“I beheld the wretch – the miserable monster whom I had created.”
Doctor Frankenstein’s frightful creature was assembled from the limbs of corpses collected in the dead of night.
The Pentagon, with a steady supply of perfectly good severed limbs and heads from all its bombing runs, has decided the good Doctor’s approach to the ideal soldier has certain public-relations liabilities. Jerky, stitched-together bodies in uniform with putrid blue-green skin would not make good photo-ops. So the Pentagon has taken the high-tech approach, informing us recently that they are not many years away from putting the finishing touches to a robot soldier.
The picture of the creature released with the chirpy announcement – since the Pentagon has moved heavily into public relations and spying, its tone has become more chirpy, sounding often like a 1950’s announcement for new car models – shows a stubby thing, resembling one of Dr. Who’s dreaded Daleks more than anything else. Only this delightful creature has all kinds of antennae, lens, and gizmos, making it also somewhat resemble a space probe sent to trek the arid sands of Mars, blasting, digging, and probing as it hums along on nuclear batteries.
Thinking people, naturally, regard the prospect of imperial robot forces with dread, robots shooting and herding civilians after being parachuted into the mountains of Central Asia or onto the sands of the Middle East. It is remarkable that such a nightmarish concept should spring from the same people who fear so much as cameras on their crime-ridden streets out of paranoid concern for individual rights.
Many outside the United States comfort themselves with the belief that it really isn’t the same people making nightmarish decisions, for America, just as George Orwell’s Oceania, has several distinct citizenship levels, each with differing rights and privileges. It is the group that George Bush comes from – arrogant, unthinking, virtually-get-away-with-murder snots – that dreams up these horrors and sees that they are generously funded by ordinary, hardworking Americans who must pay their taxes.
When I heard about American soldiers killing an Italian secret service agent who had worked to secure the release of hostage journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, the thought occurred that maybe the robots couldn’t do much worse. American sources first tried to make it look as though the car carrying the two innocent victims had been speeding towards a check-point. With all the bombings in Baghdad, people would understand the killing as regrettable but unavoidable.
It turns out this effort to influence public understanding was a total fabrication. Just as in the case, some while back, of the American press’s mythical Battle of Samara which proved nothing more than a slaughter of Iraqi civilians by another group of trigger-happy Americans shooting up a whole neighborhood without being so much as shot at.
The car carrying the released hostage to freedom was not speeding. The car was a very short distance from the airport when a patrol of American soldiers blinded it with a searchlight and an instant hail of bullets. The occupants had no idea what was happening until it was over, and the truly brave Italian agent lay bleeding and dying in the arms of the wounded journalist.
It became obvious what happened as the trigger-happy soldiers stood around the car containing wounded and dying occupants and wouldn’t permit any access or help for several minutes. From such events come the not-to-be-sneered-at stories of Americans targeting journalists they don’t like (Ms Sgrena being quite critical of Americans in Iraq). The scene must have resembled the chilling one in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” where a group of American soldiers stands, with a wounded and dying Vietnamese woman at their feet, chatting and unblinkingly watching her die.
The only thing special about this horrible event in Baghdad was that the victims were prominent Westerners. Events just like it happen all the time to poor Iraqis, whole families being shot up sometimes by American soldiers, to say nothing of the countless cases of brutality and torture inflicted on men unfortunate enough to imprisoned at the mercy of Appalachian Throwbacks in uniform.
The New York Times, in its subtle propaganda campaign supporting Bush, insists on referring to the troops in Iraq as “GIs,” a term filled with sentimental suggestions from World War Two. GIs were recruited, civilian soldiers, fighting the horrors of fascism. America’s legionaries in Iraq are professional soldiers, and certainly the world’s most pampered, best paid and equipped. They are not fighting fascism either, or anything remotely like it. They are there, just as they were in a decade-long massacre in Vietnam, to enforce the will of a distant imperial power.
There are Americans, and the President chief among them, who will say, “Aw shucks, these things happen in war!” True enough, but then Iraq isn’t a war, it’s the aftermath of a calculated invasion. The troops shooting up civilians day after day are there for no high purpose. Likely Bush would offer the same dismissive reaction concerning recent evidence of America’s brave boys having used napalm and poison gas in the Fallujah. In for a penny, in for pound: hell, after an illegal invasion, what’s so bad about using banned weapons?
If you want just the tiniest insight into the minds of the bleak figures in lab coats running the horror-filled laboratories of Washington, you have only to look at Bush’s reaction to Canada’s decision not to participate in a costly missile-defense system which has failed every test. Before Canada’s decision was made, during Bush’s trip to Canada and against all accepted diplomatic protocol, he publicly brought up the topic of missile defense, a controversial subject in Canada, where it is seen not so much as an effort at legitimate defense as one to weaponize space. In private, on the same brief trip, he belligerently insisted on his way. We know this because someone with access leaked to the press a transcript of Bush’s embarrassing, rather threatening words.
Then, only days ago, Bush literally wouldn’t answer Prime Minister Paul Martin’s phone call concerning Canada’s decision against participation. His refusal to return the call went on for days, resembling the behavior of a brooding bully who hadn’t got his way. Bush’s most unpleasant factotum, Ms Rice, cancelled a scheduled trip to Canada. These kinds of behaviors undoubtedly aren’t well-publicized in America, but how revealing they are of the integrity and quality of people claiming to lead the world towards greater democracy and human rights.
Having made his spiteful point, Bush finally returned the Prime Minister’s call, and Ms Rice re-scheduled her trip. Canada does, after all, have a four-thousand mile border with the United States, a fact which even Washington’s most lunatic, safely-behind-the oak-desk warrior fanatics recognize as of some long-term consequence.
I read recently of another Frankensteinian project in which a mouse is to be given a brain composed of a clump of human brain cells. Perhaps the President personally inspired this one, his behavior resembling nothing so much as a human with the brain of a mouse.
JOHN CHUCKMAN lives in Canada.