Monday, March 12, 2012

Afghanistan, Graveyard of U.S. Morality

With regard to the aftermath of the Sunday massacre of 16 Afghan civilians allegedly done by a supposedly lone U.S. sergeant, what can we expect?

Perhaps Obama can repeat his 2012 State of the Union spin that our military actions have made the U.S. “more respected around the world”. Lest my sarcasm be considered unwarranted, I will add that he said that on a day in January when a U.S. military court would release with absolutely no prison time the leader of a U.S. Marine squad that in 2005 massacred 24 civilian men, women, and children in Haditha, Iraq — a war crime within the even broader war crime of a war of choice by the U.S. against a country that posed no threat to us.

Only in the logic of politics and empire can war crimes be converted into delusions of respect.

Those delusions are not unique to the United States; historically, they have found expression many times, and in many nations. But currently those delusions are most strongly American ones, the inevitable result of a people living in a time warp (to circa 1946) about our role — no, make that “mission”, and “manifest destiny” — in the world.

It is over ten years since our most recent military operations in Afghanistan started; that involvement began with a genuine justification of going after those who attacked us on 9/11, and after those who provided them with shelter. (I omit here consideration of our previous involvement during the 1980s, which greatly complicates conclusions about responsibility and justification). But even during the assumedly justified beginning of our actions in 2001, our style of warfare was too often imperial, relying on bombing from on high, and largely subcontracting to Afghan groups such as the “Northern Alliance” on the ground. We would for many years thereafter continue to emphasize aerial operations, with the inevitable dissociation from reality and the civilian casualties that would cause. Afghan wedding parties and villagers blasted to bits by American air power, if even investigated by the U.S. and acknowledged as non-combatants, were ultimately classified as regrettable collateral damage; if those deaths were in any way compensated, it was at a payment schedule that valued Afghan life much cheaper than even the most down-and-out American would be. Even after a U.S. transition to emphasize ground operations carried out primarily by U.S. soldiers, that imperial mentality still dominated, as has been amply and repeatedly pointed out by others. It continues with the recent escalation of drone operations.

Certainly, not every foreign death at the hands of U.S. forces rates as a war crime. Let us stipulate that most are not. But by any reasonable measure, there have been far too many, and an offensive amount of rationalization about them. Worse yet, the U.S. legal response has been grossly inadequate (and quite telling of prevailing U.S. arrogance, both in and out of government). The wheels of U.S. “justice” seldom bring any real justice for the victims of war crimes committed by the U.S. military or U.S. civilian mercenary “contractors”. The standard trajectory for such cases: first, denial and cover-up; then, if strong contradictory evidence becomes public, promises of formal inquiry; finally, errors of investigation and prosecution, and defense testimony from superiors and psychiatrists, which produce acquittals, plea-bargains, minimal sentences, and/or successful appeals.

Long term, the failure of the U.S. to adequately punish most U.S. perpetrators of war crimes may be even more dangerous than the killings themselves — for in the calm of formal inquiries and occasional court proceedings, this country has, in effect, repeatedly said that U.S. military killing of foreign civilians doesn’t much matter. What have we become?

Ten years of war in Afghanistan and a completely unnecessary war in Iraq didn’t just kill and wound thousands of U.S. soldiers, bankrupt the United States, pervert our national priorities, and expand beyond any reasonable rationalization the domestic dominance of the U.S. military-industrial-security-governmental complex. They have destroyed the morality of our nation.

I propose a new rallying cry: the U.S. out of Afghanistan within 90 days. No more rationalizations, no more excuses, from either major U.S. political party or any politician.


  1. I agree with your entire piece! But especially "Out in 90!"

    From the Heartland

  2. Never gonna happen.

    These soldiers (bless their dear little hard hearts) know they are not leaving.


    The pipeline isn't even built yet.

    And it will need vigilant defending when it is.

    Thanks for your reporting!

  3. Excellent piece, Fred, - so true and so terribly sad for all involved. It is as if those in power are just moving our soldiers as well as the innocent citizens of the countries we invade like chess pieces. I suppose they have a grand strategy - probably to control all the oil in Iraq and Iran - and Afghanistan for geopolitical reasons is a part of their strategy.

    What amazes me is how easy it is to manipulate so many Americans into supporting such an action despite the cost to our service men and women, the long term consequences of hurting innocent civilians (We will be hated for generations), the cost to our treasury and the cost to our reputation amongst even our allies. We are not respected; we are seen as an unpredictable power that cares more about might than what is right. We have certainly lost our moral imperative.

  4. Homeland Security is reportedly providing 25,000 jobs to returning American veterans... many with undiagnosed PTSD,and other emotional and physical problems. Otherwise the rate among vets would shoot up to the 20 percent-plus range and hurt the president's numbahs. Additionally, veterans as a group have an unbelievably high suicide rate.

    Now we are hearing that the alleged shooter had a traumatic brain injury, yet was deployed for a fifth straight time. It sounds like he might be declared incompetent to stand trial -- but that would be in a civilian court and I am not sure how military tribunals deal with the mentally ill.

    Anyway, this was a great piece of writing. Ninety days sounds doable. I must need new glasses, because when I read today's Times, I thought the headline said "Obama team pushes for Easter withdrawal" and I just about freaked. Then I realized it was "Faster withdrawal"... meaning the Bushistic "stay the course."

  5. I have to say that the story is getting really bad press in Australia. The two stories are out - one, that the soldier had been told he wasn't going to have to go to Afghanistan and wasn't fit for duty due to an earlier brain injury and two, that the Afghans believe there was (or is it were?) more than one soldier involved in the killings. Also, unlike in the U.S., there is no spin on the story. Australians understand that you can't have a so called "government friendly force" just killing innocent civilians and the U.S. can't just sweep it under the rug by rushing the soldier back to Kansas and keeping his identity a secret.

    Personally, I pity everyone involved except Karzai and the U.S. government and military leaders. This soldier sounds like he is a psychological mess yet he will probably be incarcerated for the rest of his life - thanks to a traumatic brain injury - and the poor victims and poor families of the victims. Yet, I suspect, this will all be treated the same as friendly fire - just the cost of doing business/making war.

    Yes, Fred, I love the 90 withdrawal idea. Too bad you don't have access to the bully pulpit..

  6. Hey, Fred,

    Your input is needed over at Sardonicky! 4 April

    (Sorry, Don't know how else to get in touch with you!)

  7. Outstanding comment over at Sardonicky under the thread "Clouds in My Coffee." You really nailed it, Fred!

  8. Morality is the custom of one's country and the current feeling of one's peers.