Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

20 March, 2008

Another Generation of Winter Soldiers

Private Joker: How can you shoot women or children?
Door Gunner: Easy! Ya just don't lead 'em so much! Ain't war hell?

Has anyone been watching the Winter Soldier proceedings? I've been watching them on Democracy Now.

In footage broadcast yesterday, one soldier related how his comrades used the slur "hajj" or "hajji" when referring to Iraqi civilians. He asked one of his fellow soldiers, who was an African-American, how he could use derogatory names and was told something like, "They're just haj – who cares?"

This was eerily reminiscent of what happened to Will Williams, a Vietnam veteran whose story you can read about in the book Long Shadows: Veterans' Paths to Peace. One of the things that changed Williams' mind about his role in Vietnam was how he, like many of his fellow G.I.s, referred to civilians there as "gooks". He felt that he was dishing out the exact same racist crap that was inflicted on him back home in the States. Very little about war seems to change through the years.

I would refer readers to Chris Hedges' excellent War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning for a lengthier discussion on how racial and ethnic slurs dehumanize an "other" and help inure people to the idea of murdering their neighbors. But for a short course, you can listen to the Winter Soldier testimony and hear tales of innocent women & children being murdered by our boys. When I listened to them, I found it perversely refreshing because I am tired of hearing about waterboarding as if that were the greatest crime being perpetrated in our Iraqi venture. We've been waterboarding at least since 1898 when Filipino insurgents were given the "water cure" and I have the feeling that there are many people in this country who think that stopping the practice would somehow give a patina of moral probity to what's happening in Iraq. Instead, the situation is totally fugazi and morally questionable, at best. Even if all torture were to cease, our soldiers would still find themselves in horrible situations requiring split second reactions with regards to people with whom they cannot communicate. The end of waterboarding would not mean an end to old women bringing our soldiers food getting shot nor an end to order to shoot any car painted a certain way. (The paint job in question being the standard one for taxis.)

I've written previously about Chelsea Clinton's deplorable comment made while here in Madison in which she sought to absolve her mother of moral culpability for the deaths of Iraqi civilians by saying that clairvoyance would have been needed to foresee the horrors of the past few years. Wherever you send soldiers to wage war, civilians will surely suffer. (You don't even need to have them engaged in combat – just ask an Okinawan.) The stories of the Winter Soldiers heard recently on Democracy Now are the same as those given by the Winter Soldiers back in 1971. Only the locale and slurs have changed.

In addition to soldier's tales, I also heard the testimony of the parents of one veteran who had committed suicide. That someone suffering from PTSD kills himself is bad enough but that the VA refused to help him made the story even more appalling. The VA would not treat the pain until the guy stopped drinking but he was drinking to dull the pain and so one of our own was caught in what proved to be a lethal catch-22. While no system is perfect, the VA is, from what I've read, overwhelmed with veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Waiting lists of people seeking care have ballooned and the situation is exasperated by red tape. If we had the will, we could certainly do better.

And let us not forget that Obama, Clinton, and McCain would all have us in Iraq for the foreseeable future even after withdrawl. Smaller numbers and different roles, perhaps, but none of them is willing to repudiate Bush's imperial policies in full.
|| Palmer, 4:41 PM


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