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5 Million Iraqis Killed, Maimed, Tortured, Displaced—Think That Bothers War Boosters?
Posted on Jun 23, 2010
War advocates are correct, of course, that much of the responsibility for this suffering rests with Iraqi and Al-Qaeda extremists who have no compunction about inflicting civilian casualties. But this in no way absolves them and the U.S. of their own responsibility for Iraqi civilian suffering, both directly from U.S. war-making and indirectly by the U.S. failing to meet its legal responsibilities as an occupying power to provide security for the civilian population.
Nonhumanity, Not Inhumanity
U.S. leaders killed large numbers of civilians during World War II, of course, in an earlier age of "inhumanity" marked by the depredations of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. But they did so relatively openly. They did not claim, for example, that only “enemy insurgents” were killed at Dresden, and Americans relatively soon learned what had happened at Hiroshima.
It was only as U.S. leaders constructed America’s first global empire after 1945— increasingly waging secret, massive, illegal and unconstitutional bombing campaigns in countries like Laos and Cambodia, refusing to even acknowledge the countless civilian deaths they caused throughout Indochina, failing to help rebuild it after the war, and supporting savage local dictators and policies destroying local economies around the world—that they created a new age of "nonhumanity." By now U.S. leaders’ Third World victims—whom they have neither acknowledged nor made amends for—number in the tens of millions.
We have entered a new Orwellian age in which continuous "fighting ... takes place on the vague frontiers whose whereabouts the average man can only guess at," and its innocent victims are simply airbrushed out of history. Nothing symbolizes this nonhumanity more than U.S. leaders’ use of the term “collateral damage” to refer to millions of innocent human beings who have as much right to their lives as those who so mercilessly snuff them out. Generals Tommy Franks and Colin Powell say "we don’t do civilians" when asked how many civilians they kill, and their countrymen are so indifferent to civilian murder that no one even asks why not. Who is in a better position to discover how many innocent men, women and children U.S. leaders kill, and help them avoid further civilian murder? The only act more nonhuman than not caring is killing civilians in the first place.
U.S. indifference to civilian suffering is particularly noticeable in the case of "liberal war hawks" who justified the Iraq invasion on humanitarian grounds but then largely ignored its human costs as much as conservatives who do not even claim concern for the civilians they destroy. Slate, for example, asked an online panel of 10 such folks in March 2008—when civilian victims were in the millions—to explain how they had gotten the Iraqi war wrong.
While all but one (Christopher Hitchens: "How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I Didn’t") acknowledged error, and a number expressed pain over civilian suffering, the reasons listed for their mistakes included misjudging "Bush’s sense of morality," "I wanted to strike back," "I believed the groupthink," “I didn’t realize how incompetent the Bush administration could be,” and the "the self-centeredness and sectarianism of the ruling elite."
All failed to acknowledge their own moral blindness in failing to imagine what millions of their fellow Americans clearly saw: the havoc that the U.S. war-machine would inevitably wreak on innocent Iraqi civilians whatever its stated intentions or claimed benefits.
U.S. Responsibility For Civilian Suffering in Iraq
One of the panelists – the diplomat Phillip Carter—did, however, make a key point. After explaining how a former Iraqi law professor he worked with was presumably killed by Al-Qaeda, Carter wrote, "I felt guilty for not doing more to protect him. I felt guilty for not doing more … to make Iraq safe.” His words point to the considerable U.S. responsibility for post-invasion civilian suffering, whether caused by its own troops or others. An occupier assumes not only moral but legal responsibility for ensuring the safety of civilians in the zones it occupies. By both disbanding the Iraqi army and not using its own forces to maintain law and order U.S. leaders failed that responsibility, which was thus not merely a “mistake” but a war crime.
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