Belaboring the Obvious

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Latest Three-Minute Hate...

... announced by the right-wing blogosphere seems to be the attacking of John Murtha for his daring to suggest that an occupying army's killing of unarmed civilians--including children--might be viewed as murder. That the military lied about it afterwards only compounds the problem.

From the evidence available, U.S. Marines entered Iraqi homes on Nov. 19, 2005, and indiscriminately killed fifteen people, some execution-style. Yesterday, MSNBC reported:

On Nov. 20, U.S. Marines spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Pool issued a statement saying that on the previous day a roadside bomb had killed 15 civilians and a Marine. In a later gunbattle, U.S. and Iraqi troops killed eight insurgents, he said.

U.S. military officials later confirmed that the version of events was wrong.

Unclaimed Territory has a sampling of the comments about and punishments of Murtha (and the press) suggested by the whitey-tighties on the other side of the cyber-aisle.

It seems that there are a number of undercurrents to all this screaming "traitor," and I doubt that we're ever going to find where each of them leads. But of one thing, I am quite sure. Part of this insanity stems from people who weren't even born when the war in Vietnam was concluded, but feel that their voices, then as now, to stay the course and show some "patriotism" would have turned the tide, that the United States was right, and defeat came because of a failure of will. That the United States, its military and its leaders are so noble of purpose that only subversive erosion from within could account for the U.S. losing anything.

Implicit in that notion, lurking in the background, unspoken, is also the belief that the U.S., being perfect, has the right to behave as inhumanly as necessary in order to win, and that the ethical foundation that means and ends are inseparable is, in itself, subversive.

The similarities of Iraq to Vietnam are occasionally overwrought. But, in this instance, there's merit to the argument, I think. The Marine unit carrying out this wholesale execution of civilians had previously lost personnel to insurgents. They were frustrated by an inability to discern civilian from guerilla fighter. They were not adequately trained for the tasks they'd been ordered to do. They wanted revenge, nothing more, nothing less.

Exactly the same conditions set the stage for the horrors of My Lai. And, exactly the same thing happened after My Lai. The military covered up the true nature of the crime.

The 11th Infantry Division had been poorly trained, and its ranks were filled with the dregs of the military, along with a large complement of young officers who'd just finished OCS and were without the leadership skills necessary to keep a tragedy like My Lai from occurring. Almost from the moment it had been dropped into the Vietnamese countryside, the 11th had taken heavy losses. They blamed the deaths of some favored comrades on the village of My Lai. Had it not been for a young investigative reporter by the name of Seymour Hersh, the military might well have been able to bury the story, just as the Marines attempted to do with the killings in Haditha.

What Hersh essentially said in his reporting was that the war had not only turned sour, but that the American military's response to diminishing returns had been to turn ugly. The exposure of the truth of My Lai, in part through the efforts of the recently-deceased Hugh Thompson, a helicopter pilot who interposed his craft between civilians and the infantry of the 11th and ordered his crew to fire on any soldiers attempting to kill more civilians, was a shock to the public.

It was a shock because the raw, naked truth of those hours of inhuman slaughter were at such enormous variance with the popular beliefs held by the public--about their military, about themselves and about their leaders. Those popular beliefs were, and still are, very powerful, but contrived, images about our perceived rectitude in all things, and of the identification of the public with the country's military, to a degree which can now be reasonably assessed as unhealthy for a free society.

Of this sort of nationalism, George Orwell wrote in 1945:

... although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge, the nationalist is often somewhat uninterested in what happens in the real world. What he wants is to FEEL that his own unit is getting the better of some other unit, and he can more easily do this by scoring off an adversary than by examining the facts to see whether they support him. All nationalist controversy is at the debating-society level. It is always entirely inconclusive, since each contestant invariably believes himself to have won the victory. Some nationalists are not far from schizophrenia, living quite happily amid dreams of power and conquest which have no connection with the physical world.

Hence the interminable attacks on anyone--Murtha, investigative journalists, bloggers--who present a different (and, likely, more truthful) reality from the one favored by the right wing in this country. At the heart of it all is a blind nationalism. If an inconvenient truth somehow bubbles to the surface, the truth-teller must be punished--for the crime of trespassing on the property of the fervent nationalist's fantasy world--for the felony of bubble-bursting.

Here, perhaps, is a fundamental conundrum of politics today in these United States. The founders acknowledged that a free and informed citizenry was essential to the health of democracy. That is why freedom of the press was guaranteed in the Constitution's First Amendment. A substantial number of people still believe in knowing what the government is doing in their names and expect--demand--that the press honor its obligations to that end. At the opposite end of the political spectrum are a substantial number of people who don't want to know what the government is doing, for fear that such knowledge will challenge--or utterly destroy--their carefully constructed world, in which the United States, its military, its political leaders and they themselves are pure, perfect and infallible.

This, too, may partly explain the unwillingness of that latter group to enthusiastically join the military in time of war, even as they revel in war. Military life and day-to-day operations in an occupied country would constitute a different reality from the one they have constructed about their country and its military, and it might force them to acknowledge truths--about their country and about themselves--which they are now safely free to ignore.


  • in which the United States, its military, its political leaders and they themselves are pure, perfect and infallible.

    Which help explain why when bombs and guns fail to win the local populace over, then clearly the root of the problem was INSUFFICIENT QTY OF BOMBS & GUNS!

    By Blogger PhD9, at 5:56 PM  

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