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5 Million Iraqis Killed, Maimed, Tortured, Displaced—Think That Bothers War Boosters?
Posted on Jun 23, 2010
And America bears an even greater responsibility for the direct suffering it has caused. Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian explored U.S.-inflicted civilian suffering by interviewing 50 American veterans who had fought in Iraq.
Their book Collateral Damage reports how U.S. soldiers, unprepared for urban warfare and understandably terrified, have regularly killed, wounded, arrested and humiliated countless Iraqi civilians—at checkpoints, by driving recklessly in convoys, in early morning searches, and by firing indiscriminately in response to IEDs and enemy fire. "The war in Iraq is now primarily about murder," Hedges writes. "Human beings are machine-gunned and bombed from the air, automatic grenade launchers pepper hovels and neighbors with high-powered explosive devices, and convoys race through Iraq like freight trains of death." U.S. soldiers also revealed how, though this behavior violated official rules of engagement, the rules were ignored and required reports either not filed or falsified.
Collateral Damage and the N.Y. Review of Books article cited above illustrate another key point: Americans can report on civilian suffering if they choose. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius has written that "when you see my byline from Kandahar or Kabul or Basra, you should not think that I am out among ordinary people, asking questions of all sides. I am usually inside an American military bubble." But there is nothing stopping him and other war supporters from leaving their bubbles to report on the civilian suffering they helped produce, any more than the N.Y. Times is prevented from taking Iraq’s civilian dead as serious as American ones.
Christopher Hitchens’ Memoirs: A Textbook Case of Non-Humanity
Chris Hedges’ concern for post-invasion civilian suffering contrasts sharply with Hitchens’ memoirs. Ample time has passed for Hitchens to provide a moral reckoning of the human costs and benefits of the invasion, and to apologize to both Iraqi victims and the millions of antiwar Americans whose concerns about post-invasion civilian suffering have proven so much more accurate than his own—and whose personhood he so demeaned with epithets like "moral imbeciles," "noisy morons," "overbred and gutless," "naive" and "foolish."
Hitchens’ memoirs provide a textbook case of nonhumanity. For while proudly bragging of helping cause the invasion, he does not even mention let alone acknowledge responsibility for the civilian suffering to which it led.
He writes movingly, for example, of a fine young American, Mark Daily, who volunteered to fight in Iraq partly because of Hitchens’ pro-war writings and died heroically protecting his fellow-soldiers. But Hitchens does not mention even one of the countless Iraqis who did not volunteer to have their lives destroyed following the invasion he claimed would help them. He properly befriended Daily’s parents, but does not discuss a single Iraqi parent among hundreds of thousands whose loss is equally great.
And he does not even mention the overall scale of Iraqi civilian suffering under U.S. occupation: 5-10 million murdered, maimed, homeless, unjustly imprisoned, tortured and impoverished innocent civilians have all been consigned to the dustbin of his – and America’s —history.
Ignoring post-invasion civilian suffering, of course, also allows Hitchens to avoid his and America’s responsibility for it. He instead admits and then excuses himself for far smaller errors, e.g. writing that "it is here that I ought to make my most painful self-criticisms ... What I should have been asking Wolfowitz was `does the Army Corps of Engineers have a generator big enough to turn the lights of Baghdad back on? … But, not being a professional soldier or quartermaster …I rather tended to assume that things of this practical sort were being taken care of.”
The Iraqi people’s post-invasion agony is also trivialized by Hitchens’ ongoing attempts to blame the “left" for Saddam’s crimes because they failed to rally to his call to invade and occupy Iraq. By that logic any people who hate their leader but do not support being invaded and occupied indefinitely by U.S. troops are responsible for their own misery.
But, in any event, it is obvious that pre-invasion issues are entirely separate from his and America’s responsibility for the unspeakable civilian horror that has followed it. As Iraq Body Count has noted, “Amnesty International… estimated that violent deaths attributable to Saddam’s government numbered at most in the hundreds during the years immediately leading up to 2003. Those wishing to make the "more lives ultimately saved" argument will need to make their comparisons with the number of civilians likely to have been killed had Saddam Hussein’s reign continued into 2003-2004, not in comparison to the number of deaths for which he was responsible in the 1980s and early 1990s.”
We have words to describe the act of seeking moral acclaim for helping an individual whose life one harms – “hypocritical” or “shameless” come to mind. But we lack even the thought-category to describe claiming moral credit for aiding an entire people while ignoring one’s responsibility for the broken lives of millions of them.
Many Americans may find themselves called upon to invent such words in coming years, as the mentality that has treated millions of foreigners as nonpeople increasingly affects American lives at home.
Nonhumanity Abroad, Nonhumanity At Home
In today’s interconnected world, the West ignoring its civilian victims is increasing both terrorism and mass displacements of political and economic refugees. Increased terrorism and anti-illegal immigrant hysteria threaten American lives, political chaos and increasing police-state measures such as the wiretapping of U.S. citizens and Arizona’s recent immigration law. U.S. leaders’ nonhumanity abroad is increasingly affecting domestic security at home.
The most fundamental question for Americans is whether they too will be treated as nonpeople by U.S. elites should America now be entering a period of long economic decline and resulting political instability—as has already occurred for those homeowners tricked out of their life savings by Wall Street. Will America respond to hard times as it did in the 1930s by expanding the safety net, taxing the rich and spending to combat unemployment? Or will its elites move to secure their own wealth and respond to the protests this will inevitably create with harsh measures?
Any American who tries to look at U.S. leaders from the perspective of a Lao refugee, an innocent Iraqi prisoner, a Haitian slum-dweller or a Helmand housewife terrorized at the prospect of the next U.S. offensive, can only shudder at such questions.
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