Killing Children No Big Deal

Ack! I’d forgotten how hard it is to keep up with the news while working for a living. My contract is over at , but I’m having a hard time finding the time to compose the insightful commentary that Picket Line readers have learned to love and expect.

I continue to be struck by how people morally evaluate the killing of innocent people. There’s an implicit heuristic at work that includes the race or nationality of the perpetrator and victim, whether or not that person was part of a uniformed and organized military force, how expensive and high-tech was the equipment used, and whether the perpetrator and victim might have been able to look each other in the eye. I sometimes wish that this heuristic could be made explicit, because I think people would disavow much of it then.

Killing children is no longer a big deal says Gideon Levy in Haaretz:

More than 30 Palestinian children were killed in the first two weeks of Operation Days of Penitence in the Gaza Strip. It’s no wonder that many people term such wholesale killing of children “terror.” Whereas in the overall count of all the victims of the intifada the ratio is three Palestinians killed for every Israeli killed, when it comes to children the ratio is 5:1. According to B’Tselem, the human rights organization, even before the current operation in Gaza, 557 Palestinian minors (below the age of 18) were killed, compared to 110 Israeli minors.

Palestinian human rights groups speak of even higher numbers: 598 Palestinian children killed (up to age 17), according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, and 828 killed (up to age 18) according to the Red Crescent. Take note of the ages, too. According to B’Tselem, whose data are updated until about a month ago, 42 of the children who have been killed were 10; 20 were seven; and eight were two years old when they died. The youngest victims are 13 newborn infants who died at checkpoints during birth.

With horrific statistics like this, the question of who is a terrorist should have long since become very burdensome for every Israeli. Yet it is not on the public agenda. Child killers are always the Palestinians, the soldiers always only defend us and themselves, and the hell with the statistics.

With America choosing the Israeli path of peacemaking by attempting to conquer, subdue, and humiliate our enemies (a path that, to be fair, they might well have learned through emulating American policy by playing Cowboys & Indians), we can start asking those questions too.

Fat chance.

Analysis of the San Francisco Chronicle has shown that headlines reported prominently on Israeli children’s deaths at a rate 30 times greater than Palestinian ones.

While 150% of Israeli children’s deaths had resulted in headline coverage (some deaths generated multiple stories), only 5% of Palestinian children’s deaths received similar coverage.

How are all these children being killed by militaries that insist they’re doing everything they can to avoid civilian casualties? That’s right — it’s the enemy’s fault: they’re using children as “human shields”

One miguelbar on MetaFilter pointed to this quote from the Wall Street Journal to show how human shields work:

Capt. Ayers took lessons from his fellow captains. In , Capt. Jesse Beaudin convinced a friend from the U.S. to send backpacks, notebooks and pencils for schoolchildren. Kids mobbed troops for the goods whenever they went out on patrol. “The kids provided security. No one attacked us when we were surrounded by children,” Capt. Beaudin says. After hearing about this tactic at the dining hall, Capt. Ayers’s men also wrote home requesting school supplies.

A little over a week later, 34 children were killed by car bombs while U.S. soldiers handed out candy at the reopening of a sewage treatment plant in Baghdad.

In , Jesse Beaudin wrote me to dispute the accuracy of this report and the implications I drew from it. The following year, Nick Ayers also wrote me with his story. Please see The Picket Line for and for for follow-up articles.

After writing about the mini-mutiny of a U.S. platoon in Iraq , I found this analysis of the state of U.S. armed forces in the closing years of the Vietnam War. Clearly, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet, this time around:

“Frag incidents” or just “fragging” is current soldier slang in Vietnam for the murder or attempted murder of strict, unpopular, or just aggressive officers and NCOs. With extreme reluctance (after a young West Pointer from Senator Mike Mansfield’s Montana was fragged in his sleep) the Pentagon has now disclosed that fraggings in (109) have more than doubled those of (96).

Word of the deaths of officers will bring cheers at troop movies or in bivouacs of certain units. In one such division — the morale plagued Americal — fraggings during have been authoritatively estimated to be running about one a week.…

Bounties, raised by common subscription in amounts running anywhere from $50 to $1,000, have been widely reported put on the heads of leaders whom the privates and Sp4s want to rub out.…

As early as , however, an entire company of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade publicly sat down on the battlefield. Later that year, another rifle company, from the famed 1st Air Cavalry Division, flatly refused — on CBS-TV — to advance down a dangerous trail.…

“Search and evade” (meaning tacit avoidance of combat by units in the field) is now virtually a principle of war, vividly expressed by the GI phrase, “CYA (cover your ass) and get home!”…

Symbolic anti-war fasts (such as the one at Pleiku where an entire medical unit, led by its officers, refused Thanksgiving turkey), peace symbols, “V”-signs not for victory but for peace, booing and cursing of officers and even of hapless entertainers such as Bob Hope, are unhappily commonplace.…

One militant West Coast Group, Movement for a Democratic Military (MDM), has specialized in weapons theft from military bases in California. During , large armory thefts were successfully perpetrated against Oakland Army Base, Fts Cronkhite and Ord, and even the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton, where a team wearing Marine uniforms got away with nine M-16 rifles and an M-79 grenade launcher.

Operating in the middle West, three soldiers from Ft Carson, Colo., home of the Army’s permissive experimental unit, the 4th Mechanized Division, were recently indicted by a federal grand jury for dynamiting the telephone exchange, power plant and water works of another Army installation, Camp McCoy, Wis., on .

It’s a fascinating look at a part of American history that is frequently overlooked both by the Vietnam hawks who think that the military was doing just fine if only the civilians hadn’t gotten in the way, and the Vietnam doves, who tend to overemphasize the role of stateside protest and play down the role of dissention in the ranks. Recommended reading.

On that note, “The unlearning of the lessons of Vietnam is now complete. The presidential campaign was for at least two months dominated by an absurd discussion on the subject, in which the only “moral” issue was, apparently, how many Vietnamese Kerry had killed and how tough the ones he killed were. ABC’s Nightline finally put the icing on the cake by going to consult the other witnesses to Kerry’s action or nonaction — the Vietnamese.…”

It’s difficult to communicate how disgusting and macabre this is. It’s like questioning the family members of a murder victim in order to figure out whether the killer deserves a medal. Imagine the reaction of the average American being questioned on whether a particular Iraqi resistance member deserves a medal for personally killing some American soldier or whether the soldier was merely killed in an explosion. And the Iraqi resistance is fighting in its own country to expel foreign invaders, not occupying and destroying another country, as the United States did in Vietnam.

It’s very sad that, one one of the rare occasions in which Vietnamese voices are inserted into the American dialogue about the war, it is done in this obscene manner.

The ACLU managed to get the U.S. government to cough up more documents about its torture policies.

They’re starting to put them on-line if you’re curious (though some are a little redacterrific).

And the New York Times got some interviews with people who’ve seen Guantánamo from the inside. No surprise that among the things they’re hiding there is torture.

Did I say “torture?” I must have meant abuse, which, as Zeynep Toufe of Under the Same Sun notes, seems to be the officially-agreed-upon euphemism for torture-when-we-do-it.