Umbrellas and Drones


To observe the Republicans, one would think that the U.S. military was involved in nothing more controversial than a Marine holding an umbrella for President Barack Obama while he gave a speech in the rain.  Sarah Palin, one of the many darlings of the rightwing, has stated that most Americans hold their own umbrellas, despite pictures showing her disembarking a plane on a rainy day with a lackey holding an umbrella for her. Lou Dobbs, formerly of Fox News, said it was ‘disrespectful, inconsiderate, classless,’ although one looks in vain for his similar comments when Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush had soldiers holding umbrellas for them. And the conservative blogosphere has been awash with condemnation, criticism and great umbrage about an action the president took, that has been taken by many presidents before him, including many of their heroes.

Someone awakening after a multi-year sleep and observing this would certainly believe that society overall was in very good shape, if the most important things political activists had to complain about was a Marine holding an umbrella for the president. However, such a person might be deceived.  Let us take a quick look at another current issue that is somewhat less benign than an umbrella, and that no one on the right or the left seems concerned with.

U.S. drones, unmanned aircraft, have for some time been bombing targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other countries , all in the sacred name of the U.S. war on terror (whatever that is).  In the last couple of years, over 5,000 people have been killed in U.S.– initiated drone strikes, and the frequency of these bombing is escalating rapidly.  Their purpose, ostensibly, is to rid areas of Al-Qaeda operatives, a strategically important goal (we’ll not consider the morality of it quite yet), as the U.S. prepares to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, after twelve years of U.S.-sponsored terrorism against the Afghani people.

But what of the human debris left in the wake of these bombings? Ibrahim Mothana, a young Yemeni writer, said this in a New York Times op-ed last year: “Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology, but rather by a sense of revenge and despair.” Much as U.S. citizens are told that people throughout the Middle East hate them because of their freedoms, it might be worth considering that the U.S. is hated by many in the Middle East and other areas because the U.S. government keeps killing their loved ones.  In moving testimony on April 24 of this year, another young Yemeni man, Farea al-Muslimi, who had lived in the U.S. as a high-school student,  told the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, that his neighbors had felt positively about the U.S., due to his experiences there as a youth.  “Now, however, when they think of America, they think of the fear they feel at the drones over their heads,” he said. “What the violent militants had failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant.” He also pointed out that the goal of one recent drone strike, the death of a purported Al-Qaeda leader, could easily have been accomplished without bombing the area. The leader, Mr. al-Muslimi said, was well known to the villagers, and could easily have been located and captured. Why it was necessary to bomb the entire village, killing several innocent people, was beyond his understanding, as it beyond that of this writer.

But perhaps it isn’t so difficult to understand. The U.S. does things simply because it can. Whether it’s the covert overthrow of a democratically-elected government in Central America, the invasion of an oil-rich country in the Middle East, or the bombing of civilian targets anywhere in the world, who is going to stop the U.S.? When U.S. government leaders begin talking about the ‘war on terror’, the citizen-lemmings tend to fall in line,  waving a flag, singing the national anthem, and ignoring the untold and unspeakable suffering that the U.S. inflicts on innocent victims.

But are not these victims just ‘collateral damage’? Are they not just the unfortunate cost of keeping the world safe for freedom and democracy? The answer to those questions is, of course, simply no. They are innocent victims of U.S. imperial aggression. As Corporate America, with all its callous greed and complete disregard for human rights, lumbers across the globe, seeking new economic conquests, it knows that such conquests cannot occur only in the boardroom. Third World peoples, with no interest in corporate profits, who simply want to live simple lives, raising their families and earning their livings on farms, must not stand in the way of the almighty dollar, when their farms lay atop precious natural resources, coveted by the U.S. So as the U.S. moves in, and is resisted, those resisting them are said to be ‘insurgents’, terrorists hating the freedoms that U.S. citizens so enjoy. Therefore, they must be removed. Certainly, they are not all terrorists, but the ringleaders must be destroyed, and if, in the process of killing them, some innocent children are blown to bits in front of their terrified parents, well, that is simply war. One might see it as the cost of doing business.

And what is the result? Those parents, and others, fill in the ranks of any opposition leaders the U.S. has managed to kill, inflating the numbers of ‘insurgents’ (read: freedom fighters), causing the U.S. to send more of its bombs, thus killing more innocent people and fostering more hatred of the United States.

One could ask if these facts are too complicated for the U.S.’ elected representatives. It seems rather basic: kill innocent people, and their loved ones will not necessarily grow fond of you. However, why is any of the relevant, when corporate lobbies contribute vast amounts to elected officials for their reelection campaigns? Who wouldn’t want to keep a job that requires showing up to the office whenever you feel like it, provides all-expenses paid travel benefits, and pays well? What do integrity, honesty, upholding the law and the Constitution have to do with the bottom line?

The U.S.’s never-deserved but self-proclaimed image as a global beacon of peace and freedom began to wear thin during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. While Congress and the president prefer to look the other way, and view the ‘war on terror’ as defending freedom and democracy, more and more people throughout the world see it for what it is, and until U.S. government officials decided to see reality, hatred toward the U.S. will only continue to grow.

ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776 – 2006. His new book is: Look Not Unto the Morrow.


Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).

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