Bradley Manning, 22, an Army intelligence analyst has been arrested for leaking the profoundly disturbing video of a helicopter attack on a group of people in Iraq in 2007.
Some weeks ago I watched that video. If you go here and scroll down a little ways you will see it. It is called "Collateral Murder." I should warn you, it is not an easy video to watch. I had trouble believing I was seeing a real video recording of about a dozen people being murdered. I was horrified. Then I felt rage and confusion. I found myself screaming at the men doing the killing. I was appalled at their absolute indifference to human life to the act of killing. When it finished (it took about 17 minutes) I was left with a profound feeling of despair. I felt that I did not want to live in a place where this kind of thing can happen not just occasionally but more or less daily. Yet there is no place to move to unless I just want to kill myself. Which I don't, really. I suspect that I am not alone in having this kind of emotional reaction.
What I saw on the video was worse than earthquakes or tornadoes. Or disease. They cause suffering, but there is something especially horrifying about human beings doing this to other human beings. It is even worse when the killing is not an act of rage but something that is done in a methodical and dispassionate manner. When it is done even with joy with enthusiasm. "Pick up that weapon" one of the gunners pleaded. He was speaking to a wounded man who, of course, could not hear him. The soldier wanted the excuse he needed to kill again. "Good shooting" another said, after one of his buddies killed several people. "Thanks" the gunner replied. It was as though they were at a fair trying to win some cheap prize. They were enjoying it.
As I tried to make some sense of what I had seen I ran into an interesting commentary by a soldier who had seen action in Iraq. It was on OpEdNews.com.: here
The observations of the soldier, Josh Stieber, are summed up by the OpEd reporter as follows:
Josh told me that the horror and disgust over the words and behaviors of the soldiers involved in killing the Reuters photographer are misplaced because they were doing what the system wanted them to do. He suggests that our challenge is to not question the men but, rather, the system and policies that created them. He's suggesting that the self-righteous indignation currently being aimed at the soldiers who did the shooting should be aimed at the leaders, the policies and values that the US has established for training soldiers.
The point is well taken. Perhaps we should not be so self-righteous about what we are seeing, as horrible as it is. This is what war is. This is the kind of behavior and people that war inevitably creates. It is toward the politicians who lead us into wars that we should direct our indignation.
Its an interesting question. Who is responsible? The soldiers themselves? Politicians? The American people? Human nature? The wealthy people behind the military industrial complex? It would seem that we all share responsibility for this kind of thing. Perhaps graduations of guilt are irrelevant. Maybe its a binary thing guilty or innocent with no in-between. In that case none of us is in position to throw the first stone. Still, though, don't we as individuals have some responsibility for what we allow ourselves to become? We lose track of this fact because we are trained to believe authority. If authority tells us to injure or kill, it must be OK. And how many 18 year olds have any idea what they are choosing when they join the military? How many 22 year olds know when it is time to blow the whistle on brutal and illegal activities carried out by those in authority? Manning is the exception.
Once one grants the validity of war as a solution to a problem, one has made a choice that necessarily leads to unspeakable evil a choice that requires the gutting of our young people of their humanity. So we need to go back to the question of why the United States has embarked on a path of never-ending war.
Perhaps David Werner's "but why" approach will help us here.
David Werner, the author of "Where There Is No Doctor" recommends a "but why" game as a means of trying to expose the causes of events on increasing fundamental levels. (See for example, the use of this technique in a community diagnosis in "Health in Harmony A Program in Borneo that Links Community and Environmental Health" -- pp. 20ff -- which can be downloaded free, here). It is simple, really. One begins with the question, "why" and then in relation to each answer one continues to ask "but why" until arriving at the rock upon which everything else sits. Applied to the video that wikileaks made available, the technique might look something like this:
Q: Why were these people murdered?
A: Because that is the kind of thing war produces.
Q: But why were we at war?