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Reflections on the Horrible Photos from Iraq


by DC

I was trying to make sense the other night of how we Americans could allow the war on terrorism to descend into the sort of mess it's in. And then I saw Dawn of the Dead wherein bloodthirsty zombies terrorize the world. Nobody knows where they came from or why - they just attack as fast as they can as soon as they see you and then you're dead and start to attack others not yet ghouls. Everyone is reduced to bare survival in a world of madness and it all just keeps getting worse. They didn't represent anyone in particular to me - not the terrorists or the neo-conservatives - just gory chaos. I left the theater thinking I had a much better understanding of political science and current events.

Photos awakened the press and public to very bad news that was already there at lower levels of reporting from international and national watchdogs, underground press, questions that would come up in the mainstream press about Guantanamo, even Pentagon press releases - stuff most of us didn't want to hear and that, according to Carl Woodward, our leaders definitely didn't want to hear. I can't separate the abuse of the Iraqi prisoners, many, it seems, civilians randomly rounded up, from the whole quagmire of violence we've rushed into - almost 800 US soldiers dead and 12,000 wounded (including Afghanistan), many horribly and launguishing in substandard conditions (Support our Troops - get them out of there), 11,000 Iraqi civilians dead, and how many wounded and how many Iraqi combatants killed? Seems there was a massacre in Falluja and way overkill in Afghanistan. And for what? Is this military intelligence? Must this mayhem go on endlessly because we can't admit we've made bad mistakes and are flailing about? Don't tell me I'm against the war on terrorism. I'm just against blowing it.

Can we use these horrible graphics from Iraq to work against America's endemic culture of violence and to set standards that will reduce such violence worldwide? Or should we be more careful about trying to save the world and concentrate more on our own behavior? What of these victims, none of whom it seems needed to be questioned in the first place since we invaded them on false pretenses? That's an old story. Though many still don't realize it, Iraq clearly had no connection to the terrorists we were after - until now. I hear Pete Seeger singing "when will we ever learn?" These photos are just more knots in a string of unintended consequences brought to us by that rash and reckless gang of neo-con hijackers of the red white and blue ship of hope nose-diving now in one big mess still supported by a majority of a misinformed and fearful public. Great to get rid of a tyrant, but next time let's let it be done through more effective means.

A book called Jihad came out last year in India and I read a review of it while sipping chai in Dharmasala. It said that George Bush would be remembered for two things in the Moslem world - fanning the flames of Jihad and ending 1300 years of minority Sunni rule over the Shias in Iraq (Really - 1300 years?), thus paving way for a powerful Iran-Iraq Shia block against American hegemony in the Mid East. But Bush has got the Mussolini effect. His handlers study how to manipulate the public through getting him to stand with forceful posture the right way and he's good at saying a few effective words, showing resolve and confidence, warning us he's protecting us from attack, and not admitting to error. And he and his gang have made such a mess of so much that the media and public can't keep up with it. But there's no need for accountability if he just says the incredibly unexamined "they hate us for our freedom" or the Light Brigadish "stay the course."

Now he's acting outraged over some pictures that show what he'd already heard about and didn't want to hear. So it's just a few bad apples? I don't think that blaming individuals will get us far - blaming the guards in Iraq, the Saudi hijackers, Osama Bin Ladin, or George W. Bush and the rest of our platitude- spewing leadership with their not so hidden agendas. No scapegoating will get us what we really want - a peaceful world without terror. But we're obviously not trying to eliminate terror. We're doing a good job of increasing it as much as we can. I fear that the kick- ass crowd are going to bring a lot of wrath down on us. Thanks a lot. We lash out at anyone we don't like the looks of like an angry drunk in a bar and call that patriotism. I was in a bar after 911 talking to a guy who said we ought to go kill them all. He didn't know who he wanted to kill but he was sure he wanted to kill them. Like our present administration he used that "kill" word a lot. I wish he weren't now making US policy. There's an old Japanese saying that goes, "Edo no Kataki o Nagasaki de utsu." It means to get revenge on Edo (ancient Tokyo) by attacking Nagasaki. They had their share of disastrous policy makers too.

It seems to me if we wanted to reduce terror we'd look carefully at cause and effect and try to make as many friends as possible. I know you can't reason with the Osama faction, but do we have to act like recruiting agents for them? This is not a well managed response to 911. We could have shrunk them with a precise and minimum use of force and with nurturing all the world-wide goodwill we had but instead we gave these madmen steroids and the rest of the international community rotten fruit to throw at us as they boo from the bleachers. How few seem to care about actually reducing anger and violence, preferring the endless cycle of revenge, Gandhi's "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." 

Look at the structure of the culture those guards were in, transparency or the lack of it, moral leadership or the lack of it. Look at the Stanford Prison Study and the Milgram Experiment. Search for those and other key words on the web and see some good articles like the BBC study that showed guards, if given the right directions, don't have to descend into monsterdom. Go to Project Censored. Look at what LA Times editor John Carroll said of the rise of pseudo journalism in America leading large numbers of us to believe things that have no basis in fact. Look at Amnesty International and other reports of what has been done in our name behind the closed doors of Guantanamo and Afghanistan and elsewhere. Check out the School of the Americas and learn about people in prison in America for protesting the torture and oppression exported for decades from our country to Latin America. Read up on extensive torture dished out by Americans in Vietnam. Saying that others have done it too is no defense. Could you as an individual use that in court? Must nations be like psychopaths and sociopaths? Read studies that show that torture isn't even effective in getting truthful answers. Heck, just read the Bible and ask, "What would Jesus do?" Can people who call themselves followers of Christ really support this random violence?

Will these photos from Iraq finally make us take a good look at what's happening in prisons at home as well as abroad or will we just go back to sleep in a while? It took pictures. Maybe everything we do with others that can possibly lead to abuse should be under constant video surveillance monitored by independent watchdogs and even computers programmed with the values and rules of conduct that seem to slip away from us so easily. Or would that just eventually lead to us becoming desensitized or even asking for more like the bloodthirsty crowds of the Coliseum in Rome? I think it would be only fair to bring home the soldiers who we've been so unfair to and send all the neo-cons and their supporters to hospitals to take care of the wounded on both sides - and let them also try to keep order in Iraq till their new government has got a foothold. The whole thing makes me so mad that now I feel the desire to lash out and.... now wait a minute. Get a grip. Gosh is it hopeless? Nah - we're not hopeless, just in a really bad place. I pray for us all.

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