This post by the Blogger Formerly Known as Calpundit links to a video of US soldiers in a helicopter machine-gunning three Iraqis into bloody piles of meat. You can't see the meat because it's a pixelated black and white image--looks just like a cool video game, or a Tom Clancy movie. Two of the Iraqis are killed instantly. Another crawls out from under a truck and starts a kind of agonized, flopping roll across the ground--obviously he's wounded and unable to stand. One of the soldiers calmly says "hit him," and we see him also splattered by gunfire from the helicopter.
I'm not sure which is more disgusting, the video or the fact that Kevin Drum and the majority of commenters on his blog
can't make up their minds if what we're seeing is bad or good. Since the US invaded Iraq without cause, thus making an insurgency against foreign occupiers justified in the eyes of most of the world, it's hard to understand how Drum's obviously well-educated, center-left commenters can say things like "it's war" or "they're just kids" about this cold blooded killing, especially of
the wounded man. Those pilots did have another option: it's called flying back to base and saying "I don't want to do this shit anymore." Call me naive, but there it is.
No, it's not a naive statement.
I don't say naive. And I don't say "they're just kids." I've seen the footage and I feel sick about it (especially cause of the barely contained excitment of the 'Counter-Strike' type discussion). But I still say that when you have a political system that offers military service as an alternative to poverty and incarceration, and a foreign policy that murders, tortures and decimates civilian populations without accountability or justification, then the guy pulling the trigger has about as much ethical importance as a bag of sand.
I remember arguing with some loved ones during the Gulf War about the term "culpable lack of imagination," which they applied to local kids who were joining the army. We were living in a poor part of a poor province, right next to an army base, where the future was pretty damn bleak for just about everyone in the neighbourhood except us. The army was a job and a way out. Meaning what? That the apalling murder-for-fun of Iraqis is a societal, not an individual, culpability. Nobody is off the hook, more of us are on it.
Yes Sal, I agree that the economic and class theory does hold a lot of water here, especially in the current war, since the kids from the middle class are not fighting in this one to the same extent as those from rural populations and poor urban areas.
However Tom is touching on something of great truth in reference to individual ethics. He is right to state the option that the pilots, even in combat, can act in a basic humane way, no matter how seemingly gratuitous it may be in that particular context.
But to your point about the societal aspect, here's some quotes from an interview with Chris Hedges author of "War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning"
"Once you enter a conflict, or at the inception of a conflict, you are given a language by which you speak. The state gives you a language to speak and you can't speak outside that language or it becomes very difficult. There is no communication outside of the cliché and the jingos, "The War on Terror," "Showdown With Iraq," "The Axis of Evil," all of this stuff.
So that whatever disquiet we feel, we no longer have the words in which to express it. The myth predominates. The myth, which is a lie, of course, built around glory, heroism, heroic self-sacrifice, the nobility of the nation. And it is a kind of intoxication. People lose individual conscience for this huge communal enterprise. "
and further in the interview:
"There is a kind of suspension of self-criticism, both as a nation and as a person that takes place in wartime. And that's part of what removes the anxiety of normal daily living. We're no longer required to make moral choice. Moral choice has been made for us by the state. And to question the decisions of the state is to be branded, not only a traitor, but to be pushed outside that kind of communal entity within a society that war always creates. And that's a very difficult, lonely and painful experience.
So most people, not necessarily because they're bad people in any way, but most people find it emotionally far more convenient, but also far more pleasurable just to go along."
So I disagree with the phrase "as much ethical importance as a bag of sand" I think that faced with the powerful mythologies offered in war, actual acts of charity and kindness are magnified a million times over.
(although as a turn of phrase, Sal, I fucking love it, and I am going to steal it from you)
Among the many reasons I have always avoided military service is that I understand the power of indoctrination and the contagion of group emotion. I have no intention of testing my ability to resist the mind-fuck that is the military.
On a related tangent, last night I had to respond to a thread on dKos about whether Americans are as bad as Nazis. Other than the obsession with trucks-with-leather-seating-for-9, Americans are not so different from Germans.
LM you make a damn good arguement. I'm convinced (though still waging ancient internal battles with absent combatants over that "culpable lack of imagination" thing, which offends me deeply).
Mark, I'm glad you didn't join the army. I very much like your references to slavery in the dailykos post. I just remembered slavery the other day with a sort of sudden horror jolt, and it belongs in these discussions without a doubt.