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JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: AMERICA’S BRUTAL TACTICS

AMERICA’S BRUTAL TACTICS

John Chuckman

Naturally enough, few details of what American troops do in Iraq and Afghanistan reach the nation’s television screens, the main source of news for most Americans. American television takes the approach of the New York Times when it refers to professional soldiers as GIs, as though they were humble mechanics and bricklayers of America drafted into the titanic struggle against Hitler and Tojo.

But if you are genuinely interested in discovering the truth, there are plenty of sources for first-hand information. And anyone taking a little time to search through some of these comes away with a sick feeling.

From several ex-soldiers comes a vivid image of America’s house-to-house methods of searching for “insurgents.” A small block of C-4 plastique is fixed to the front door of a house, the door is blown in, and several armored giants rush through the shock and smoke with their automatic weapons at the ready. Women and children are held to one side at gunpoint, while any men are taken roughly for questioning. In most cases, the men have nothing worthwhile to say, but they and other members of their families are left with a terrifying experience they will never forget.

These violent procedures have been repeated thousands of times, both in Iraq and in the mountain villages of Afghanistan. Could this be part of what Condoleezza Rice meant when she said recently in Britain that despite thousands of tactical mistakes, America’s basic strategy was sound? Can you imagine her saying the same thing if Washington-area police blew her door down and stormed into her home in Chevy Chase or whatever other exclusive area she lives, perhaps looking for drug dealers or murderers, suspecting her home because she is black?

Another aspect of America’s crude tactics has been their way of responding to periodic mortar fire. The American forces use a high-tech radar gizmo that tracks the path of such shells supposedly to permit accurate return fire by artillery. Unfortunately the gizmo often does not work properly, and even when it does operate well, the tactics of mobile guerillas firing a shell from a truck or car and driving away leave the data of the gizmo useless. Well, not completely useless, because American artillery still responds. It’s just that all they hit are innocent residences or businesses.

The trigger-happy nature of Americans at check points is a well-established fact. These boys, many of them having joined up for benefits like money for college, do not want to be in these places, and they are irritated by the strange tongues and cultures and the blazing heat and sandstorms. They simply shoot first and ask questions after. I suppose this tactic might have been appropriate on the Eastern Front in World War II, but it is totally unsuited to a place you are occupying after having invaded, a place where the overwhelming majority of people with which you interact are just ordinary people going about their lives.

There have been dozens of pictures on the Internet of whole families obliterated in their cars by American soldiers. Children have been pumped full of holes. A kidnapped Italian journalist almost lost her life on her short journey back to freedom. The brave Italian secret service agent who had secured her freedom and was accompanying her to freedom was pumped full of holes. Yet this car and its contents were well known and had been identified to American forces.

It is extremely unlikely this was an error, the Italian journalist being someone hated by American occupation authorities for her critical stories. Such a number of unarmed journalists have been shot by American troops that the idea of the accidents of war is not credible. Of course, the recent revelation in Britain that Bush actually discussed bombing offices of Aljazeera adds another dimension to these events.

A number of British soldiers, Britain’s pathetic Blair being America’s only true ally in the phony coalition America’s press never fails to name, have gone on record about American tactics. These include several senior officers, an unprecedented criticism of an ally during war. What they have said to the press is that American tactics are brutal and thoughtless, almost certain in the long run to produce more enemies than friends. Few forces in the world have more genuine experience than Britain’s after decades in Northern Ireland, yet all their advice is treated with contempt by arrogant American commanders and politicians.

It seems both public and press have forgotten the words of Donald Rumsfeld not long after the U.S. triumphed in Afghanistan, the words being among the most shameful in American history and certainly ranking with anything a dread figure like Reinhard Heydrich uttered. On what to do with the thousands of prisoners taken in the invasion, Rumsfeld publicly stated they should be killed or walled away forever. It does appear he was taken at his word, for thousands of prisoners disappeared around the time. There are many eye-witness reports – a documentary film was made by a Scots director – about Afghan prisoners having been taken into the desert in trucks to suffocate in the blazing heat. American soldiers, if they didn’t actively help, just stood around and let it happen.

