Many believe that no weapon is ethical, that bred within it is the cause for violence. There are those, also, who scale the ethics of weaponry as something that can be civilized vs. uncivilized. There are clean(er) ways of killing people, for instance, a predator drone or a gun. One can hardly imagine a film like Rambo where, instead of killing hundreds with a gun he decides to take them all out with a knife or his bare hands.
As weapons evolve, so does the death count. If we look at the trajectory of human development, as the population increases, so does the weaponry increase to kill more and more people. A hydrogen bomb, for example, or the machinery of the Nazi holocaust. The more space you put between you and someone else, the easier it is to kill, the less you feel it.
Whereas man used to be in touch with his violent side, confronted every day with the torments of violence in his world, nowadays we can comfortably kill people thousands of miles away and not feel a thing. The violence of the industrialized slaughterhouse also comes to mind.
So where do we rate the suicide bomb? Go to Nablus and you are confronted with posters and shrines to those who died or are imprisoned, a few of whom were suicide bombers or accomplices. Someone recently told me this was a glorification of violence. Open a Jane’s Defense and tell me who’s glorifying violence.
In a place like Nablus, death is all around you. It stares at you from the walls, the wreckage, the bullet holes in the walls. It echoes in the eyes of others as they tell you their stories. Each death is like a blow to the face here. Mao once said, “To die for the reactionary is as light as a feather. But to die for the revolution is heavier than Mount Tai.” Compare it to the nameless, faceless coffins shipped back from Iraq.
Suicide bombers are not mindless drones lured by the temptations of heaven. They are human beings with families. They have to say good-bye and make preparations for their violence. They look their targets in the eye. They smile. They decide to go home when they see a baby carriage in a cafe. Predator drones don’t back down – the victims of wedding parties and funeral processions can tell you that. The human being in Nevada fires a missile and goes home to his family. The suicide bomber feels the weight of his or her decision with their entire body. It is literally the most important decision of their lives. The soldier in the foxhole tossing grenades can hardly say that each pull of the pin requires such forethought and soul searching.
Why is it that killing someone with your body is considered more barbaric and more cowardly in western civilization than killing someone with a tomahawk missile? Does the violence tickle that part of us left behind since the industrialization of war? Perhaps once we start to analyze the methods of war as closely as we do the reasons for killing will we rediscover the horror of taking lives.
What does it take to dehumanize the enemy? Eden Abergil might know something about it. Ha’aretz might know something too, since they blurred out her face in the above photo, but not her captives.
It’s hard to say where the Geneva Conventions would fall on this, especially since Israel operates (like the United States) so outside the realm of traditional warfare. Either way, it’s a disgusting example of how to further dehumanize the enemy. Unlike the war photos of old, with soldiers standing smiling over mutilated corpses, these photos do not find their way into Dad’s dusty old shoebox in the back of the closet. Instead, they are publicized on Facebook.
Some are making the case that this is akin to Abu Ghraib, but I would disagree. After all, while what happened in Abu Ghraib was beyond the pale in terms of human decency, the photos taken of soldiers jeering next to naked prisoners were never intended for public viewing on Facebook. Even now, Eden Abergil has locked her macabre mementos up behind a privacy wall, and there is no proof that she shows remorse or has even removed them from her personal galleries. Has the internet enabled us to further dehumanize the enemy by rationalizing that posting such things is “OK”? Or are we all becoming more and more commodified by publicizing every detail of ourselves online, making these abused and violated Palestinians as just “window dressing” in the background of our internal lives? We’ve commodified our family, friends, romantic relationships, personal interests, and our appearances in order to take part in this new world of socialization – why not commodify the POWs as well?
“That looks really sexy for you,” says a comment posted by one of Abergil’s friends on the social networking site, alongside a picture or the soldier smiling in front of two blindfold men.
Abergil’s repose, posted below, reads: “I wonder if he is on Facebook too – I’ll have to tag him in the photo.”
Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the ISAF role in combating the Taliban because of women’s ability to speak personally and credibly about their experiences under the Taliban, their aspirations for the future, and their fears of a Taliban victory. Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission.
A few weeks ago I had an argument with someone regarding using photos of maimed women for political purposes. My point was that using women and their personal tragedies as ways to justify political actions (including war) further denied them personal agency as they had little to no control over the delivery of their messages of pain and suffering, nor did they have control over the kinds of things that would be done in their name. During the buildup to invading Afghsnistan we read story after story on how the Afghan’s treated their women. It hearkened back to justifications during the Spanish-American war of women being “hassled”, thereby justifying the death of hundreds of thousands.
