Wednesday, April 07, 2010

As Above, So Below

A leaked military video — which, as PZ Myers notes, you cannot unwatch — shows soliders in an attack helicopter firing on people who were walking down the street, about a mile away. A man arrives in a van with two small children, and tries to help the wounded. They kill him, too. "It’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle," one soldier says.

It doesn't sound quite right when you describe it that way, does it? In "reality," the people in the helicopter were Americans, and the people on the ground were Iraqis, which allows us to put things in perspective. Maybe it looked as though the Iraqis had a grenade launcher. Maybe the soldiers were scared. Maybe they were inexperienced. Maybe they were angry or stressed out. Maybe they couldn't see the kids in the van, at first. Maybe the whole thing was an unfortunate aberration from our generally principled approach to...whatever it is we're doing over there.

Then again, maybe it's not an aberration, but war in its purest form. Maybe it's the comforting thoughts of heroism and necessity and "protecting our way of life" that are aberrant, in the real world. Maybe the bloodlust that motivated these killings is the same one that made this war feel "necessary" to so many people. Maybe the rationalizations for this crime are based on the same thinking that made it inevitable.

This isn't some aberration. What these soldiers did to these people is what we did to Iraq. We attacked it because it was there, and we could, and we thought it would make us feel better. We did it because we're stupid, because we're brutal, because we're bored, because we don't like foreigners, because we're scared of our own shadow. We did it because the seriousness of war made us feel like serious people. We did it because we're angry and unhappy, and we'd rather take our anger and unhappiness out on others than accept any measure of the "personal responsibility" we claim to hold dear.

I'm joking, of course. It's their fault. It must be. The people we kill are bad, as evidenced by the fact that we killed them. Which is a second murder, and a second bereavement for survivors. But it's their fault for trying to live in a battle zone.

It must be.

What we can't hide we can always treat, yet again, as some sort of an exception, some sort of a perversion of our finer feelings.

As if there were ever anything more to this war than what you can see in this video, if you can stand not just to look, but to understand.


Tacitus Voltaire said...

when i was a kid, the major obsession was major league sports. i'm deeply disturbed to note that these days the kids are obsessed with video games that make sport of exactly this kind of activity. i'm even more disturbed to see that the military has bent the instrumentality of modern warfare to be as close to video games as possible. the reduction of warfare to a spectacle that the participants don't have to be emotionally involved in is complete

robert e lee famously said "it is good that war is so terrible, or we should grow to love it too much"

who are we now that we never need to realize that our targets are other human beings?

Rmj said...

robert e lee famously said "it is good that war is so terrible, or we should grow to love it too much"

who are we now that we never need to realize that our targets are other human beings?

During the Cold War, our "targets" were millions, who could be wiped out by the push of a button, or the release of bombs from planes.

Of course, we destroyed Dresden and Tokyo with "conventional" weapons, and leveled much of Germany the same way. The only difference is, now we see the targets we slaughter, and we rejoice, as ever, at our power.

It takes a very advanced civilization, and truly wondrous technology, to make war something we can love again. It was industrialized war that Lee despaired over. Fortunately, industry has served us well in that regard since then.


charley said...

life sucks, then you die

ok, probably a little more complicated than my overly simplified cynical view of the matter.


good post..