In the early part of the invasion of Afghanistan, tens of thousands of emergency de-hydrated food packets were dropped by American planes in some of the same areas that cluster bombs were being dropped. As pictures on the Internet testify, the bomblet canisters (pressure-sensitive cans packed with something like razor wire and high explosive) and the food packages were virtually the same optical yellow color. Imagine how many hungry peasants and children were attracted to these deadly areas by the food packets, only to be torn apart?

Bad publicity all over the world did stop the Pentagon’s grotesque practice, but the question of using cluster bombs near civilian populations remains. It was done both in Afghanistan and Iraq. The brave journalists of Aljazeera took dozens of pictures of what these bombs did to children in Iraq, their publication providing one of the reasons for the Pentagon’s and Bush’s intense hatred of the network.

The revelations about the behavior of American soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison are well known, although the last round of abuse and torture pictures released did not include the worst stuff that American Senators saw in closed session a while back. It’s almost as though the “tamer” stuff was released to defuse demands for more information. America’s great investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has said the worst stuff included boys being raped by American soldiers.

How many senior officers or officials have paid for these horrors that absolutely had to be known to them? The answer is none. What did Lieutenant Calley and Captain Medina suffer for the mass murder and rape of women and children in Vietnam a few decades ago? Not much, and their seniors nothing at all.

Of course we know from many sources including amateur plane spotters and flight records that America runs a gigantic secret prison system. Sources in Europe say that 14,000 are held in Iraq alone. There are also secret prisons in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and at Guantanamo. All of these prisoners are held with no legal rights whatever, just as though they had disappeared into Stalin’s Gulag.

In most cases the prisoners are simply people who fought Americans in their invasions of two lands. Since when do we do this to the fighters who oppose us in war? Americans themselves in the past have joined foreign wars as idealists or as mercenaries. This happened in South Africa, various African anti-colonial wars, Central America, South America, Indo-China, Spain, and other places. It’s an old tradition going back to Lafayette and Pulaski in the American Revolutionary War. The men, and boys, America now holds with no rights were doing no more than what tens of thousands of Americans and others have done previously.

As I have written before, if you want the rule of law, you cannot stand outside the law and claim its moral support. What America is doing in its “war on terror” is little more than freshened-up fascism. It wants a pipeline through Afghanistan and a subservient government in Iraq, and it dresses up the brutal tactics used to achieve these goals as a war on terror.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: BANGING YOUR HEAD INTO WALLS   Leave a comment

BANGING YOUR HEAD INTO WALLS

John Chuckman

We’ve all met them, people who stubbornly hurl themselves in the wrong direction, stopping only when they violently collide with reality. It is a painful way to learn, but those afflicted with the disability seem unable to learn in any other way.

This way of learning characterizes much of America’s effort at foreign policy since World War II. I was forcefully reminded of this by a news story with its searing memories of Vietnam.

It now appears that part of the 101st Airborne Division, members of a so-called Tiger Force unit, dropped grenades into bunkers where women and children hid and shot farmers without warning. They killed blind peasants and old men. These events happened in 1967, comparatively early in the war and about a year before the well-documented mass murder by members of the United States Army at the village of My Lai. No one knows how many innocent people the Airborne slaughtered. One surviving member of the unit is quoted saying he killed so many he lost count. Although investigations were conducted, they went nowhere, and it only now that we learn of the horror.

The full story of American savagery in Vietnam will perhaps never be told. We have had other glimpses of it, as for example when former CIA Director William Colby, responding to a titanic power struggle inside the CIA, revealed Project Phoenix, a secret program for the mass murder of civilian leaders regarded as sympathetic to the enemy. There were the revelations about a number of individuals engaging in barbarism, most notably, former Nebraska Senator and Medal of Honor winner Bob Kerrey having been part of a butcher-civilians operation.

The so-called Tail-Wind affair, whose discovery cost some very reputable journalists their jobs, is now consigned to the ever-handy conspiracy bin, but intelligent skeptics can hardly doubt that with all the other savageries of Vietnam, a secret operation to poison-gas American prisoners of war cooperating with the enemy is totally plausible.

