ED - Chris Floyd has an extensive collection of war images from Iraq at WAR.
When I was a 17-year-old kid in my senior year of high school, I didn’t think much about Vietnam. It was 1967, the war was raging, but I didn’t personally know anyone who was over there, Tet hadn’t happened yet. If anything, the excitement of jungle warfare attracted my interest more than anything (I had a .22 cal rifle, and liked to go off in the woods and shoot at things, often, I’ll admit, imagining it was an armed enemy.)
But then I had to do a major project in my humanities program and I chose the Vietnam War. As I started researching this paper, which was supposed to be a multi-media presentation, I ran across a series of photos of civilian victims of American napalm bombing. These victims, often, were women and children—even babies.
The project opened my eyes to something that had never occurred to me: my country’s army was killing civilians. And it wasn’t just killing them. It was killing them, and maiming them, in ways that were almost unimaginable in their horror: napalm, phosphorus, anti-personnel bombs the threw out spinning flechettes that ripped through the flesh like tiny buzzsaws, the gunships that spew out random fire that kills or maims anything within the area of several football fields. I learned that scientists like what I at the time wanted to become were actually working on projects to make these weapons even more lethal, for example trying to make napalm more sticky so it would burn longer on exposed flesh.
By the time I had finished my project, I had actively joined the anti-war movement, and later that year, when I turned 18 and had to register for the draft, I made the decision that no way was I going to allow myself to participate in that war.
A key reason my—and millions of other Americans’ — eyes were opened to what the US was up to in Indochina was that the media at that time, at least by 1967, had begun to show Americans the reality of that war. I didn’t have to look to hard to find the photos of napalm victims, or to read about the true nature of the weapons that our forces were using.
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Today, while the internet makes it possible to find similar information about the conflicts in the world in which the US is participating, either as primary combatant or as the chief provider of arms, as in Gaza, one actually has to make a concerted effort to look for them. The corporate media which provide the information that most Americans simply receive passively on the evening news or at breakfast over coffee carefully avoid showing us most of the graphic horror inflicted by our military machine.
We may read the cold fact that the US military, after initial denials, admits that its forces, in early April, killed not four enemy combatants in an assault on a house in Afghanistan, but rather five civilians—including a man, a female teacher, a 10-year-old girl, a 15-year-old boy and a tiny baby. But we don’t see pictures of their shattered bodies, no doubt shredded by the high-powered automatic rifles typically used by American forces.
We may read about wedding parties that are bombed by American forces—something that has happened with some frequency in both Iraq and Afghanistan — where the death toll is tallied in dozens, but we are, as a rule, not provided with photos that would likely show bodies torn apart by anti-personnel bombs—a favored weapon for such attacks on groups of supposed enemy “fighters.” (A giveaway that such weapons are being used is a typically high death count with only a few wounded.)
Obviously one reason for this is that the US military no longer gives US journalists, including photo journalists, free reign on the battlefield. Those who travel with troops are under the control of those troops and generally aren’t allowed to photograph the scenes of devastation, and sites of such “mishaps” are generally ruled off limits until the evidence has been cleared away.
But another reason is that the media themselves sanitize their pages and their broadcasts. It isn’t just American dead that we don’t get to see. It’s the civilian dead—at least if our guys do it. We are not spared gruesome images following attacks on civilians by Iraqi insurgent groups, or by Taliban forces in Afghanistan. But we don’t get the same kind of photos when it’s our forces doing the slaughtering. Because often the photos and video images do exist—taken by foreign reporters who take the risk of going where the US military doesn’t want them.
No wonder that even today, most Americans oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan not because of sympathy with the long-suffering peoples of those two lands, but because of the hardships faced by our own forces, and the financial cost of the two wars.
For some real information on the horror that is being perpetrated on one of the poorest countries in the world by the greatest military power the world has ever known, check out the excellent work by Professor Marc Herold at the University of New Hampshire.
When we look at President Obama's $83.4-billion special funding request for the Afghanistan and Iraq War, and his new record $664-billion 2010 military budget, we need to have those images in our minds.
Meanwhile, the killing of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan is only likely to increase with the expanding use of Predator drone aircraft which kill from the sky, piloted by pilots based in control trailers in remote places like Nevada. Here's what Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace activist John Grant of Philadelphia has to say on that topic:
Opposing Immoral Drone Warfare:
By John Grant
Here's an important civil disobedience action that occurred yesterday at a base in the Nevada desert near Indian Springs. This is a moral issue that demands more coverage in our media and more understanding by a cross section of American citizens. This action raises many questions for Americans, since we are now on the cusp of a future of drone/robot warfare. Do we want to be a people who sit in fear in the comfort of our homes as our military, in secret, sends out flying robots armed with lethal rockets (and who knows what in the future) that have regularly killed a significant number of innocent civilians in the process of targeting "terrorists" in the remote areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan? These drones are controlled by operators in air-conditioned rooms on bases like Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. There have been reports of operators suffering Traumatic Distress from witnessing the deaths or maimings of victims on the video screens in front of them. Is this who we want to be as citizens of the world, essentially hiding away in our comfy homes afraid of engaging with the world except through remotely piloted drones or controlled visits to Disney World? Considering the long history of warfare, why is this kind of warfare not cowardly? Are drones the answer to not wanting our young men and women brought home in aluminum boxes? These are questions we need to ask ourselves and that this action raises. Please pass this on and support the men and women arrested in Nevada.
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