FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Shooting a Tiger

“The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing…Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie…And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right.”

George Orwell

On September 20th an unidentified American soldier shot dead the rare Bengal tiger in the Bagdad zoo. In an interview with AFP, the zoo’s curator, Adel Salman Musa, said it happened like this:

“One of the soldiers, who the Iraqi police said had drunk a lot, went into the cage against the advice of his colleagues and tried to feed the animal.”

It was at this point, according to Lieutenant George Krivo, “the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq,” that “the tiger then engaged the soldier’s arm.”[1]

Three days later, soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, attacked a farm in al-Jisr in the middle of the night, killing three farmers and wounding three others, including two children. The surviving members of the family sleeping in the farmhouse told The Guardian that the soldiers “opened up a devastating barrage of gunfire lasting for at least an hour.”

Eventually the shooting stopped, the soldiers pulled back and then they called in the air strike. At least seven missiles were fired but only one hit the house, tearing through the ceiling of an unoccupied storeroom.

In Bagdad, military spokesman Nicole Thompson later stated that the soldiers had only fired after being fired upon by “unknown forces.”[2]

* * *

One of the more remarkable transformations in American public life over the past twenty five years is how the military has evolved from a corrupt, bloated, inefficient bureaucracy–those thousand dollar toilet seats–to the institution that Americans claim to have more faith in that any other. In the most recent Harris poll, 62% of respondents said they had a “great deal of confidence” in the Military; more than the White House (40%); more than Organized Religion (19%); more than the Press (15%).[3] Unsurprising when one considers that for the past twenty five years the military has been able to repeatedly display its overwhelming force in a series of quick, painless, relatively bloodless campaigns: Granada, Kosovo, Iraq (part I), Afghanistan. Has not, in other words, had to prove itself in anything like a seemingly indefinite occupation in which it was under almost-constant attack.

So while it may be too soon to know whether or not the occupation of Iraq will crumble into “quagmire,” this is certain: the last time the American public got to see its soldiers in this kind of action, they were fighting a similarly shadowy guerilla war, in a similarly far-away place, for similarly inscrutable reasons, with similarly disproportionate force.

* * *

My generation is too young to remember Vietnam, yet its memory continues to linger in popular imagination, in cultural totems: Kent State; the Tet Offensive; Jane Fonda; the smell of napalm in the morning. We remember, or think we remember, former soldiers, like John Kerry, protesting the war by throwing away their medals. We remember, or think we remember, young woman greeting the return of other soldiers, less contrite: spitting in their faces, scratching at their eyes, calling them “baby killers.”

* * *

In a similar Harris poll, conducted in 1966, confidence in the Military was at 61%. By 1971 it had dropped to 27%.

* * *

We’ve been told, more than once, that the United States has the greatest military force in the whole glorious history of the entire world since the dawn of creation. But I believe that a distinction has to be made between this military’s technological superiority (unquestionable) and the character of its troops. This is a distinction that few seem willing to raise, let along honestly discuss. These days, any one even tempted to criticize the military finds himself compelled to offer the usual caveats: that one is cognizant of the enormous pressures that the soldier in the field faces; that one understand how easy it is to decry the policy of “shoot first and ask questions later” when one is sitting in a place thousands of miles away where no one is shooting. True enough. Yet it is curious how seldom this kind of sympathetic consideration is extended to, say, politicians, or spies, or aid workers, or engineers, or just about anyone else in, around, or involved with Iraq. Commentators of all political stripes, both mainstream and backwater, show no such deference towards other groups in which they are similarly inexperienced: the Administration, the French, the Provisional Authority, the UN, the CIA, Haliburton. But on the issue of the military’s conduct in Iraq, even the war’s harshest critics are conspicuously silent. Are, if anything, mostly sympathetic: “Stretched Thin, Lied to & Mistreated,” as a recent cover of The Nation would have it. Perhaps this consideration is due to the fact that, unlike the politician, the soldier must daily make split-second decisions which can cost him his life. Perhaps it comes from an unmentionable sense that he is doing a job that few would want and most would do their best to avoid. But if, as in Vietnam, this occupation continues to drag on, if more and more civilians are killed, and in ways that seem increasingly reckless, increasingly wanton, this question will have to be asked: do the dangers of occupation and the perfidy of politicians absolve the soldier in the field from all responsibility? Does it mean that, no matter the situation, his self-preservation automatically trumps any sort of reasonable expectation of restraint, or common sense?

