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The outrage and dismay over devastation and human suffering seem to have much more to do with how such horrors were caused than the actual horrors themselves, it would seem.
At least, it seems that way when it comes to our outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose sense of horror seems to be remarkably selective.
Touring the wreckage of the recent tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia yesterday, an obviously shaken Powell, a former top U.S. Army general, said, “I have been in war and I have been through a number of hurricanes, tornadoes and other relief operations, but I have never seen anything like this. The power of the wave to destroy bridges, to destroy factories, to destroy homes, to destroy crops, to destroy everything in its path is amazing.”
You have to wonder what this leading member of the American war machine thought of the power of the U.S. military to destroy bridges, factories, homes, crops, hospitals, dykes, schools, entire towns and cities, rice paddies and indeed “everything in its path” back in Indochina in the years he was there. Especially as he was busy covering up the massacre of women, children and old people at My Lai. What did he think as he toured burned down villages, mile after mile of defoliated jungle, whole barren moonscapes pockmarked with craters from American bombs, millions of dead and maimed men, women and children.
And you have to wonder what he thinks now about the U.S. Shock and Awe destruction of Baghdad, or more recently, of the leveling of the cities of Najaf, Samarah and especially Fallujah.
One would think that the carnage caused by man-indeed the carnage for which Colin Powell himself bears considerable responsibility-would be far more troubling than that caused by nature.
But then we are a selectively outraged people. Where is the mass public campaign to raise money for the hundreds of thousands of wounded and displaced in Iraq? Americans’ efforts when it comes to charity and fundraising related to the Iraq War is pretty much limited to providing cookies and body armor for our troops.
As Bruce Jackson wrote in Counterpunch yesterday, our media, quick to display the corpses, and the maimed and orphaned children of the Indian Ocean tsunami, don’t bother to show the carnage our army is causing in Iraq. Oh, we get to see the carnage there when it was caused by the Iraqi insurgents, but not when it’s our own bombs and bullets that are doing the killing and maiming. And we don’t get to see the sheer magnitude of the destruction that our military has wreaked on Iraq and its long-suffering people.
That level of detail, like Secretary Powell’s capacity for horror and concern, is reserved for the workings of nature.
Just as Powell was hardened by his Army boot camp training to accept human suffering as a normal consequence of battle, and to bury his humanity when it comes to war, we Americans as a people are being hardened by our compliant pro-government media to put that part of our natural compassion in a lockbox.
Like Pavlov’s dogs, we rally to the cause when a storm strikes in Florida or a tsunami hits in Indonesia, but avert our eyes when our own military is the agent of destruction.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org