Americans have always been notoriously blind to the devastation wrought by their government's policies on the citizens of other nations--especially people of color. If you doubt that any of us who grew up in that culture are susceptible to such near-sightedness, try this little self test.
How many Americans were killed in the Vietnam War? How many Americans have died to date in the Iraq War? How many were killed on 9/11? (The official figures appear at the end of the article.)
Most readers wouldn't have much problem coming up with numbers within plus or minus twenty per cent of the actual figure.
Now try this.
How many Vietnamese were killed between 1960 and 1975? How many Iraqis have died since we invaded? (Two estimates appear at the end of the article.)
Was that a little tougher? Outside of a few human rights activists, I suspect few came close.
Mainstream politicians and press critical of U. S. involvement in Vietnam and Iraq have always emphasized American losses in lives and treasure as the primary reason for disengaging from conflict. George McGovern was the exception that proved the rule when he astonished the few listeners who hung on until 3 AM to hear him include in his nomination acceptance speech this reason for withdrawing from Vietnam:
There will be no more Asian children running ablaze from bombed-out schools. There will be no more talk of bombing the dikes or the cities of the North.
More typical is John Kerry's rhetoric urging a timetable for bringing American troops home from Iraq:
A few weeks ago I departed Iraq from Mosul. Three Senators and staff were gathered in the forward part of a C-130. In the middle of the cavernous cargo hold was a simple, aluminum coffin with a small American flag draped over it. We were bringing another American soldier, just killed, home to his family and final resting place.The starkness of his coffin in the center of the hold, the silence except for the din of the engines, was a real time cold reminder of the consequences of decisions for which we Senators share responsibility.
Underlying Kerry's choice of imagery is the assumption that American lives are more precious, that Americans are exceptional.
But that dearly held, Americ-centric view may be fading away. The evidence for the erosion of the belief that Americans enjoy special privilege in this world comes from a surprising source. The decades-long efforts of the antiwar left to get people in the U. S. to have concern and compassion for the people upon whom American bombs fall seems finally to have caught hold of the current Secretary of the Air Force, Michael Wynne.
Secretary Wynne showed a stunning preference yesterday for using new high-power microwave weapons for domestic crowd control as a way of testing the possible side effects of the devices:
''If we're not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation,'' said Wynne. ''(Because) if I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press.'"
This is the Secretary of the same Air Force that dropped millions of tons of Agent Orange on Vietnam and untold tons of uranium-depleted shells on Iraq. Has Wynne been reading too much Noam Chomsky?
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