* * *

From 1922 to 1927 George Orwell got to experience at first-hand the kind of moral displacement caused by Empire. “I was young,” he later admitted in his classic essay ‘Shooting an Elephant,’ “and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East.” During those five years, Orwell served as a police officer in the place that used to be known as Burma. What most perplexed him was that while he was secretly sympathetic to the Burmese, and antipathetic to all the trapping of British sahib culture, as a member of the ruling class he was automatically despised by the natives, so much so that he ended up despising them in turn. This tension, he discovered, made him act in ways he couldn’t recognize, or understand. “All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny…with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts.” “Feelings like these,” he concluded, “are the normal by-products of imperialism.”

* * *

We know, now, that this is a war of volition: there are no weapons; there was no “imminent threat”; there never has been any credible link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa’ida. “Against the advice of his colleagues,” the soldier has gone into the cage. The tiger attacks.

SHYAM OBEROI lives in New York.

[1] AFP, “U.S. Soldier Kills Tiger at Baghdad Zoo,” Sept. 21, 2003.

[2] Rory McCarthy, “Iraq: the reality and rhetoric,” The Guardian, Sept. 27, 2003.

[3] See http://www.harrisinteractive.com/

 

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
September 19, 2019
Richard Falk
Burning Amazonia, Denying Climate Change, Devastating Syria, Starving Yemen, and Ignoring Kashmir
Charles Pierson
With Enemies Like These, Trump Doesn’t Need Friends
Lawrence Davidson
The Sorry State of the Nobel Peace Prize
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Scourge in the White House
Urvashi Sarkar
“Not a Blade of Grass Grew:” Living on the Edge of the Climate Crisis in the Sandarbans of West Bengal.
Thomas Knapp
Trump and Netanyahu: “Mutual Defense” or Just Mutual Political Back-Scratching?
Dean Baker
Is There Any Lesser Authority Than Alan Greenspan?
Gary Leupp
Warren’s Ethnic Issue Should Not Go Away
George Ochenski
Memo to Trump: Water Runs Downhill
Jeff Cohen
What George Carlin Taught Us about Media Propaganda by Omission
Stephen Martin
The Perspicacity of Mcluhan and Panopticonic Plans of the MIC
September 18, 2019
Kenneth Surin
An Excellent Study Of The Manufactured Labour “Antisemitism Crisis”
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Crown Prince Plans to Make Us Forget About the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi Before the US Election
W. T. Whitney
Political Struggle and Fixing Cuba’s Economy
Ron Jacobs
Support the Climate Strike, Not a Military Strike
John Kendall Hawkins
Slouching Toward “Bethlehem”
Ted Rall
Once Again in Afghanistan, the U.S. Proves It Can’t Be Trusted
William Astore
The Ultra-Costly, Underwhelming F-35 Fighter
Dave Lindorff
Why on Earth Would the US Go to War with Iran over an Attack on Saudi Oil Refineries?
Binoy Kampmark
Doctored Admissions: the University Admissions Scandal as a Global Problem
Jeremy Corbyn
Creating a Society of Hope and Inclusion: Speech to the TUC
Zhivko Illeieff
Why You Should Care About #ShutDownDC and the Global Climate Strike  
Catherine Tumber
Land Without Bread: the Green New Deal Forsakes America’s Countryside
Liam Kennedy
Boris Johnson: Elitist Defender of Britain’s Big Banks
September 17, 2019
Mario Barrera
The Southern Strategy and Donald Trump
Robert Jensen
The Danger of Inspiration in a Time of Ecological Crisis
Dean Baker
Health Care: Premiums and Taxes
Dave Lindorff
Recalling the Hundreds of Thousands of Civilian Victims of America’s Endless ‘War on Terror’
Binoy Kampmark
Oiling for War: The Houthi Attack on Abqaiq
Susie Day
You Say You Want a Revolution: a Prison Letter to Yoko Ono
Rich Gibson
Seize Solidarity House
Laura Flanders
From Voice of America to NPR: New CEO Lansing’s Glass House
Don Fitz
What is Energy Denial?
Dan Bacher
Governor Newsom Says He Will Veto Bill Blocking Trump Rollback of Endangered Fish Species Protections
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Time to Stop Pretending and Start Over
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Inside the Syrian Peace Talks
Elliot Sperber
Mickey Mouse Networks
September 16, 2019
Sam Husseini
Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max
Paul Street
Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor
Paul Atwood
Why Mattis is No Hero
Jonathan Cook
Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate
Jeff Mackler
Trump, Trade and China
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Democrats and the Climate Crisis
Michael Doliner
Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail