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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

We’re about to turn yet another corner in Iraq, this one emblazoned with the stark and damning number of 2,000. With that number hanging heavy over the nation’s conscience and its soul, it’s more than past time to begin demanding change. President Bush, Dick Cheney and the architects of this ugly war would prefer that you and I would just stop counting the bodies, but the sad parade of flag-draped coffins coming home continues, even if they try to quietly dump them unceremoniously into cold, empty cargo holds.

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While 2,000 dead U.S. soldiers is no doubt an alarming figure, it sadly only begins to scratch the surface of the deep well of pain and suffering this war has caused. In addition to the 2,000 dead, more than 15,000 soldiers have been wounded, many sent home missing an arm, a leg or more. Countless others have been wounded in other ways, emotionally scarred for life because of the things they’ve seen or done in the combat zone. A recent Pentagon study revealed that 1 in 4 soldiers require mental and emotional treatment. A year ago it was 1 in 6, so things are only getting worse. The Pentagon study further revealed that…

“… almost 1,700 servicemembers returning from the war this year said they harbored thoughts of hurting themselves or that they would be better off dead. More than 250 said they had such thoughts "a lot." Nearly 20,000 reported nightmares or unwanted war recollections; more than 3,700 said they had concerns that they might "hurt or lose control" with someone else.”
These worrying figures are lent emotional context when played out in the individual stories of soldiers like Chief Warrant Officer William Howell, Sgt. 1st Class Andre McDaniel, and Spc. Jeremy Wilson. All three served with the 10th Special Forces unit in Iraq. All three committed suicide within a year of returning home.

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I don’t think anyone ever claimed that war isn’t ugly, although I do remember happy fantasy talk of “hearts and flowers” when our young men and women first rolled over the Kuwaiti border into Iraq more than two-and-a-half years ago. But this ugliness is manifesting itself into the creation of a 'War Culture' in this country, one that feigns indifference toward, or even celebrates, the disturbing stories and imagery that come back from the war zone.

Our military’s civilian leadership, headed up by Donald Rumsfeld, has allowed this War Culture to permeate, foster and spread throughout the rank and file, most recently evidenced by last week’s distressing reports from Afghanistan. Reportedly, U.S. soldiers faced the bodies of two killed Taliban towards Mecca and burned them in a purposeful show of disrespect in order to taunt the enemy. The Message?

“You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be. You attack and run away like women. You call yourself Talibs but you are a disgrace to the Muslim religion, and you bring shame upon your family. Come and fight like men instead of the cowardly dogs you are."
Acts like this are a clear manifestation of the President’s remarkably stupid “Bring ‘em on” proclamation 1,878 dead soldiers ago. The only thing this attitude has brought on has been more death and the creation of a seemingly acceptable torture culture within the military, one that has given birth most notably to the endless damage resulting from the Abu Ghraib scandal. Although incidents such as these tend to be shrugged off by blind cheerleaders of this war as the actions of a “few bad apples”, this culture has managed to infect the highest levels of the rank and file, all the way up to the elite 82nd Airborne.

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This is not the case of simply a few bad apples, as pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly would have you believe, this comes from the top. Want proof? President Bush intends to use the first veto of his presidency to cut down a $440 billion military spending bill. Why? Because it includes a simple provision, championed by John McCain, to ban the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone held in custody of the United States government, that’s why. Lord knows our leaders don’t want this ‘option’ to be taken away from them, they think it actually works. That is why Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the other true believers, will do everything in their power to crush the bill. Simply put, our leaders condone torture. That is the only message to be derived from these actions. It shouldn’t really surprise us, should it? After all, these guys support treason, so why not torture too?

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There is a great danger here. This simplistic ‘us vs. them’, black and white face the Bush administration has put on this struggle has made it easy for people to condone such horrific acts. Aldous Huxley once said, “the propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.” In a sense, the Bush team has successfully done this, thus the War Culture spreads and acts of torture are condoned. It’s much easier for people to simply say, “well, they knocked the Towers down, so yeah, we’re gonna sodomize them,” then to put the work forth to understand just what is actually being done in our names. This, as fellow blogger The Heretik said, is how the world ends.

