Memorial Day Question: Why do we need to honor 6,440 U.S. soldiers who died in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Answer: Because they were asked to go there.
To put this day into perspective, I’ve re-published this image by “ARG” at Pixwit (with permission of the artist):
Additional note from the artist:
Chicken Heart Winner (Five-deferment Dick)
November 17, 2005: As Vice President Dick Cheney attacks the Democrats for questioning the honesty of the president’s warmaking, Congressman John Murtha, himself a decorated Korean War and Vietnam War combat veteran and a staunch warhawk, announces it’s time to bring the troops home. Concerning Mr. Cheney’s ranting, Murtha resorted to uncharacteristic sarcasm: “I like guys who got five deferments and have never been there and send people to war and then don’t like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done.” Concerning Cheney’s lack of military service, he’s on record: “I had other priorities in the ’60s than military service.”
I believe that Jesus was a human being, not a God. Therefore, I don’t give him homage, but I do occasionally read his alleged teachings, which I evaluate one-by-one. Jesus allegedly said some things that make sense to me, but other things attributed to Jesus don’t make much sense to me. When I run into a teaching of Jesus that doesn’t make sense, I set it aside as something that doesn’t make sense. I’m free to do this, because I’m not a Christian. If I were a Christian, however, I would think that I should follow ALL of the teachings attributed to Jesus, because if I were a Christian, I would probably believe that Jesus is God, and who would I be to disagree with God?
One of the things Jesus seemed to teach quite clearly was that we should love our enemies. Robert Wright summarizes these teachings:
The “Love your enemy” injunction, as we’ve seen, appears in both Matthew and Luke. In the Matthew version, Jesus says, “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” In the letter to the Romans, written more than a decade before Matthew or Luke was written, Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” And if Paul doesn’t quite say to love your enemies, he does add “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.” Paul also says, in that same passage, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil … never avenge yourselves.” Similarly, Jesus, just before advising people to love their enemies, says, “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”
What would you think about someone who started shooting a gun from the top of the Empire State Building in order to kill “bad people” walking on the sidewalks below? Assume that he could tell very little, if anything, about the people he was killing. Also assume that when we asked him to justify how he knew he was shooting “bad people” he asked us to trust him and questioned our loyalty to the United States to the extent we doubted him. Now consider America’s largely indiscriminate killings using its huge fleet of drones. Glenn Greenwald puts it in perspective:
After I linked to [a New York Times] Op-Ed yesterday on Twitter — by writing that “every American who cheers for drone strikes should confront the victims of their aggression” — I was predictably deluged with responses justifying Obama’s drone attacks on the ground that they are necessary to kill The Terrorists. Reading the responses, I could clearly discern the mentality driving them: I have never heard of 99% of the people my government kills with drones, nor have I ever seen any evidence about them, but I am sure they are Terrorists. That is the drone mentality in both senses of the word; it’s that combination of pure ignorance and blind faith in government authorities that you will inevitably hear from anyone defending President Obama’s militarism . . . . As it turns out, it isn’t only the President’s drone-cheering supporters who have no idea who is being killed by the program they support; neither does the CIA itself. A Wall Street Journal article yesterday described internal dissension in the administration to Obama’s broad standards for when drone strikes are permitted, and noted that the “bulk” of the drone attacks — the bulk of them – “target groups of men believed to be militants associated with terrorist groups, but whose identities aren’t always known.” As Spencer Ackerman put it: “The CIA is now killing people without knowing who they are, on suspicion of association with terrorist groups.”
Take a look at Greenwald’s article to get a feel for what it is like for innocent families to live in terror of attack by drones. I wrote on this topic recently, actually twice, and I find it profoundly disturbing that this sort of sky-adjudication and killing is being done in my name by our large staff of predator pilots.
The way we are fighting our ongoing drone “war” appears incompatible with a genuine attempt to seek lasting peace. We don’t have any confidence that we are killing people who threaten the United States. Shame on us.
President Barack Obama recently suggested that America’s wars had cost $1 trillion. Reuters suggested that Obama is not being forthright:
Staggering as it is, that figure grossly underestimates the total cost of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the U.S. Treasury and ignores more imposing costs yet to come, according to a study released on Wednesday. The final bill will run at least $3.7 trillion and could reach as high as $4.4 trillion
The study referred to is this one, by Costs of War. Unlike your local newspaper or your local TV news, this is website that pulls no punches. Here are some of the findings:
- While we know how many US soldiers have died in the wars (just over 6000), what is startling is what we don’t know about the levels of injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars. New disability claims continue to pour into the VA, with 550,000 just through last fall. Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been identified.
- At least 137,000 civilians have died and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict.
- The armed conflict in Pakistan, which the U.S. helps the Pakistani military fight by funding, equipping and training them, has taken as many lives as the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.
- Putting together the conservative numbers of war dead, in uniform and out, brings the total to 225,000.
- Millions of people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions. The current number of war refugees and displaced persons — 7,800,000 — is equivalent to all of the people of Connecticut and Kentucky fleeing their homes.
How disproportionate has been America’s response to the 9/11 attacks? Reuters offers this:
What followed were three wars in which $50 billion amounts to a rounding error. For every person killed on September 11, another 73 have been killed since.
Those who are uncomfortable with cognitive dissonance or so-called conspiracy theories might be better off skipping this post. Those who seek to understand the machinations of our government however, are encouraged to read on.
