Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The War on People

This is about collateral damage, aka the killing of civilians during war. The "war on terror" is really a war on people. Those people are not easily categorized, but I know who they aren't. They aren't white, they aren't rich, they aren't American, and they don't usually speak English. The exception to this are the few accused 'leaders' of terrorism which the U.S. says it wants to capture; bin Laden is presumably wealthy but the hunt for bin Laden has been declared phony more than once recently. (They need a Bad Guy or the war on terror itself is phony). So if the war on terror is phony, that means the war on terror is really a war on people who are "Other" than American. That's like our government saying, "World, watch your back!"

The following is a good book review for a new book on collateral damage. I heard the two authors discuss this last week on CSPAN for the Miami Book Fair. (You can watch the whole panel here). It's written by Chris Hedges (a pro-peace independent journalist) and Laila Al-Arian. From their discussion of their book, and what I have read in the last 4 years, it's obvious to me that the 'war on terror' has desensitized the American people to conclude that killing people in far-away countries in order to keep us safe, whatever that means, is perfectly OK. Proof of anything about their threat to our safety is optional. And unfortunately, this war on people is not going to end with a new administration.

Obviously the war-keeps-us-safe point of view overlooks the fact that we have never been, and will never be, "safe". We could cross the street and be hit by a car, or our house could be burglarized tomorrow, or a neighbor's dog could attack us. We could lose our jobs and our health insurance. Surely these situations all threaten peoples' safety. Women in the U.S. know they are never safe, and never will be, as domestic violence and rape and dying in childbirth are always a threat. So a war to keep us safe seems as ridiculous as promising us "heaven" or 72 virgins after we die. It's a fantasy.

But we continue to buy the lie and as a result, many people suffer and die. The following is the book review, with excerpts from Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, from Buzzflash.

Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians (Hardcover)

By Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian

"In this devastating exposé, Pulitzer Prize-winner Chris Hedges and journalist Laila Al-Arian reveal the terrifying reality of daily civilian life in Iraq at the hands of U.S. troops. Collateral Damage is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with combat veterans who explain the tactics and operations that have turned many Iraqis against the U.S. Military."

Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Senior Fellow at the Nation Institute. He was the former Middle East Bureau Chief of the New York Times. He is the author of several books, including War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning and American Fascists. His latest book is Collateral Damage: America’s War Against Iraqi Civilians.

Laila Al-Arian, Freelance journalist who has written for several publications including USA Today, The Nation magazine, HuffingtonPost.com, and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She is the co-author of Collateral Damage: America’s War Against Iraqi Civilians.

From an Amy Goodman interview with the authors of "Collateral Damage":

AMY GOODMAN: I’m joined right now by the two journalists who first spoke to Westphal, Bruhns and forty-eight other Iraq War vets. Their stories are documented in the new book Collateral Damage: America’s War Against Iraqi Civilians. Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, senior fellow at the Nation Institute, author of a number of books, including War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning and American Fascists, he joins us here in New York. Co-author Laila Al-Arian is a freelance journalist who has written for USA Today, as well as The Nation magazine, huffingtonpost.com and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, joining us from Washington, D.C.

We welcome you both. Laila Al-Arian, how unpopular, among Iraqis, is the occupation and the war? What are the numbers?

LAILA AL-ARIAN: Well, Amy, the numbers are that less than one percent of the Iraqis actually support a US presence in Iraq, and this has been demonstrated time and time again in polls and also in the result when troops do withdraw from the region. For example, last December, British troops withdrew from Basra, and we saw a calm in the area and a rapid decrease in violence. Some estimates are that it was a 99 percent decrease in violence. So we do see that the results are very clear once troops do withdraw and that there is some stability in this certain region.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Hedges, you divide the book Collateral Damage into convoys, checkpoints, raids, detentions, then hearts and minds. Explain.

CHRIS HEDGES: These are the pillars of the occupation, and we wanted to give readers a kind of lens or view into the gritty details of how these mechanisms works, such as convoys. I mean, these are just freight trains of death. You have to remain moving once you leave what they call the wire, once you leave the safe perimeter of a base. And so, these heavily armored convoys will drive at breakneck speeds, fifty, sixty miles an hour down the middle of roads, smashing into Iraqi cars, shoving Iraqi vehicles to the side, running over Iraqi civilians, and then, of course, any time an IED goes off, unleashing withering what they call suppressing fire with belt-fed weapons—these are light machine guns like SAWs, .50-caliber machine guns—into a densely populated areas. And so, I think that rather than sort of do a Studs Terkel kind of memoir, we wanted to focus specifically on sort of key mechanisms that make the occupation work, how these mechanisms function, and the effect that these mechanisms have on Iraqi civilians.