And the War Culture continues to spread, thanks not only to the government but also to their bedfellows, the war profiteers. Defense companies like Boeing and Bell Helicopter are compelled to feed the beast because it suits them and their bottom lines. This is why they show little regard for the potential ramifications of an advertisement that depicts a mosque on fire as U.S. soldiers repel onto its roof from one of their machines. The tagline? “It Descends from the Heavens. Ironically, it Unleashes Hell.” Oh, that's nice. Gawd.

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Perhaps the most disturbing example of this spread and acceptance of War Culture occurred about a month ago. It is called War Porn. Most people ignored it, I think because it was just too much to take, which is understandable. 'War Porn' is the phenomenon of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan posting photos and images of their kills – dismembered bodies, bloodied faces, etc. – on the Internet, not for the purpose of awakening the public to the horrors of war, but rather to entertain them. Shortly after this story broke, one of my favorite bloggers, Billmon, wrote about War Porn, first quoting from The Nation:
The website has become a stomach-churning showcase for the pornography of war -- close-up shots of Iraqi insurgents and civilians with heads blown off, or with intestines spilling from open wounds. Sometimes photographs of mangled body parts are displayed: Part of the game is for users to guess what appendage or organ is on display . . . A series of photos showing two men slumped over in a pickup truck, with nothing visible above their shoulders except a red mass of brain matter and bone, is described as "an Iraqi driver and passenger that tried to run a checkpoint during the first part of OIF." The post goes on to say that "the bad thing about shooting them is that we have to clean it up." Another post, labeled "dead shopkeeper in Iraq," does not explain how the subject of the photo ended up with a large bullet hole in his back but offers the quip "I guess he had some unsatisfied customers."

The Porn of War
September 22,
Billmon then turns to George Orwell for this eerie comparison:

April 4th, 1984. Last night to the flicks. All war films. One very good one of a ship full of refugees being bombed somewhere in the Mediterranean. Audience much amused by shots of a great huge fat man trying to swim away with a helicopter after him, first you saw him wallowing along in the water like a porpoise, then you saw him through the helicopters gunsights, then he was full of holes and the sea round him turned pink and he sank as suddenly as though the holes had let in the water, audience shouting with laughter when he sank. then you saw a lifeboat full of children with a helicopter hovering over it. there was a middle-aged woman might have been a jewess sitting up in the bow with a little boy about three years old in her arms. little boy screaming with fright and hiding his head between her breasts as if he was trying to burrow right into her and the woman putting her arms round him and comforting him although she was blue with fright herself, all the time covering him up as much as possible as if she thought her arms could keep the bullets off him. then the helicopter planted a 20 kilo bomb in among them terrific flash and the boat went all to matchwood. Then there was a wonderful shot of a child's arm going up up up right up into the air a helicopter with a camera in its nose must have followed it up and there was a lot of applause from the party seats but a woman down in the prole part of the house suddenly started kicking up a fuss and shouting they didnt oughter of showed it not in front of kids they didnt it aint right not in front of kids it aint until the police turned her turned her out i dont suppose anything happened to her nobody cares what the proles say typical prole reaction.

George Orwell
Billmon’s words following this are riveting. I read this after I attended the march in DC on September 24, but it helped to crystalize my beliefs and it reminded me why I was there. I encourage everyone to read the entire post.

Considering all of this, it is becoming more and more difficult to think we aren’t being turned into monsters by this war. And the Bush cabal seems intent to allow it to continue, as evidenced by their reckless veto threat to McCain’s anti-torture amendment.

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Of course, some of you may still say this seems like nothing but ‘lefty garbage,’ that I’m simply glorifying the actions of the few to make my point. If that’s you, then maybe it’s best to just keep it simple:

2,000 Dead American Soldiers.

Shouldn’t that be enough?

And if you want to know what 2,000 looks like, then watch this video. After that, get out and raise your voice in dissent this week. Demand new leadership. Demand accountability. Tell the President and his cronies: “We Hate Your War.”

Iraq Casualties
Iraq Body Count
Paul Hackett's Iraq Pledge
The Torture Question
ThinkProgress: A Progressive Exit Strategy
Juan Cole: Why We Have to Get the Troops Out of Iraq

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