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Lessons From the Dead in a No-Learning-Curve World, by Tom Engelhardt

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This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

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He was 22, a corporal in the Marines from Preston, Iowa, a "city" incorporated in 1890 with a present population of 949.  He died in a hospital in Germany of "wounds received from an explosive device while on patrol in Helmand province [Afghanistan]."  Of him, his high school principal said, "He was a good kid." He is survived by his parents.

He was 20, a private in the 10th Mountain Division from Boyne City, population 3,735 souls, which bills itself as "the fastest growing city in Northern Michigan."  He died of "wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small-arms fire" and is survived by his parents.

These were the last two of the 10 Americans whose deaths in Afghanistan were announced by the Pentagon Thanksgiving week.  The other eight came from Apache Junction, Arizona; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Greensboro, North Carolina; Navarre, Florida; Witchita, Kansas; San Jose, California; Moline, Illinois; and Danville, California.  Six of them died from improvised explosive devices (roadside bombs), assumedly without ever seeing the Afghan enemies who killed them.  One died of "indirect fire" and another "while conducting combat operations."  On such things, Defense Department press releases are relatively tight-lipped, as was the Army, for instance, when it released news that same week of 17 "potential suicides" among active-duty soldiers in October.

These days, the names of the dead dribble directly onto the inside pages of newspapers, or simply into the ether, in a war now opposed by 63% of Americans, according to the latest CNN/ORC opinion poll, but in truth barely remembered by anyone in this country.  It's a reality made easier by the fact that the dead of America's All-Volunteer Army tend to come from forgettable places -- small towns, obscure suburbs, third or fourth-rank cities -- and a military that ever fewer Americans have any connection with.

Aside from those who love them, who pays much attention anymore to the deaths of American troops in distant lands? These deaths are, after all, largely dwarfed by local fatality counts like the 16 Americans who died in accidents on Ohio's highways over the long Thanksgiving weekend of 2010 or the 32,788 Americans who died in road fatalities that same year?

So who, that same week, was going to pay the slightest attention to the fate of 50 year-old Mohammad Rahim, a farmer from Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan?  Four of his children -- two sons and two daughters, all between four and 12 years old -- were killed in a "NATO" (undoubtedly American) airstrike, while working in their fields.  In addition, an eight-year-old daughter of his was "badly wounded."  Whether Rahim himself was killed is unclear from the modest reports we have of the "incident."

In all, seven civilians and possibly two fleeing insurgents died.  Rahim's uncle Abdul Samad, however, is quoted as saying, "There were no Taliban in the field; this is a baseless allegation that the Taliban were planting mines.  I have been to the scene and haven't found a single bit of evidence of bombs or any other weapons.  The Americans did a serious crime against innocent children, they will never be forgiven."

As in all such cases, NATO has opened an "investigation" into what happened.  The results of such investigations seldom become known.

Similarly, on Thanksgiving weekend, 24 to 28 Pakistani soldiers, including two officers, were killed in a set of "NATO" helicopter and fighter-jet attacks on two outposts across the Afghan border in Pakistan.  One post, according to Pakistani sources, was attacked twice.  More soldiers were wounded.   Outraged Pakistani officials promptly denounced the attack, closed key border crossings to U.S. vehicles supplying the war in Afghanistan, and demanded that the U.S. leave a key airbase used for the CIA's drone war in the Pakistani tribal areas. In response, American officials, military and civilian, offered condolences and yet pleaded "self-defense," while offering promises of a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the "friendly fire incident."

Amid these relatively modest death counts, don't forget one staggering figure that came to light that same Thanksgiving week: the estimate that, in Iraq, 900,000 wives have lost their husbands since the U.S. invasion in March 2003.  Not surprisingly, many of these widows are in a state of desperation and reportedly getting next to no help from either the Iraqi or the American governments.  Though their 900,000 husbands undoubtedly died in various ways, warlike, civil-war-like, and peaceable, the figure does offer a crude indicator of the levels of carnage the U.S. invasion loosed on that country over the last eight and a half years.

Creative Destruction in the Greater Middle East

Think of all this as just a partial one-week's scorecard of American-style war.  While you're at it, remember Washington's high hopes only a decade ago for what America's "lite," "shock and awe" military would do, for the way it would singlehandedly crush enemies, reorganize the Middle East, create a new order on Earth, set the oil flowing, privatize and rebuild whole nations, and usher in a global peace, especially in the Greater Middle East, on terms pleasing to the planet's sole superpower.

That such sky-high "hopes" were then the coin of the realm in Washington is a measure of the way delusional thinking passed for the strategic variety and a reminder of how, for a time, pundits of every sort dealt with those hopes as if they represented reality itself.  And yet, it should have come as no shock that a military-first "foreign policy" and a military force with staggering technological powers at its command would prove incapable of building anything.  No one should have been surprised that such a force was good only for what it was built for: death and destruction.

A case might be made that the U.S. military's version of "creative destruction," driven directly into the oil heartlands of the planet, did prepare the way, however inadvertently, for the Arab Spring to come, in part by unifying the region in misery and visceral dislike.  In the meantime, the "mistakes," the "incidents," the "collateral damage," the slaughtered wedding parties and bombed funerals, the "mishaps," and "miscommunications" continued to pile up -- as did dead Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, and Americans, so many from places you've never heard of if you weren't born there.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews (more...)
 

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