Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wargasms On The Potomac:
U.S. Weapons Good, Syrian Weapons Bad

by Fred Drumlevitch

The sound of war drums rose over the Potomac. As did also certain other items. The tumescent political “leadership” and their rent boys of the mainstream media alternated between stroking each other to the point of wargasm and oh-so-seriously rationalizing to the public why they must let loose their dogs of war. Fortunately, many ordinary Americans have begun to realize just how tired they themselves are of getting screwed by the imperial overreach of what is supposed to be their government. Ostensibly elected by public vote, supposedly beholden to the people and meant to serve them, “our” government has over the past 30+ years transformed into one dedicated to delivering benefits to the rich, the banks, the corporations, and the military-industrial-surveillance-security complex — and that perpetuates its malfeasance through lies, manipulation, the marginalization and repression of protest, and the distraction of never-ending war.

Never-ending war? Well, nearly so. And this refers to far more than the duration of our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or our ongoing assassinations via drones in several sovereign foreign nations including Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Time dulls the memory, especially for those who weren’t active participants, but a recent Associated Press story summarized major U.S. military actions over the past three decades: Beirut (1982-83), Grenada (1983), Libya (1986), Panama (1989), Iraq (1991), Somalia (1992), Iraq (1993), Somalia (1993), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1994-96), Iraq (1996), Sudan and Afghanistan (1998), Iraq (1998), Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), Libya (2011), and Osama bin Laden (2011). 

It doesn’t end there. The United States probably maintains at least 500 military bases in at least 100 foreign countries, and it is likely that actual numbers are considerably higher. (The exact numbers are hard to know for a variety of reasons including deliberate obfuscation by the U.S. government. See here, here, here, here, and here). We spend more on our military than the next highest-spending fifteen to twenty nations combined. Is our country destined to forever undertake foreign military actions with the compulsion of a salmon swimming upstream to spawn? What will our unending pursuit of worldwide military domination beget?

And I haven’t even yet referenced our covert operations, which, since WWII, have been instrumental in the overthrow of several legitimate foreign governments (and significantly subverted many more). The overthrows of Mohammed Mossadegh (Iran, 1953), Jacobo Árbenz (Guatemala, 1954), Patrice Lumumba (Congo, 1961), and Salvador Allende (Chile, 1973), stand as but the most prominent examples in a long and sordid history of covert U.S. actions.

The covert operations and smaller military interventions may seem (by our imperial-capitalist metrics) to be fabulously successful, but are in fact profoundly dangerous, for they set the stage for later blowback, plus overreach elsewhere and spectacular failures. Our frequent foreign interventions, whether large or small, overtly military or instead covert, are part of a highly-dangerous feedback system of U.S. action and arrogance, a runaway self-righteousness that puts our entire foundational national purpose at profound risk. Do we exist to be the world’s policeman? The preamble to the United States Constitution does state that it was established "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity", but these refer to this nation. Nowhere in our founding national documents do I recall any mention of world policeman.

As important as are the issues of imperial overreach, media failure, and perversion of the purposes of a democratic republic, they and their psychological underpinnings have been thoroughly examined countless times, and I will not further pursue them here (beyond including these links to recent posts by Andrew Bacevich, Ira Chernus, and George Lakoff). Instead, my focus in what follows will be on something else: a brief look at U.S. governmental hypocrisy in its current characterization of chemical weapons as so abhorrent as to necessitate U.S. military action in Syria.

To understand the scope of this hypocrisy, we might examine any of a wide variety of weapon systems that have been deployed, used, and, in many cases, provided to others by the United States: napalm and other incendiaries, Agent Orange, cluster munitions, land mines, thermobaric bombs, and nuclear weapons. President Obama, Secretary Kerry, Senator McCain, and all others so eager to militarily strike Syria — surely you are aware of the massive death and suffering these American weapons have inflicted on civilian populations. Please spare us your outraged denunciations of Bashar al-Assad and your insistence that we must act — unless you are also willing to denounce and adequately hold accountable American soldiers (and allies) who have caused the deaths of foreign civilians using the aforementioned weapons. Ah… I thought not.

(The United States is not even willing to properly hold accountable those soldiers who have murdered with more conventional weapons; while Major Nidal Malik Hasan was quite deservedly sentenced to death for his murder of thirteen U.S. soldiers at Fort Hood, Army staff sergeant Robert Bales was allowed to plead guilty and thereby escape the death penalty for his brutal murder of sixteen Afghan civilians. And most American war criminals are never properly punished. For example, in 2012 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.)

Let’s consider napalm and other incendiary weapons. (Open in front of me is the book Napalm: An American Biography, by Robert M. Neer, published in 2013 by Harvard University Press. Extensive in scope and supporting references, it should be required reading for those wishing to learn how weapons come to be developed, used — and misused. It and Wikipedia are my main sources for what follows).