When one looks at a photo like what is on the cover of Time this week, we should first stop to consider not only the events and conditions that allowed such violence to happen, but also the motives behind such a cover. “What happens if we leave Aghanistan” hangs like a warning, as if we are forcing the illustrated situation upon more women if we leave. However, the United States has been in Aghanistan for decades. Even before our invasion in late 2001, the United States was present in Afghanistan through our CIA-client organization, the Taliban. This woman illustrated, whose name and identity is swallowed up by the political overtones of her portrayal, was maimed during American presence in Afghanistan. Indeed, according to the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan, violence against women in Afghanistan has not abated since our invasion. The warlord government set up by NATO forces has just as bad of a track record with women as the Taliban does. Executions continue, poverty is endemic, and 103 women have set themselves on fire between 2009 and 2010.
Among their usual problems, Afghan women now must worry about being bombed by NATO forces or caught in the crossfire between fighting warlords and gangs. Their economic and educational system is still in ruins. As the recent wikileaks documents show, the way we have been counting casualities in Iraq and Afghanistan is untruthful. Thousands of civilians have died in Afghanistan and thousands more have been killed by the ensuing humanitarian crisis.
The above cover is a shameful appeal to emotion on a complex and dire issue. Like the leaked CIA documents show, as illustrated above, women who have suffered under war are being cynically exploited to justify more war and destruction. It is vital that victims of violence have a voice in speaking their experiences, but the editors of time could have just as easily used a photo of a woman maimed in a NATO attack and told a different story. Next year we will see a decade of official military presence in Afghanistan, and the situation seems to be degrading rather than improving. While Afghanistan warps into an opium plantation state, the Afghan women enjoy just as little if not less human rights than they had before our official involvement. Another note on the cover: Joe Klein’s piece on our “challenges” in Pakistan seems especially chilling given the juxtoposition with the rest of the format elements.
Either way, the woman who shares her pain so poigently on the cover will soon be forgotten, cynically pushed aside to justify further pain and suffering in Afghanistan.
In it, I find a distinction I haven’t previously considered: the proliferation of remote warfare into nearly all conflicts. Even if not now, in forty years every nation on Earth could own a fleet of drones while the top dogs move to even more “civilized” forms of war.
My second major concern goes to the power of example that the United States is now setting with respect to the use of drones away from an acknowledged battlefield, especially in connection with targeted killings. No weapons system remains indefinitely the province of a single power. Drone technology is particularly striking in this regard, because it is not really all that sophisticated. It seems clear that other powers have this technology–Israel and Iran have each been reported to be working with it, Russia and China could obviously do so easily if they desired, and the same is probably true for Britain, France, and Germany, not to mention Japan and Taiwan, where many of the cutting-edge breakthroughs in robotics actually occur. The way America uses this technology is therefore effectively setting the rules for others. Put another way, if it’s lawful for America to employ a drone to take out an enemy in the desert of Yemen, on the coast of Somalia, in a village in Sudan or Mauretania, then it would be just as lawful for Russia, or China–or, for that matter, for Israel or Iran. What kind of world is this choice then creating? Doesn’t it invariably lead us closer to the situation in which a targeted killing will be carried out in a major metropolis of Europe or East Asia, or even the United States? And doesn’t that move us in the direction of a dark and increasingly lawless world?
After all, we do remain the world’s largest arms dealer! I strongly encourage you to read it.
Occasionally, one has to step back and review the situation completely. So let’s start at the beginning: What sins did Gaza commit to deserve this kind of genocide?
I say genocide because there no longer is a viable future for the people of Gaza. All hopes for that have been dashed by the laboratory conditions of their existence. Gaza is being wiped out. What’s shocking to me is that despite this laboratory being open to public view and participation, Israel continues to wreck fire and brimstone down on the heads of nearly 800,000 children without the slightest concern of anyone stepping in to stop this.
Gaza has over 800,000 children who are underfed, malnourished, poorly-clothed, deaf, sick, and without any kind of prospects for the future. In addition, now they are also living without electrical power.
I wonder how much longer this will last. I’m appealing to your emotions, but I have to. These are children. I get emotional about children. When I see a few hundred thousand suffering like this, I have to hope you feel the same way I do. Palestinian children are worth just as much as any child on Earth. Why is nothing being done to help them?
Gaza has rockets and tunnels of course. Supplies are smuggled in at fear of immediate death for the workers. These tunnels are routinely bombed and collapse often. While they bring through ingredients to go into a rocket (sugar, for instance), they also bring through supplies and food. They are a necessity for survival. Rockets, on the other hand, are a sick cry of pride. It’s obvious by their construction they are both the proudest and the saddest attempt at resistance. With so little, Gazans can only fashion together rockets that certainly pale in comparison to the lethal power of Israel’s arsenal. They try, though, to do something – anything – to save their children and strike back at their hopeless situation.
If it were you in such a situation, what wouldn’t you do? Can we even comprehend behind our television and computer screens what it might be like to live in Gaza?
