Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

25 January, 2013

Fortunes of War

Rick Rowley's new documentary, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival recently. It follows reporter Jeremy Scahill to Gardez, Afghanistan (and, it looks like, Yemen and Somalia) where he looks at Barack Obama's drone war and the handiwork of U.S. Special Forces there on the ground instead of from aerial cameras. Amy Goodman reports.

Scahill told me: “In Gardez, U.S. special operations forces had intelligence that a Taliban cell was having some sort of a meeting to prepare a suicide bomber. And they raid the house in the middle of the night, and they end up killing five people, including three women, two of whom were pregnant, and ... Mohammed Daoud, a senior Afghan police commander who had been trained by the U.S.”

Before leaving, Scahill and Rowley made copies of videos from the cellphones of survivors. One demonstrated that it was not a Taliban meeting, but a lively celebration of the birth of a child that the raid interrupted. Rowley described another video: “You can hear voices come over it, and they’re American-accented voices speaking about piecing together their version of the night’s killings, getting their story straight. You hear them trying to concoct a story about how this was something other than a massacre.”

Rowley and Scahill appeared on Democracy Now! to talk about their experiences and what they found.

Reading Goodman's column and hearing Rowley and Scahill talk, I was reminded of a couple excellent articles from TomDispatch.com. The first was written by Jonathan Schell and is a review of Nick Turse's new book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, in which it is demonstrated that the My Lai Massacre was anything but uncommon.

Turse offers a massacre at a village called Trieu Ai in October 1967 as a paradigm. A marine company suffered the loss of a man to a booby trap near the village, which had in fact had been mostly burned down by other American forces a few days earlier. Some villagers had, however, returned for their belongings. Now, the Marine company, enraged by its loss but unable to find the enemy, entered the village firing their M-16s, setting fire to any intact houses, and tossing grenades into bomb shelters.

A Marine marched a woman into a field and shot her. Another reported that there were children in the shelters that were being blown up. His superior replied, “Tough shit, they grow up to be VC [Vietcong].” Five or ten people rushed out of a shelter when a grenade was thrown into it. They were cut down in a hail of fire.

The savagery often extended to the utmost depravity: gratuitous torture, killing for target practice, slaughter of children and babies, gang rape. Consider the following all-too-typical actions of Company B, 1st Battalion, 35th infantry beginning in October 1967:

“The company stumbled upon an unarmed young boy. 'Someone caught him up on a hill, and they brought him down and the lieutenant asked who wanted to kill him...' medic Jamie Henry later told army investigators. A radioman and another medic volunteered for the job. The radioman... ’kicked the boy in the stomach and the medic took him around behind a rock and I heard one magazine go off complete on automatic...’

“A few days after this incident, members of that same unit brutalized an elderly man to the point of collapse and then threw him off a cliff without even knowing whether he was dead or alive...

“A couple of days after that, they used an unarmed man for target practice...

“And less than two weeks later, members of Company B reportedly killed five unarmed women...

“Unit members rattled off a litany of other brutal acts committed by the company... [including] a living woman who had an ear cut off while her baby was thrown to the ground and stomped on...”

The second article is by Turse himself and is entitled "So Many People Died: The American System of Suffering, 1965-2014". He writes:

For all the dissimilarities, botched analogies, and tortured comparisons, there has been one connecting thread in Washington’s foreign wars of the last half century that, in recent years at least, Americans have seldom found of the slightest interest: misery for local nationals. Civilian suffering is, in fact, the defining characteristic of modern war in general, even if only rarely discussed in the halls of power or the mainstream media.

Turse bookends his piece with the stories of Pham To and Pham Thang, Vietnamese men who survived America's incursion into his country.

As I was wrapping up my interview, Pham Thang asked me about the purpose of the last hour and a half of questions I’d asked him. Through my interpreter, I explained that most Americans knew next to nothing about Vietnamese suffering during the war and that most books written in my country on the war years ignored it. I wanted, I told him, to offer Americans the chance to hear about the experiences of ordinary Vietnamese for the first time.

“If the American people know about these incidents, if they learn about the wartime suffering of people in Vietnam, do you think they will sympathize?” he asked me.

Probably not many, unfortunately.

Most Americans are too busy dealing with the shock of Lance Armstrong's admission of having taken performance enhancing drugs or updating their Facebook page to recall Abeer Qasim Hamza, the 14 year-old Iraqi girl whose family was brutally murdered in the next room before some G.I.s gang raped her and then liberated her from what was surely the highest form of misery by putting a bullet in her head. I have to wonder how many Americans know that Robert Bales is on trial for a massacre that took place in Afghanistan less than a year ago when an American soldier slaughtered 16 civilians, nine of which were children, and wounded six more. The assailant even tried to burn some of the corpses.

You might think that I am being unfair because Americans can be and have been very empathetic towards non-Americans. We opened our wallets in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti a few years back, for example. But that was a natural disaster. When it's an American man-made disaster – one where Americans being paid by American tax dollars pulling triggers and pushing buttons on killing machines paid for with like money – well, those people in that other land just don't seem to matter as much. Our empathy finds itself restrained. There are no benefit concerts or telethons for the family of Abeer Qasim Hamza.
|| Palmer, 3:37 PM


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