Rogue Soldier, Rogue Superpower
March 18, 2012
I’d like to begin this essay with a brief quote from that towering embodiment of peace and compassion, President Barack Obama. On Monday, March 12, when asked about the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians in a village in Kandahar province, the President remarked: "It appeared you had a lone gunman who acted on his own. In no way is this representative of the enormous sacrifices that our men and women have made in Afghanistan."
The massacre may not be representative of our soldiers’ "enormous sacrifices," but it certainly represents the unabated savagery of the U.S. military and the suffering it has inflicted on the people of Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade. The accused killer, a U.S. Army staff sergeant who had suffered traumatic brain injury while deployed in Iraq, is said to have systematically gunned down entire families in cold blood. But these murders, says Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, should not "alter plans for a gradual, orderly withdrawal of American combat forces by the end of 2014."
On March 14, in a Rose Garden rendezvous with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Obama reassured the nation and the world that the war on Afghanistan will continue despite last weekend’s killings and the justifiable outrage they provoked among the Afghan people. Sharing the President’s resolve, Cameron added, "We will not give up on this mission, because Afghanistan must never again be a safe haven for al Qaeda to launch attacks against us."
How is a reasonably sane person supposed to make sense of the Prime Minister’s statement and his counterpart’s determination to carry on with the war? I would argue that both leaders, along with Leon Panetta and the rest of his burly boys in the Pentagon, are as brain damaged as the sergeant who went on a killing spree. The only real difference, as far as I can see, is that the sergeant held the gun, pulled the trigger, and saw the blood explode from his victims’ bodies. His overlords in Washington and London, safely removed from the battlefield, with their numbed minds encapsulated in high-flown rhetoric about ending the scourge of terrorism and keeping their respective nations secure, are carrying out a continuous, unending massacre whose scale vastly dwarfs the bloody deeds of the "lone gunmen."
On December 17, 2009 President Obama ordered an attack on a village in Yemen, claiming that it was a hideout for al Qaeda militants. Tomahawk cruise missiles armed with cluster bombs were used in the attack, which killed 14 women and 21 children. Initially, the Yemeni government claimed their air force was responsible, not the United States. But the ground zero investigation by Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a Yemeni journalist, proved that the government was lying.
President Obama authorizes an attack which leads to the death of 14 women and 21 children in Yemen. A deeply troubled staff sergeant in Afghanistan personally murders 16 civilians. Which one of these warriors has more blood on his hands? Which man bears a greater moral responsibility for the violence he has committed? The brain damaged soldier whose trauma may have left him incapable of distinguishing friend from foe, or the leader of the "free world" who ordered some commander in the Persian Gulf to target an impoverished village in Yemen? One could argue that the President did not intend to take the lives of all those innocent villagers whereas the sergeant acted with malice aforethought, purposefully executing men, women, and children. Collateral damage on the one hand; homicide victims on the other. And spanning the distance between them, connecting the dead on either side of this apparent divide is an absolutely insane foreign policy and an equally psychotic set of actors, from Obama all the way down to the staff sergeant and any accomplices he might have had during his early morning rampage in Kandahar.
It strikes me that the initial decision to attack Afghanistan, one of the poorest, least developed places on Earth, one month after the events of 9-11, was the first sign of insanity — an institutional form of madness that gripped Bush and his minions as tenaciously as the alien creature that fastened itself on the face of that doomed crew member in the first Alien movie. Imagine, if you will, the essential craziness of their ideas, their notions of how to safeguard the American people and respond to a vicious act of terrorism that killed thousands of innocent men and women, an act that, at least from my point of view, was pure madness.
And thus our leaders reasoned: "We shall bomb the hell out of Afghanistan as payback for the Taliban’s hosting of al Qaeda and their refusal to apprehend Osama bin Laden unless we provide them with evidence that he had a hand in planning the attack.
"So what if winter is coming and thousands of Afghan people face the very real likelihood of starving to death if our bombs and the bombs of our allies prevent shipments of food, medicine, and blankets from reaching isolated, endangered communities.
"So what if tens of thousands of innocent people may very well perish from subzero temperatures and lack of food. Someone has to pay for what was done to us. The world has to understand that ours is the indispensable nation, the shining city on the hill, and we will not back down from a fight, come what will."
Now, nearly 11 years after the start of the Afghan war, our armed forces are still there, bombing villages, breaking down doors in the middle of the night, terrorizing innocent villagers, killing "suspected terrorists," contributing in one way or another to a deepening humanitarian crisis, leaving in their wake untold numbers of casualties, and creating by virtue of their actions and the political machinations behind them ever more enemies. If that is not insanity, then God is the devil’s own shill and nothing is right with the world.
Which brings us to the present and America’s standing in the world. Call me crazy if you must but to my mind we have one nutty, dysfunctional government. It confronts life in all its manifest glory and complexity with a fixed set of beliefs and a single, unchanging set of responses to the multiple shapes and shades of humanity with its constantly erupting desires for life, liberty, and happiness. Like that wounded soul in Kandahar who must have felt driven to commit murder as a way of resolving his own inner conflicts and exorcising whatever demons possessed him, our leaders dress up in camouflage, smear their faces with war paint, strap bandoleros across their chests, pick up a loaded gun, and shoot to kill — Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia . . . .
I opened this essay with a quote from President Obama. It seems fitting to close with the words of someone who truly stood for peace and compassion and who understood how colonial-style wars overseas produce hardship and impoverishment at home; an eminently sane man who represented the best of what this country has to offer the world:
"Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak . . . for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours. . .
"A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, 'This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." — Martin Luther King, Jr. (from "Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence," delivered April 4, 1967, Riverside Church, New York City.)
George Capaccio is an activist, a professional storyteller, and a freelance writer for educational publishers. Between 1997 and 2003, he made nine trips to Iraq as a member of various humanitarian organizations.
His email is: Georgecapaccio@verizon.net