British RAF bombers using magnesium weapons incinerated eight square miles of Hamburg in July 1943; the death toll from the Hamburg attack was an estimated 44,600 persons. A German doctor wrote “Bodies were frequently found lying in a thick, greasy black mass, which was without doubt melted fat tissue… All were shrunken so that clothes appeared to be too large.” (Neer, p.62-63). The RAF aided by the United States Army Air Forces incinerated fifteen square miles of Dresden in four raids in mid-February 1945, with a death toll estimated at around 25,000 (Wikipedia).

These attacks would be dwarfed by the aggregate of later U.S. incendiary attacks on Japanese cities. The night of March 9-10, 1945, U.S. Air Force general Curtis LeMay dispatched over 300 B-29s to wage an incendiary attack on Tokyo using napalm, magnesium, and white phosphorus, creating a firestorm, incinerating 16 square miles of the city, and producing approximately 100,000 deaths and tens of thousands of injured. But that was just the beginning. “After Tokyo, American bombers attacked Japan’s largest cities with napalm for ten days, […] until supplies ran out on March 19, 1945. After a three week pause to restock, incendiary bombardments started again on April 13, and continued again until the end of the war. […] During the five months until the end of the war over 33 million pounds of napalm in about 13 million M-69 bombs, along with napalm in other bombshells, explosives, and other incendiaries, laid waste to 106 square miles in Japan’s six largest cities, and destroyed or damaged 169 square miles in sixty of its largest metropolises” (Neer, p.83-84).

Of course, the above statistics do not convey any of the specifics of the human suffering experienced. “‘In the dense smoke, where the wind was so hot it seared the lungs, people struggled, then burst into flames where they stood’. … Jammed bridges became funeral pyres. Civil guard commander Kinosuke Wakabayashi and his daughter, shielded by a concrete warehouse, saw thousands ‘streaming towards the Sumida River bridges, and leaping into the river, clothes and even their bodies aflame. Soon both banks of the river were clogged with bodies. The bridges were so hot that anyone who touched a bit of iron or steel was seared like bacon on a grill.’ On the Kototoi Bridge, another recalled, ‘The steel grew white-hot and people who touched the metal were seared like steaks on a barbeque’. ‘[I]n some of the smaller canals the water was actually boiling from the intense heat’ recounted a U.S. government after-action report. Pools and ponds vaporized.” (Neer, p.79). “‘The updrafts brought with them a sickening odor, an odor that I will never be able to get completely out of my nostrils — the smell of roasting human flesh. I later learned that some pilots and crewmen gagged and vomited in reaction to this stench, and that a few had passed out,’ [ace pilot Robert] Morgan wrote.” (Neer, p.81). … “Dr. Shigenori Kubota […] described his travels in freezing temperatures through the devastated area just before dawn on March 10: ‘There was no one to rescue. If you touched one of the roasted bodies, the flesh would crumble in your hand. Humanity was reduced to its chemical properties, turned into carbon.’” (Neer, p.82).

"Charred remains of Japanese civilians after the firebombing of Tokyo on the night of 9–10 March 1945" (Wikipedia/Wikimedia)
photographer: Kōyō Ishikawa 1904-1989

Charred bodies of woman and child, firebombing of Tokyo
photo taken March 10, 1945 (Wikipedia/Wikimedia)
photographer: Kōyō Ishikawa 1904-1989

Such barbarism was not unique to World War II. I could continue with similar details from U.S. use of incendiary weapons and strategic bombing in Korea and Vietnam. I could describe the birth defect and cancer effects on the Vietnamese (and on U.S. veterans) produced by Agent Orange, the contamination of which during manufacture by a[n at that time unidentified] toxic substance was known to the U.S. government as early as 1952, long prior to U.S. involvement in Vietnam. I could document the continuing deaths and maimings (including of children) produced by anti-personnel land mines — an international treaty on which the U.S. has refused to sign. But I believe that I have made my point. War is indeed hell, and any attempt to characterize chemical weapons as somehow worse than other weapons that have been widely used by the United States is not just disingenuous, it is a bald-faced lie, and cannot be used to justify military strikes. It is in fact just one of many bald-faced lies that have come to dominate the U.S. political stage and been used to manipulate us during the past several decades. Those lies must end. The manipulations must end.

We, the people of the United States, do hereby declare that we will no longer offer blood and treasure to the gods of war. We will not replenish the coffers of the military-industrial complex. We will not sacrifice our own lives — nor will we take the lives of others — for the delusions of small men in high places. We ourselves hold no delusions about our ability to dominate the world, and we have no desire to do so. We will not be bamboozled into believing that our security is dependent on us acting militarily every two or three years in some far-off land. We will not accept being spied upon by our government, nor will we tolerate governmental repression of our dissent. We are reclaiming our country, and rededicating it to the purposes envisioned by its founding fathers. We will fight, but it will be domestically, for our Constitutional rights, opportunity for all, and social and economic justice. To the current politicians of this land we say: Understand that, accommodate yourselves to that, or vacate your offices, for you will be irrelevant to the future.

Text Copyright: Fred Drumlevitch

Fred Drumlevitch blogs irregularly at www.FredDrumlevitch.blogspot.com
He can be reached at FredDrumlevitch12345(at)gmail.com