The existence of this kind of genocide means that it can happen anywhere. Like smallpox, we have to eradicate genocide completely in order to be rid of it. For the rest of the world, it’s Lights Out for Gaza. Unless we can wake up and truly understand what’s happening, we will end up like frogs in the pan. We will wake up one day and say to each other, wow, remember when there were Gazans?
During the World Wars, all major players shared the same kinds of basic weaponry. It wasn’t until the creation of the atomic bomb that the scales tipped greatly in favor of one power over another with regards to military technology. As a result, the world’s great powers have been at a quiet military standstill since 1945. Any aggression from a great power against another great power could result in nuclear war. This has kept any major conflict from occurring since.
However, the great powers still fight in smaller deadly wars against non-nuclear powers. I say smaller because their geographical area is lessened. However, the amount of ordinance used in these conflicts greatly outnumbers the amounts of ordinance used during these great World Wars. Despite the fact that the victims of this overwhelming aggression are in no way equal in strength to the great powers, nor do they have access to weapons beyond rifles and RPGs, the great powers have never won a war in this way. Disproportionate distance warfare in this modern age results more often in a crippling and embarrassing loss for the great power than it does for the weaker, less equipped nation. It’s less effective at eradicating targets and threats and far more costly in the long run.
A video has been released recently that shows US forces in Iraq killing 15 innocent people. They joke over the radio with each other as they shoot at the people on the ground from over a mile away in their helicopters. This video was released through a site called “Wikileaks”, and it wasn’t until outrage grew online that major news networks decided to pick up the story. Even then, the video was censored “out of respect” for the families of those killed. What a joke! The video would have remained censored if the Army had its way, just like the photos of Abu Ghraib would have remained censored. Even caskets of dead soldiers are censored in the media, why would snuff videos be allowed? Released in this way, this long after the incident took place and was “cleared” by the Army, will fuel anger in Iraq and all over the world, not only because of the content, but because of the continued denial of the US government and population that their occupation creates such crimes against humanity.
The world powers learned a lesson after Vietnam. Instead of being able to practice their trade legitimately, journalists are now embedded with US soldiers. During the aftermath of the massacre in Baghdad, a Washington Post journalist was on the scene. The first time the paper mentions the possible misconduct by US soldiers, however, was after the Wikileaks release of the video, whereby they mentioned it in passing to promote the journalist’s book about Iraq.
This incident and its response indicates to me that the United States has become too far removed from its own warfare. Pilots in Nevada finish flying drones in Iraq and then drive home to kiss their wives and children. Helicopter gunmen fire thousands of rounds on unarmed civilians from over a mile away. Ask any man on the street in the US and chances are good that he will have forgotten that hundreds of thousands of US soldiers are occupying Iraq. However, ask any man in Iraq and he will remember this fact very clearly unless he is severely mentally ill or incapacitated. It is a reality he lives with every day. An American will see this footage, and they will begin to make excuses for the soldiers firing rounds from over a mile away, themselves as far removed from the violence as the soldier has become through his distance weapons. Most of the rest of the world’s population will see this video and, due to their daily proximity to violence and poverty, will become incensed. Both sides are fighting each other, but only one side lives with reality.
Perhaps the powers that be found it easier to make their populations ignore the war than convince the populations to support it. Since the Iraq war began in 2003, US citizens have responded tepidly at best both in support or in opposition to the war. There are few American citizens who would be willing to make great sacrifices for their cause. Removed from the violence, miles away in our helicopters, Americans have lost the capacity to understand their bloody actions against the rest of the world. Al-Jazeera runs photos of the bodies and shows uncensored video footage. Wolf Blitzer simply tells you about it before breaking news about Tiger Woods.
Like Willard complaining in “Apocolypse Now”, we are becoming soft in our hotel rooms while “Charlie” crouches in the jungle and gets harder. Our technology has evolved, but our resolve has become weaker. When soldiers become so far removed from the conflict that they lose the humanity of themselves in regard to their targets, they lose the war. It happened in Vietnam, and it will happen in Iraq and Afghanistan. By putting distance between us and our targets, we also lose the moral high ground. In an effort to “save American lives” – while lining the pockets of military contractors who create such technologies – we have made the Other more expendable. After all, our technology has grown to make some soldiers safer, but it has become more deadly and careless towards the target. Like the adoption of carpet bombing Europe in World War 2, the result is mass, needless civilian causalities. The only difference was that the various European countries had the means to adequately defend themselves. The Global South has resorted to suicide bombing.
While US soldiers grow fat on video games and Halliburton all-you-can-eat buffets, “Haji” crouches in the desert and gets harder. Only this is no longer a tactical issue, as it is to some old-guard grunts and generals. This has become a moral issue because our continued callousness results in the death and suffering of millions worldwide without a single pinch of moral consequence, which creates the cyclical environment wherein more lives will be ruined by our ignorance. However, instead of erradicating threats, distance warfare will multiply them, as more hearts and minds are repelled internationally by our standards.