To this day, thousands of American veterans attend meetings or counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder, the bureaucratic term for minds deranged by the horrors they saw or inflicted. War is always full of horror, but in the midst of the brutality in Vietnam, it dawned on many that the war served no good purpose and that most of its victims were civilians. The military draft sent a lot of people to Vietnam who weren’t suited to
the business of serious killing. And while the number of Americans killed was small for a long war, it still proved too many for people enjoying ice cream and beer at ballgames.

For years after Vietnam, Americans talked of the war’s lessons, but just what lessons were those? For a while, many believed the lessons might concern the values of the Bill of Rights, words so often abused as hollow marketing slogans. America’s armed forces would never again be sent to kill and torture for colonial interests.

But that was a hasty conclusion, as we see in Iraq. America perfected its technology for killing and terrifying so that at least for a small county, it is able to overwhelm fairly quickly. Relatively few American soldiers die, those that do are professionals, and the whole thing is quickly over.

Of course, there is a deep and jagged pit along this smooth-sounding path to military dominance, and it has to do with occupying and rebuilding a country, how you assume responsibility for tens of millions of new dependants. No people on earth today is less inclined or qualified for this task than Americans. You only have to look at the individualistic, selfish, and impatient nature of American society itself to understand why this should be so. The word dependant in America often is used as a term of abuse.

Recall Richard Nixon’s “madman theory” of the early 1970s. Nixon was trying to pressure the North Vietnamese in Paris for a settlement, and he deliberately spread the idea that he was a madman, quite capable of doing something irrational, and that it would be better for everyone to reach a settlement before he did so. The context that gave his suggestion force included his shattering bombardment of civilians in North Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as nightmarish programs like Project Phoenix, started under him.

I’ll set aside the fact that Nixon truly was something of a madman – for, apart from his lifelong career of promoting divisiveness, intense hatreds, and suspicions, who else but a genuine madman relishes being credited as one? In the end, Nixon was outfoxed by the Vietnamese, and America lost a major war. A decade of shameful destruction, vast resources consumed, rage, and riots were for nothing.

This did not go unnoticed by the American establishment – the Bushes, the Cheneys, the Rumsfelds, and all the other arrogant, insatiably-rapacious people who’ve given you war in Iraq. Their major lesson from Vietnam – apart from the unreliability of conscripts, the need for tight news control, and the need to improve the efficiency of killing with high-tech weapons – was that threats not acted upon were useless. This lesson comes packaged with a new release of the error-riddled Domino Theory: that a decisive demonstration of power in the Middle East would serve to stabilize the area. The Democrats’ regrettable Wesley Clark, among others, has pontificated along these very lines.

Lost in the armchair toying with other people’s lives and countries you might think is the fact that Nixon’s threat was nuclear, but actually it is not lost. Bush wants to develop and deploy a new generation of compact nuclear weapons, the implication being that these somehow would be useable, as for such wholesome crusade tasks as “bunker busting.” Please recall, the main bunker busted in the first Gulf War was the Al Firdos bunker in Baghdad packed with over four hundred civilians who were roasted alive by two “smart bomb” direct hits.

Vietnam truly was a twentieth-century version of burning witches, the witches in that case being communists rather than people who were either demented or senile as in the witch-burnings of a few centuries ago. Powerful people in the 17th century understood that witches were superstitious nonsense, but they used the phenomenon to their own purposes. We’ve almost run out of communist witches, so now the crusade has been redirected against evil spirits far less well defined, terrorists.

Not that there is no such thing as genuine terrorists. Of course, there are. Terrorism – from the Sons of Liberty and the Klu Klux Klan to black street gangs and camouflage-obsessed militia-nuts – is a rich part of American history. Please note that it has not been dealt with by blowing up whole neighborhoods of innocent people.

The communist-panic after World War II was promoted and manipulated by the America’s establishment, that ruthlessly ambitious segment of American society that does not consist solely of Republicans. American liberals today often seem unaware that Democrats like Robert Kennedy gladly played energetic and nasty roles. The establishment sought the immense bounty of new military contracts, forced access to other peoples’ resources and markets, and the swaggering sense of exercising vast power throughout the world. Note that the communist-panic began with the precipitous decline in military spending after the world war and with the opportunities for expansion represented by the sudden decline of former colonial powers.

