The Thing with No Brain

I had an unpleasant moment on the day Bush decided to address “the Arab world.” He is a man I cannot stand hearing, so when his voice comes on the radio, I always switch it off. Well, this time I was too far away and necessarily heard a couple of sentences, the ones starting with “People in Iraq must understand…And they must understand.”

Must? The dumb arrogance of his words was stunning. On top of his poorly-chosen vocabulary, the man never apologized as I later learned from the Internet. Here was a commander talking about inexcusable brutality against helpless prisoners telling millions of angry people that they must understand. Here was a pathetically-inadequate man so overtaken by events that he felt the need to address “the Arab world,” and he was telling them what they must understand.

Of course, his immense, brainless arrogance was transmitted in other ways. He addressed the “Arab world” without using the networks that many listen to. He wanted a safe outlet – safe, that is, for him and his known inability to handle any question more complex than “How’s Mom?” He deliberately avoided al Jazeerah, a network that asks tough questions and whose employees his soldiers have deliberately targeted and killed.

I wonder how many new terrorists Bush has created throughout the Middle East? Imagine the rage of young Arab men seeing pictures of other young Arab men with their heads in bags being used like the cast of a vile underground pornographic film? Some of the most terrible scenes undoubtedly have no photographs because the actors were almost certainly murdered. Even the smiling cretins from the bayous and backwoods of America seen in the published pictures know better than to be photographed committing murder.

For the most part, the armed forces of the United States do not hire the kind of clean-cut, Sir-spouting faces invariably used as their public-relations spokesmen. They need people who will be trained to kill and obey orders, and most of the killing is to be done in poor, distant places where the victims’ voices are never heard in America.

Military recruiters fill a good part of their quotas from the many dismal backwaters and slums of the Republic. They fill them with the kind of people who otherwise might not be employed at all. They undoubtedly get a disproportionate share of the people who enjoy killing and inflicting pain, the kind of people found in every society on earth.

It doesn’t take a great effort of the imagination to anticipate what will happen when you give such people a few weeks training in killing and shining shoes and send them off to a remote land like Iraq, a place whose people they cannot understand, and about whom they know only the uninformed, provoking slogans of their President.

When a contemptible moral weakling like Bush sits comfortably in his leather chair and signs an order to invade a distant land, it is precisely the horrors of Abu Ghraib prison he necessarily releases.

Remember Lieutenant Calley and his boys murdering an entire village in Vietnam? That good old boy never experienced a moment’s meaningful justice. There was actually a brisk business for a while in Lieutenant Calley souvenirs, especially in the South.

There were several such massacres discovered in Vietnam, and one cannot doubt others went undiscovered. More disgusting still was the slitting of about twenty-thousand throats, mostly village officials, by the brave men of the Special Forces. But even their Nazi-like slaughter couldn’t compare to the work of the men flying jets, men still called war heroes in America, men who systematically bombed and napalmed countless towns, villages, and farms, producing enough victims to bury the city of Washington under a mountain of burnt flesh and gore, almost all of them civilians.

During that war, I once talked to an American veteran of World War II about the horror of what was going on. He told me a story. He was on a train with two other Americans and a German prisoner of war. One of the Americans suddenly put his automatic pistol to the head of the German and blew his brains out. He had no reason and just laughed after doing it.

As I’ve written before, I can never forget someone I knew in high school telling me about how he and his friends would pile into a car and drive down to the ghetto some nights, trying to “run down niggers” for the hilarious entertainment of seeing them run for their lives. I’ve always associated that painful memory with the men who later raped and murdered their way across Vietnam.

It is not that Americans are worse than other people, it is that they are the same. Yet they are encouraged constantly to think they are better – more advanced, more educated, more dedicated to democratic and human values. In the President’s words, “The America I know cares about every individual.” Well, apart from the fact that those descriptions fit at best a minority of Americans, thinking that you are better than less fortunate people is a guaranteed method for producing injustice and horror.

I note that to this day even more hideous pictures of Iraqi children mangled and killed by American bombing are not published by the county’s main press. Many Americans are sentimental, and pictures of smashed and mangled children might produce results not desired by those running the country, but the prison pictures can be characterized as an exception, as the fault of a few bad people breaking the rules.

Well, what society doesn’t have such rules? There’s nothing special about America in officially opposing torture, humiliation, and murder. Even dictatorships publicly set such rules, but what society doesn’t violate the rules as soon as it sinks to the putrid business of war?

A French television station has obtained a three-and-a-half minute videotape from an American helicopter taken last December. There is a pilot and a military gunman on board, and their commanding officer talks to them on a radio. The American soldier shoots three unarmed Iraqis, one by one, as the commanding officer barks his directions to him. The third man attempts to hide, and then tries to crawl away, clearly wounded. The officer orders him killed, and he quickly is.

Remember the broadcast conversations of American pilots during the first Gulf conflict as they strafed and bombed miles of Iraqi soldiers caught in a traffic jam while retreating from Kuwait City? We heard the words, clearly spoken with the same sense of amusement I heard as a young man in Chicago, “It’s like shootin’ fish in a barrel!” broadcast on television without any comment or criticism from broadcasters or politicians.

To this day, there is no examination into the disappearance of about three thousand prisoners in Afghanistan. A European documentary film strongly suggests American complicity in their mass murder out on the dessert by some of the more grotesque warlords with which the U.S. allied itself. The prisoners reportedly were driven, batch after batch, stuffed into vans, through a sun-baked wilderness, suffocating in the heat while American troops idly watched.

Don’t forget the words of Donald Rumsfeld concerning prisoners in Afghanistan. He said publicly that all foreign fighters captured should be killed or permanently walled away. Do you think that kind of leadership might influence the attitudes of creeps in the unwatched corridors of military prisons with people at their mercy?

Wars are an utterly filthy business, and, unless you are depraved, you don’t start them. Bush is responsible for what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan as surely as German leaders were responsible for the acts of their soldiers during World War II.



John Chuckman lives in Canada.