Firstly, let me clearly state that I disapprove of the manner of this killing. Extrajudicial assassinations are an anathema to a society that claims to live by the rule of law. Numerous voices are loudly praising this decision to kill bin Laden rather than capture him, supposedly to save the fragile American public from the rigors of a trial. They claim that a trial would have been “too controversial”, as if that had anything to do with the law or its application. Either we believe that laws matter or we don’t. Either we believe that there is justice available under our system of laws, or we do not. In this case, it’s clear that we do not trust our own system of justice to arrive at the “right” conclusion. Implicitly, this suggests that we are hoping for a kangaroo court, already convinced of the guilt of the accused based upon the mere say-so of our government. When the president can order someone to be killed, with no oversight or evidence presented, we no longer a democratic system of checks and balances. We have an emperor, a tyrant, relatively benign though he may appear to be. I argued much the same in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed last year.
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Keep President Eisenhower’s warning in mind as you read this post (see video below).
The U.S. Department of Defense defines “Psychological Operations” or “Psy-Ops” as “Planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign government, organizations, groups, and individuals.”
Such operations may be based upon truth or based upon deception, but the goal is the same: to alter perceptions and “ultimately the behavior” of others. As a matter of law, such actions are supposed to be directed against the “foreign hostile groups”, or at least not against Americans. Unfortunately, this law is routinely ignored:
- In 2009, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) awarded a multi-million dollar contract to General Dynamics to wage a psy-ops campaign aimed at France and Britain. The goal of the campaign was to create “influence websites” to build support for the Global War on Terror.
Guantanamo has become a recruiting tool for our enemies. The legal framework behind Guantanamo has failed completely, resulting in only one conviction. President Bush’s own Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, wants to close it. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, wants to close it. The first step to reclaiming America’s standing in the world has to be closing this facility. As president, Barack Obama will close the detention facility at Guantanamo. He will reject the Military Commissions Act, which allowed the U.S. to circumvent Geneva Conventions in the handling of detainees. He will develop a fair and thorough process based on the Uniform Code of Military Justice to distinguish between those prisoners who should be prosecuted for their crimes, those who can’t be prosecuted but who can be held in a manner consistent with the laws of war, and those who should be released or transferred to their home countries. (source- PDF)
That’s the campaign trail rhetoric from Candidate Obama. I liked the stance of Candidate Obama on this issue, it’s a shame that President Obama sees things so differently.
I often wonder how people are capable of simply going about their business, chatting about last night’s sporting event, working on crossword puzzles or thinking about buying a new car, despite the fact that they will be dead someday, maybe even someday soon. And for those with children, their children will also be dead a few decades later. How can we possibly live with those dreaded thoughts hanging over us? In fact, every person now living will likely be dead in 150 years. How can we engage in mundane things like gossiping, consuming, traveling and amusing ourselves when every person on the planet is facing annihilation? How do we put death out of our minds so easily?
Ernest Becker would suggest that I have it all backwards. According to Becker, people intensely amuse and distract themselves, and immerse themselves in culture, because they are anxious about death. They are not necessarily consciously aware of their impending deaths, but they feel it deeply, and their minds grind and sputter on this topic, under the surface, unconsciously.
We do the best we can to deal with this terrifying thought that we will all be dead, and the best we can think of doing is to distract ourselves with the many bright and shiny bigger-than-us, bigger-than-life things offered by culture. We put these things on a pedestal and then we cling to them as if they were life preservers. We embellish our cultural treasures with accolades recognizing their “eternal” significance. “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Babe Ruth, stamp collections, being a trivia pursuit star, triathlons, Michelangelo’s David. And for some of us, Jesus Christ loves us and He will let us live with him forever in heaven. According to Becker, these cultural mainstays are important for keeping us steady, even while death (and the threat of death) lurks around every corner.
I recently had the opportunity to watch the highly acclaimed low-budget 90-minute 2005 documentary titled “Flight from Death: the Quest for Immortality,” produced by Patrick Shen and Greg Bennick. The film is based on the works of Ernest Becker’s “terror management theory,” (TMT) on which I’ve written several times (see here and here). Even though I was well acquainted with the works of Becker prior to viewing this video, I found the film to be transformative, in that it offers a schematic of underlying “hydraulics” that help us to understand many things that otherwise seem so puzzling about culture. I’d highly recommend “Flight from Death” whether or not you sometimes find it stunning that you live on a planet where mobile intestinal tracks scurry about, drive buses and even serve you meals at your local restaurant. Here’s the trailer.
Even though I was already familiar with Becker’s theory and many of the experiments substantiating Becker’s theory, I found the film illuminating. “Flight From Death” includes well-chosen imagery and music to accompany the interviews with thoughtful and eccentric people from a wide variety of backgrounds (including psychologist Sheldon Soloman and writer Sam Keen, among others).
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What is the cost of the U.S. invasion of Iraq? The cost, which will continue to mount for decades, is staggering, even insane. It wasn’t $50 B, as W stated; it’s already in the trillions. Here are the numbers from the Washington Post. The reason for the U.S. invasion and occupation? Unknown. The deleterious effect on the soldiers, their families and the U.S. economy? Long term and devastating. For the hawks, it was fun going in with all those fancy weapons blazing, but they are not offering any ideas as far as cleaning up this catastrophic mess. And those hawks have absolutely nothing to offer to the massive number of Iraqi refugees, who have spilled all over the Middle East, placing an enormous burden on Syria and Jordan.
And combat is not “over,” per the recent lies of the Obama Administration. And the corrupt corporate media is, for the most part, not calling out the Obama Administration for this recent fabrication any more than they confronted the U.S. for the fictitious “reasons” for invading in the first place. The media excels at serving as official stenographer for U.S. politicians whenever the topic is war (and see this piece on a documentary by Phil Donahue, and this article regarding Amy Goodman’s views about the additional failures of the media). The corporate media bears thus much of the blame for the bleak economic future of the U.S.