Intellectual Honesty in Perilous Times
Forty thousand in Libya, tens of thousands in South America, a million plus in Iraq, thousands upon thousands between Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan, two million between Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, a million in East Timor, and on and on. These events are not classified under ‘military defense’ but military offense, interventionist foreign policy, policing the world, economic terrorism, and empire building. This piece is in response to the difficulty in judging the horrible events that occurred in My Lai during the Vietnam War after viewing some grotesque images and listening to testimony from the participants and witnesses.
At first, I was ready to condemn the US soldiers who undoubtedly committed not just a war crime but if anything… a crime against humanity. Over 500 Vietnamese in one village were shot- women, children, men- all of whom were civilians (it was shortly found out later that the enemy that Charlie Company were pursuing were clear across the country). The images that were released to the press which are still available looked like a shoddy attempt at a post-Holocaust copycat. Revulsion and rage, if only 40yrs after the fact, came shooting through my veins as I saw what ‘we’ had done. Yet, a dear friend reminded me of the fact that many of the troops had lost friends, were constantly being blown to shit by mines- as one soldier put it, looking back- ‘we were fighting an enemy we couldn’t even see, couldn’t anticipate, couldn’t defend against.’ Vietnam still remains to this day the most heavily mined country in the world. Recalling this horrific testimony along with vivid recollections of fellow soldiers being decapitated on a daily basis forced me to put things into perspective…
As of now, the suicide rate amongst US personnel serving in the Middle East is at an all time high (rarely reported in the mainstream media), we can easily recall the events at Gitmo where detainees (not terrorists, there haven’t been any charges filed mind you) were not just humiliated but tortured, and in almost all wars there are such events. Hell, after WWII, the British were using captured Nazi soldiers for forced labor so this isn’t a cultural phenomenon of any kind; yet perhaps a common denominator does exist- war.
The Founding Fathers didn’t want tangling alliances, didn’t want a standing army, and wanted several levels of discussion before just rushing off to war. In the Constitution it discusses the government’s role in DEFENDING our country from foreign invaders. Yet, we don’t fight wars to defend ourselves anymore. We don’t overthrow democracies for the protection of our own citizens. We don’t carpet bomb third world indefensible countries because of a threat (direct/indirect) to America. The effects of war seem to be pretty obvious- excluding sociopaths who successfully enlist.
It is for this reason that war needs to be a form of defense, not offense or for some sort of idealistic ethnocentric form of empire building. To supply an example of this…one only need to look at 9/11- what was our reaction to that tragic event? We cried, screamed, questioned, searched for answers, build monuments, blasted our cars with bumper stickers and flags, boycotted the French and changed a few food names to suit the situation. Well, there is another 9/11 which is never discussed in history class or recalled on the news- the 9/11 in Chile. This 9/11 was the overthrow of the democratically elected leader Salvador Allende which brought in the military thug rule of Pinochet. Now, the CIA, being directed by Nixon and Kissinger carried out this attack; killing roughly 3000 people. Here is a country minding its own business with a democratically elected president who up to the point of the coup did nothing but pass some FDR like policies- mainly in agrarian reform. Well, the point of this is not to trivialize the events of the US 9/11, but to encourage a step back and realize that we have done similar things in other countries…more than once. Now, we have done this same thing in Iran, Guatemala, Panama, Cuba, Iraq, Egypt, and many other countries. To think that we are always the benevolent ones and that it is the other countries that are filled with extremists, filled with radical warlike leaders, filled with dogmatic dreams of destruction….think again. Many people around the world are just like us…living in a country with shitty leaders.
People don’t hate us because we let women drive cars, because we have McDonalds, or because we live in a Republic with many freedoms. The people who hate us hate us for what we have done to them. Sure, there is some who simply hate the one ‘on top,’ but this is the exception.
For all you mainstream politicos who want to scream at me ‘oh, the blame America first argument!’- This is a silly fallacy barely worth addressing, but with a new cup of coffee in hand…I’ll humor the notion. I live in America; I am an American- plain and simple. Sure, I could scream and rant about the human rights abuses in China- what is that going to do? You and I will agree that China treats people pretty horrible and then go grab a beer. However, in this country, we get to vote (grimace), we get to talk to people here in this country that can also contribute to a change in the system. We have easier access to the local press, local officials, etc. China may treat its citizens poorly, but as an American I am going to address the country I am a part of. This is not to say of course that America is evil, horrible, always in the wrong at every turn- this is the argument used against criticizing America from a national perspective instead of just a bi-partisan perspective.
In the end folks, we can look at the policies of this country from a global perspective and realize that there are consequences for our actions (the CIA has discussed the concept of ‘blowback’ numerous times- look it up) and it is not our ‘benevolence’ that creates the hatred.