to be applauded.