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Monday, April 12, 2010

Murder Does Not Require Context

As a fellow scribe, I'll give credit where it's due: John Cory in his two part series for Reader Supported News "Of Wars and Videos" has been eloquent.

But as he admits in the opening paragraphs of part two, his offense at what happened on July 13th, 2007 in Baghdad isn't as strong as some of that he's seen since Wikileaks courageously brought the video and some context of the Apache helicopter attack to light.

I'd like to know why.

Every war, as with every dramatic movie or novel, has what we in the writing business call "dramatic spikes." Much of narrative fiction or movie-making is spent in exposition, introductions in character delineation, establishing mood, conflict, backstory, constructing plot devices and so forth. War is no different. Troop movements are boring, even heated battles can get monotonous as both sides get entrenched and peace talks amid the hostilities get bogged down in petty squabbling.

But as with every dramatic movie or novel, there are in wartime dramatic spikes, or in this case, news spikes, that offer such a shocking or unexpected revelation that it must by all rights be as widely disseminated to the public as possible, moments that actually redefine the war or our perception of it. Such a moment came in the form of the Downing Street Memo. Another came when we discovered Blackwater had murdered 17 civilians in a one-sided firefight in Nisour Sq. in Baghdad on September 16, 2007.

Both moments were dramatic because it revealed, respectively, that our military was lied into a war in which hostilities were already preordained rather than being just another option and the Nisour Square bloodbath was notable not just for its brutality against innocent civilians, many of whom being women and children but also for the coldly sociopathic response before Congress by the responsible company's founder, Erik Prince.

The Apache gunship attack on over a dozen innocent men and children is another such spike.

So how can a man who can so eloquently decry war in general, especially this one, feel removed from this years-old atrocity to the point of feeling inured to the cold-blooded sociopathy of the chopper pilots who laughed about running over a man's body with a tank and blaming others "for bringing their kids into a battle"?

Cory seems to be honestly trying to play Devil's advocate here and reminding us that none of us were very likely there and therefore cannot accurately judge what the ground conditions were, what dangers may have been faced by the men in the choppers and what their actual mindset was or actual reasons for their disgusting jocularity.

I guess the same thing could be said for the My Lai massacre. None of us, I'm assuming, were there on March 16, 1968. We know that there was exactly one American casualty and that was a black man who'd shot himself in the foot. How do we know if some of the children and babies who were among the 400+ slaughtered weren't strapped with guns or grenades?

We weren't there, either, Mr. Cory. We cannot judge. And, after all, out of the 46 men in Charlie Company who were charged with war crimes, only one got any jail time and that was for 72 hours.

But not everything requires context. Some horrors are self-evident, such as the Holocaust, yet some deny even that happened just as they deny the Apollo 11 manned lunar landing and that the earth is more than 6000 years old.

Some atrocities are so obvious and readily apparent to even sleepy, cursory examination that no context is necessary. When Sean Hannity, in the first days after Katrina made landfall, told a hysterical Shep Smith to calm down as he was in the Superdome and asked for context, Smith looked behind him and bawled, "Context, Sean?! This is your context!" pointing at the thousands who had been packed in the building and forgotten, essentially left for dead.

So, no, Mr. Cory. We didn't need to be there to see the woman and child scuttling off after they opened up on those men. We don't need to speculate if these people were terrorists using the children as human shields or just ordinary family men taking their children for a spin around their neighborhood.

And these men who carried out these war crimes don't need to be given the benefit of the doubt because their identities are not known and therefore will not likely face a military tribunal. I do not care what their state of mind was or whether or not they were employing coping mechanisms used by paramedics (a profession that saves lives, not takes them).

Maybe the rest of you have tucked away in your goldfish memories stories we'd heard of US troops derisively referring to Iraqis as "hadjis" and busting Coke bottles over their heads as we drive by them or have forgotten the once-notorious video of a mercenary randomly shooting at cars along an Iraqi freeway while playing hillbilly music.

We had rounded up untold hundreds, if not thousands of innocent Iraqis and tortured and even killed some of them in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere and sent a few soldiers to jail for those crimes and considered justice done while their families have to pick up the pieces.

Perhaps we've also forgotten that during the Vietnam war, we were also wantonly killing and torturing South Vietnamese, the very same people we went there to protect from the scourge of Communism, and considered all of them the enemy. We called them "gooks" and "slopes" and our burnt-out, paranoid military no longer made any distinctions between North and South Vietnamese. They were all, in this new-fangled yet ancient type of guerilla warfare, potentially the enemy, even the children.

However moral our reasons for invading Iraq or any other country, no matter how lofty our aims are in protecting the civilian population, the actual justice and life and death that will be dispensed to them on their streets will always begin with the ground troops and the chopper pilots and gunners that monitor them like angels of death. From 6, 7, 8000 miles away, there's only so much control a President, Secretary of Defense or Supreme Commander has over their own men. Given enough time, a war will always produce atrocities and the resultant round of lies, denials, rationalizations and coverups. It is the same old war movie or novel, only told with different place names with a different foreign language embedded in the narrative.

And, as with Vietnam and its people, we hate Iraq and its people. We wish Iraq would go away into the mist even if it's a blood mist. We eventually hate the indigenous population over whose welfare we are mandated to protect because eventually everyone sickens of war and the sacrifices it entails. They remind us of the monsters that war almost inevitably makes of those who live in it long enough.

Yet, like an incurable and stubborn disease, we remain in Iraq and attack the host body from time to time and we shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, that's what disease does." And once we've turned that corner, once we've rationalized brutalizing and murdering the civilian population, we've lost the last shred of moral credibility for invading and occupying their land to begin with.
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Blogger SeDress said...
What bothered me most about this video was the attack on those trying to rescue the wounded. I keep remembering the WWII movies and shows I used to watch with my dad, and stories I'd read, where the cruelty of the enemy was so often 'shown' to us by the fact that they would attack the wounded, would attack [our] brave men trying to rescue their wounded comrades. To go after a fallen comrade was shown as noble. To kill the rescuer was despicable. We are now the despicable, the cruel, the callous ones.