Mar 11, 2014
The Etiquette of War and Surveillance
Posted on Oct 12, 2013
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch
Dear Col. Manners,
I’m a housewife in Tulsa and I had a question for you about the president’s plan for a Syrian intervention. I know that, in the end, it didn’t happen, and I hope you won’t think it’s frivolous of me to bring it up a month later, but I simply couldn’t get it out of my mind. Here’s what I’ve been wondering about: Why is it called “humanitarian intervention” when the president’s (and Pentagon’s) plan, as best I understood it, was to loose Tomahawk missiles and bombers on Damascus? I don’t see anything “human” or “humanitarian” in that. And here’s another related question: why are such strikes always referred to as “surgical” and “precise” when, as far as I can tell, they invariably kill civilians?
Nothing frivolous about your thinking! Let me start with that “surgically precise.” The answer is: American weapons makers are the best in the world and so all of our latest weapons are indeed surgical and precise in their impact. Keep in mind, however, that, as studies have shown, “surgically precise” is a term with significant latitude. Consider, for instance, that, according to a report published in the Archives of Surgery, in a six-and-a-half-year period, Colorado doctors operated on the wrong patient at least 25 times, and another 107 times on the wrong body part. So, surgically precise—yes, indeed!
As for that term “humanitarian intervention,” as you probably know, the Supreme Court long ago turned the corporation into a “person” for matters of law. The Pentagon has functionally done the same thing for weapons like the Tomahawk missile for matters of war. That transformation may not have the force of law, but it does have force, so to speak. Because the Tomahawk is an American missile (produced by the Raytheon corporation, a genuine American outfit), and because, by definition, what we Americans do always comes from the best of intentions and an essential goodness of heart, because, that is, we are as exceptional, as one of a kind, in war as in peace, a missile attack on Syria (or elsewhere) would, by definition, be both “human” and “humanitarian”—and to complete the phrase in question, no one could deny that, had it happened, it would also have been an “intervention.” After all, Washington’s record on interventions speaks for itself. No country in memory has been as prolific an interventionist as the U.S.A.—and it’s a record, like all records, worth taking some pride in.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture (now also in a Kindle edition), runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.
Copyright 2013 Tom Engelhardt
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