Let me paint a word picture. An unarmed, wounded American soldier is lying helpless, bleeding and barely conscious on the floor of a church in a country with which the US is at war. An armed soldier of that country walks up to the wounded American. It so happens that a TV cameraman is present. He films the foreign soldier shouting, “He’s fucking faking he’s dead!” One of his comrades says “And he’s breathing”. The first soldier again yells “He’s faking he’s fucking dead!” He then kills the helpless, wounded man with a burst of fire that blows his head off and spatters the room with blood and tiny bits of flesh and bone. One of the foreign soldiers says “He’s dead, now.”
Question One: What do you think the reaction of most of the American people would be to the murder of a wounded, unarmed US soldier lying helpless and barely conscious on the floor of a church in a foreign land?
Question Two: What was the reaction of most of the American people to the murder of a wounded, unarmed Iraqi lying helpless and barely conscious on the floor of a mosque in his own country?
First Answer: Shrieking outrage and demands for the foreigner to be tried and executed, whichever came first.
Second Answer: Unconcern.
The dialogue about faking it came from a CBS tape of a US soldier killing an Iraqi prisoner. The whole thing was recorded. It is undeniable that the crime was committed. The clips of the murder were played worldwide on television – except for the actual killing, because that was thought too vile, even for a television audience accustomed to the most explicitly horrible murder scenes. And nobody has dared take a poll as to how many Americans approve of the murder. Most TV reports called it “an incident”, and it has dropped out of sight because, to put it bluntly, an American life is considered to be worth more than an Iraqi life. To many millions of Americans, the marine who murdered the helpless man is a hero. If you doubt this, please read on.
Think about another ‘incident’, when a squad of US soldiers opened fire on a car travelling along the Baghdad-Airport road on March 4, killing an Italian official. The lies began at once, and there is no point in describing what happened because the truth as told by eyewitnesses has already been denied by the military, and the official version will be accepted by much of the US media. It is not surprising that the media will toe the official line, as most of their readers and viewers automatically doubt what they are told by foreign or independent US sources (not that there are many of the latter, these days), and are uncomfortable with anything that smacks of criticism of US soldiers. This is because such criticism is considered unpatriotic and unforgivable, even if it is justified by first-hand evidence of brutality or murder. And if audiences are unhappy about what appears in the media, advertisers will be even more unhappy and will withdraw their business. In short: mainstream news cover in the US is directed by two major factors: advertising revenue and its precursor, audience prejudice. And advertisers get their financial messages from some very unpleasant bigots.
These are people like the beauty who commented on the killing of the Italian official and the wounding of the Italian journalist he was escorting to freedom (that’s Bush freedom: it comes with free shrapnel wounds) as follows:
“Too bad the US troops didn’t shoot her in the head and been done with trouble making people like her . . . Posted by bpb901 March 5.”
We only have to look at the deranged outpourings on right wing blogs to realize there are millions of Americans who feel exactly the same way as bpb901. He or she is not in any way unusual. Unhinged and demented, yes ; badly in need of urgent mental treatment, certainly ; but out of the ordinary: no. (Bear in mind that The Economist of March 5-11 noted the uncomfortable statistic that “about one in five Americans now suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder”.)
Think back to the ‘incident’ in January at Tal Afar in which US soldiers killed the mother and father of six kids. Getty Images photographer Chris Hondros was there. He described the shambles like this:
“We have a car coming,” someone called out as we entered an intersection. We could see the car about a 100 meters away. The car continued coming; I couldn’t see it anymore from my perch but could hear its engine now, a high whine that sounded more like acceleration than slowing down. It was maybe 50 yards away now. “Stop that car!” someone shouted out, seemingly simultaneously with someone firing what sounded like warning shots — a staccato, measured burst. The car continued coming. And then, perhaps less than a second later, a cacophony of fire, shots rattling off in a chaotic, overlapping din . . . . From the sidewalk I could see into the bullet-mottled windshield more clearly. The driver of the car, a man, was penetrated by so many bullets that his skull had collapsed, leaving his body grotesquely disfigured. A woman also lay dead in the front . . . the children continued to wail and scream, huddled against a wall, sandwiched between soldiers either binding their wounds or trying to comfort them . . . the teenaged girl kept shouting, “Why did they shoot us? We have no weapons! We were just going home!”
We know about the killing of the father and mother of six kids because a photographer was there and we’ve seen his evidence. Same for the murder of the wounded prisoner. And we know about the killing of the Italian official because there is a high-profile former hostage still alive to tell us what really happened. But if these ‘incidents’ had not involved independent witnesses we would have been told nothing about them. They would have gone unrecorded, as have unknown numbers of similar atrocities in and around many cities. The Washington Post of 7 March says US officials “have declined to estimate how many civilians . . . have been killed accidentally by US forces at checkpoints or elsewhere in Iraq” This is no surprise, because although countless Iraqis have been killed by being sprayed with bullets by delinquent troops, the stories recounted by Iraqi witnesses of these terrible events are ignored. There are many people with the mentality of the moron who wrote “Too bad the US troops didn’t shoot her in the head and been done with trouble making people like her . . .”, and none of them would for an instant condemn the murder of a helpless prisoner by a heroic marine. Neither would they be critical of the gallant troops who wiped out the parents of six children. It is a terrible thing to say, but it must be said: there are millions of Americans who would and do applaud these murders. In the case of the Italian murder, however, they seem to be a bit out of step with their hero, the deranged Bush.
Bush and Rumsfeld have grovelled to Italy’s crooked prime minister, Berlusconi, because their troops murdered an Italian citizen and wounded another. There was a phone call of apology from Air Force One to Rome the moment the news broke, and the Bush media machine trotted out the usual garbage about the car being attacked “by coalition forces”. (This phrase is used by the Bush people to try to avoid acknowledgement that US troops have been criminally incompetent yet again.) Bush spoke to Berlusconi “to express his regret about the incident that occurred earlier today,” and to assure “prime minister Berlusconi that the incident will be fully investigated.” But there is never an investigation of the murder of Iraqis. To the US military and to millions of tragically disturbed Americans they are non-persons.
Iraqi lives do not matter. Just as in Hitler’s Germany the Nazis referred to various sections of the population (Jews, gypsies and other ‘antisocial elements’) as the “untermenschen” — the sub-humans — so do US troops and the crazed bigots who bay for blood refer to Iraqis as “ragheads” — the sub-humans. The Nazi regime was founded and fostered by people who thought along the lines of “Too bad the US troops didn’t shoot her in the head and been done with trouble making people like her . . .”. If people are trouble-makers, well, don’t try to live with them ; don’t try to understand them ; don’t try to treat them as human beings: just shoot them. Or torture them. Or both. What the hell? The reasoning is that they are different to the superior people and therefore they should not be allowed to exist.
The attitude of millions of Americans is exactly that of the German supporters of fascism in the 1930s and early 1940s. They were encouraged to think of themselves as the Master Race and there were whole nations whose populations could be treated as inferiors, and they took pride in doing just that. The present wave of hysterical intolerance in the US makes the McCarthy years of persecution look benign, because the idea has been planted by Bush and his people that US citizens are superior in every possible way. There can be no admission of frailty, and no acceptance of equality. International law and treaties are ignored or treated with contempt, and human dignity has become irrelevant. Hysterical ultra-nationalism is thriving and gathering pace.
The director of the slippery slope to totalitarianism has beckoned his citizens, and they are responding with enthusiasm to his encouragement. War crimes are being committed by US troops and spooks on an extraordinary scale all round the world, but the biggest war crime is taking place in Washington: it is the twisting of the minds of the American people.
BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website www.briancloughley.com