(I sent this to a mailing list I’m on. Someone posted links to the video of U.S. casualties that’s been doing the rounds, and there followed a debate over whether this was appropriate, and whether this sort of footage was good or bad to view or to encourage people to view.)
I’ll lay it on the table: I don’t think that George Bush and his crew value human life to an extent that I consider safe. I think they have grand plans on a large scale for how they want to remake the world, its nations, the stories writ large on history, and so forth. This is, from one point of view, entirely appropriate for people in their position.
But it also means that when they’re deciding whether or not to take an action that might result in, say, civilian casualties in Iraq, their calculations are done at this grand scale, their considerations are along the lines of:
- will this change the way other civilians react towards our soldiers?
- will this change the way Arab media report on our actions?
- will this put additional pressure on regional governments to strengthen their opposition to us?
- will this do significant damage to a strategically important target?
- will this strengthen the resolve of Iraqi troops?
- will this encourage terrorism against U.S. targets elsewhere?
And other good, solid, strategic considerations. For the civilian casualties themselves, and those who love them, and those who witness their dismemberment without having to click on a link to do so, there’s another element to the calculation. To people who believe that the suffering an Iraqi brother feels for the death of an Iraqi brother is of the same sort as the suffering I would feel for the death of my brother, this is an element in our calculation as well.
I don’t think this makes it into the calculation of people who think like George Bush and his crew. I honestly do not think that they value the lives of the people that they are killing as human lives, but only regret their deaths occasionally out of rhetorical necessity or strategic calculation.
I think people whose ambition carry them to the sorts of offices George Bush and his crew occupy, who dash out position papers full of empire and realpolitik, who dream up “shock and awe” and so forth, have for the most part given up this ability.
I think they’ve convinced themselves that they’ve done this for good reasons, reasons that are, when seen from the perspective of The Big Picture, actually better ways of addressing the very concerns I’m accusing them of ignoring. They think that people who include the pain of an anguished Iraqi brother in their calculations are dangerously naïve and sentimental. A nation full of television generals, op-ed writers, and policy-makers are pleased to agree.
I think they’re completely, tragically wrong.
Any justification for loosing the dogs of war that is true and right and good shouldn’t have to leave out the suffering of its victims.
You shouldn’t say that D-Day was justified because of Hitler’s evil and so it doesn’t matter about the people who suffered and died there. You should try to be able to say that D-Day was justified because of Hitler’s evil even considering the suffering and the people who died there.
It does no honor to the people who die in war to hide from how they died or what happened to their corpses afterwards. Better we should learn which one died the worst death and study the details so that we can tell ourselves honestly “this was the cost” and can decide whether we can really say “and it was worth it.”
And of course this criticism can be extended to critics of the war, who had better form a vivid picture of Saddam Hussein’s torture chambers before spouting any jawclap about respecting the sovereignty of his government.
I saw a picture of an Iraqi child covered in burns from one of the bombings. I think that the people who insisted that this child had to suffer in order to liberate Iraq would have gone through a different, more honest mental calculation if instead of deciding this a planet’s-width away from a child they’d never see, they decided it with the flamethrower in their hands and the child in front of them. Maybe they’d decide the same way, but they’d decide knowing the real cost of their decisions.
I think if George Bush had to personally burn, dismember, and crush the victims of his war, he would lose the heart for it. He would beg for excuses to try some other way with even more desperation than he in fact searched for reasons to go to war. The gruesome technology that allows him and people like him to rain death on people from a distance shields them from seeing the consequences of their actions except as results that can fit into a framework preselected to exclude non-abstract considerations of human suffering.
And I think this disease is widespread. And I think one potential cure is the sort of shocking footage we’ve been arguing about. It may or may not end up being effective, but most of the arguments I’ve heard against it sound like symptoms of the disease rather than arguments against the efficacy of the treatment.