At the end of the Cold War, there was a tendency for military expenditure to slide in real terms. America’s current terror-panic, manipulated and exploited relentlessly by Bush, and always echoed by Sharon for his own dark purposes, serves almost identical ends. The average American cannot even grasp the unholy amounts of money now changing hands to almost no good purpose.

I once described a scene in the wake of 9/11 where some Americans in a bar hooted and pumped their arms at the television image of ships equipped with cruise missiles, as though the ships or the missiles had the slightest relevance for individuals bent on killing others through their own suicides. That televised image comes pretty close to symbolizing Bush’s entire policy on terror. He has spent tens of billions of dollars, killed many thousands of innocent people, and made many Americans feel intimidated in their own country, but he has done little to end the threat of terrorism. He may even have increased its long-term prospects.

Terrorism predates modern history, and it generally comes as a result of great and oppressive injustice against a definable group of people. Short of ruthlessly repressing the group of people from whose ranks terrorists are drawn – something attempted many times, as, for example, by Cromwell in Ireland or Stalin in the Soviet Union – violence offers no effective solution.

Even Cromwellian repression fails over the long term, Ireland being a potent example. An oppressor eventually tires of repression. It may well have been some such dark thought that helped motivate Hitler in history’s greatest bloodbath, the invasion of the Soviet Union and the simultaneous start of the Holocaust (27 million and 6 million victims respectively). He demanded utter ruthlessness in these vast murderous enterprises. The people whose wealth and resources he was seizing, would not get the chance ever to become terrorists.

Bush’s policy is partway along the path of repression, a virtual copy of Sharon’s policy in Palestine, but has Sharon ended terror? Does Sharon not almost weekly become more violent and desperate, recognizing the futility of all he has done to date?

Bush’s prospects and opportunities are in some ways even more limited than Sharon’s, despite the immense and terrible power at his disposal. Although Al Qaeda was a relatively small organization – and nothing has come to light that contradicts an early conclusion that Al Qaeda, though dispersed and having some allies, was no bigger than a Chicago street gang – Bush’s tactics have created waves of sympathizers and new enemies, likely even more determined through their confrontation with such a bully. He is not opposed by a group of people confined to a tiny place like Palestine. Rather, he faces opposition in many forms in many countries with mobility across continents. You can’t just bomb it all.

The more verbal blunders Bush and his associates make – consider the idiotic statements made recently by Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a man associated directly with secret activities in places like Pakistan, to gatherings of American Christian fundamentalists – the more Bush’s efforts come to be viewed as broadly anti-Islamic. The word blunder here is only appropriate because such statements are errors in managing public affairs. They are not blunders in a more basic sense: these nasty, narrow people do believe what they are saying, and although that belief is not what launched Bush’s crusade, it undoubtedly motivates many along the way.

Terror is one response of those with terrible grievances who lack effective conventional means to fight for them, although if you listened to Bush you would think there were mobs of natural-born terrorists out there, ready to kill for no reason other than jealousy at America’s great good fortune and beneficence. As in the case of Northern Ireland, terror can only be ended by redressing the grievances, and even then, great patience and tenacity are required.

A general military action against terror is an insane concept, too destructive and unfocused to have predictable results. You cannot fight beliefs or grievances with armored divisions. You can only have vengeance that way, but vengeance can hardly be called policy and is unworthy of a great power claiming high ideals.

The example of Sharon’s brutality just couldn’t offer a clearer lesson. The Palestinians have immense grievances that virtually the entire world recognizes as legitimate. Assassinate all the leaders you please, bulldoze all the homes and shops and orchards you can, bomb and shoot civilians time after time as reprisals, the grievances not only remain, they are intensified. The ultimate danger in a situation like this is that Sharon’s frustration will drive him to move beyond Cromwell.

And so, too, Bush, but note that I use his name only as shorthand for that much bigger thing, the pitiless greed and arrogance of a large segment of America.