During our current President’s speech to the joint session of paid-for lackeys, idiots and low dollar whores for Wall Street there was a particularly horrible, predictable American moment. A fresh widow created by our intrusion into another country in the mid-East to ferret out, that is, murder, some evil-doers was trotted out for all the nation to see. It was epic television; a hearty round of applause drowning out her deep throated gasps of mourning. She was trying her best to stand tall with the very people who decided her husband must go on another raid for the good of our country. It was a typically cathartic moment.
One that America embraces, with proper amounts of solemnity, to bolster our national pride and the righteous sense of ourselves and our sacrificial military combatants. As the fictitious Colonel Jessup said, “You need brave men on that wall.” You could almost sense those faded yellow ribbons on America’s cars brightening themselves in the moonlight. Poignant, powerful, sad, and serious, it was a spectacle we’ve long become too accustomed to, reenacting on a massive platform. In short, it was a very high and sinister level of war porn. To say this is to violate one of our biggest taboos. And it certainly remains one of the biggest problems with us, the American people.
I won’t even attempt to describe the obvious – that this sad moment was a terrible exploitation of a grieving wife, a shocked and angry nation, all too comfortably and crassly presented to us by our current ring master and carnival barker. Never mind that the man speaking also spoke the words that led to this sailor’s death. The man who died a Chief Petty Officer was buried as a Senior Chief Petty Officer as befitting our latest hero who dedicated his life to serving his country, or at least those who run the damned place. Such honors are decently and sorrowfully earned by those who serve at the tip of the spear. His story is honorably told, and a grateful nation bows its head, and the full use of this man’s life has hardly ended. Immediately, the brave interdiction, inherent danger, wonderful family left behind, and the proud national narrative was begun.
George Lakoff has often told us “Don’t think of an elephant” to demonstrate how ideas and memes can be used to direct our thoughts and even feelings. Steven Pinker eloquently describes how the placement of vulgarities, especially fricatives can force us to listen more keenly, whether we are aware of this or not. I have often wondered what creates the opposite effect? If one truly wished for someone to not think of an elephant, what would be the best tactic? If one were speaking and wished the audience to not pay attention, what are some methods that would suit these ends? I don’t believe that not mentioning an elephant is actually the best strategy. In order for people to forget about elephants, it seems the best approach may be counter intuitive. Mention an elephant blandly (certainly without any fricative laden adjectives attached) and move on. This may be a method that quietly puts the elephant to bed in people’s minds without notice. This is how politicians operate while on the stump. Provide a quick utterance of jobs or healthcare or education without any subtext, and move on to the truly important topics of security and danger and conformity. Most of all, leave as little room as possible for pesky annoying questions. Not those insipid questions barked by our media hacks, but the deeper questions that might just ferment in the minds of the American people. This is how a nation at war for the better part of three decades reaches a point where nobody asks themselves, “What in the hell are we doing?” Far too many simply shrug and get on with it when these disrupting notions cross their minds. Never mind those fucking elephants!
One egregious example comes from NBC reporting on the secret target of the raid: “But while one SEAL, 14 al Qaeda fighters and some civilians, including an 8-year-old girl, were killed during a firefight, al-Rimi is still alive and in Yemen, multiple military officials said.” So some civilians and a child were collaterally dispatched at the hands of our raiders by another American drive-by. Maybe we’ll get the bad guy next time.
And so it was on a night when a previously erratic man was deemed capable of reading out loud. Many were uplifted, and many were disgusted by the text recited, but the big walls of manufactured consent were holding strong. And the blithering blah blahs on the TV made sure it was so.
Many on the left and a few on the right were actually repelled by the use of a widow in a national speech. Some on the left and most on the right thought it was an important reminder of the dangers we face and the heroic efforts of our military to keep us safe from those dangers. And not once, at least not in any mainstream American outlets, did we hear of the tears that fell in Yemen. Or of those little children who would never laugh or sing again. Like the little girl who used to take her daddy’s phone to play with, and the little boy who hoped for a pair of “American” basketball shoes. None of it! We as a country are trained not to think of these things, not to feel these things, and never to ask about these things. This is the great taboo. Why did we kill so many kids in Yemen daddy? Do you think that moms in that little town are crying like the lady on TV?
For the lot of us, we are a people devoid of empathy. The carnage and massacres in Afghanistan, Iraq (or what’s left of it), Libya, and Syria that come from our bombs and bullets hardly register an eyebrow rise. We do, however, have a never ending current of shallow sympathy for those dying under the bombs and flames of our perceived enemies. As long as they don’t come running as refugees, it would appear.
As Chris Hedges tells us repeatedly, all war is murder. To quote: “Once we sign on for war’s crusade, once we see ourselves on the side of the angels, once we embrace a theological or ideological belief system that defines itself as the embodiment of goodness and light, it is only a matter of how we will carry out murder.”
On that night when America watched spellbound as a woman cried for her dead husband, no tears fell for the children who were murdered in Yemen. Don’t think of a fucking dead kid. Don’t think of a murdered child with his face split open by American bullets. And do not ever fucking think about any elephants, especially fucking dead ones.
Michael Landis is a retired Sergeant in the US Army and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom-3.