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My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam

Photo by Ronald L. Haeberle | CC BY 2.0

There is a curious practice that was not uncommon among what we used to call primitive cultures until we realized how primitive our own was.  It is to select an object–often a living animal, sometimes a person or persons–and by consensus among shamanic authority, magically infuse it with all the blackest sins and crimes committed by the people or society and then to destroy it ritually to expiate those collective transgressions.

A cognate idea was the basis of the story of the crucifixion of Jesus who, it was said, was sacrificed to atone for the sins of the entire human race.

It is, and always has been, one of the functions of religion to alleviate, in magical ways, the otherwise irremediable anguish and punishing guilt that all humanity experiences as the inevitable result of its worst behavior.  The fact that most of the world’s people are, at least nominally, adherents to major religions, indicates that absolution is a general necessity for us.

Certain mature, self-reflecting cultures outgrew the need to shed their guilt onto symbolic objects, and dared to take personal responsibility before their gods.  Jews, on Yom Kippur, confess their sins and seek forgiveness of YHWH.  The sincerity with which a person embraces this act is–as in other rituals, such as Catholic absolution by confession–no doubt widely variable but the societal ethical advance from “scapegoating” is clear.

In a historic owning of guilt by an advanced society, the German people accepted collective moral failure for Nazi atrocities.  This one-off, single issue act of national will by a war-hammered people who decided anything less would be intolerable is unique in the history of major nations.

Taking responsibility for their obviously reprehensible actions is not a thing powerful countries do.  Whatever is most shameful, most evil and ugly, in their pasts they routinely deny and bury in promoting and defending their false mythos, their glorious history.  In this, America is not exceptional.

Built on a base of genocide and slavery, America has never acknowledged either, much less made an admission of guilt.  Setting that aside, the decades since WWII have witnessed a sequence of our brutal and violent intrusions in the affairs of dozens of countries never equaled by any other empire.  In recent decades, this vicious, bloody, destructive bullying of vulnerable nations has become so flagrantly obvious to the entire world outside our poisoned propaganda bubble, that outright denial of responsiblity for so much human suffering has become impossible.

The tactic of choice under that pressure has been to make one among the myriad atrocities our military routinely commits the focus of stern official disapproval, branding it a mad exception, a horrid aberration, far out of the norm of decent, restrained behavior that governs our troops.  The problem, then, is attributed to a few “bad apples”: deviants, misfits, moral cripples.

Fifty years ago, it was Lt. Calley, the Butcher of My Lai.  We were asked to believe that this sad, slow-witted hillbilly had, on his own sick authority, implemented the deaths by automatic weapon fire of 500 Viet civilians.

And in the end, we bought it.  In the high ranks above him no one was condemned, no one paid the price paid by disgraced, soldout Calley.

At Abu Ghraib, decades later, the torture, sexual degradation, sadistic abuse, and murder perpetrated there, when it could not be hidden any longer, was hung on another couple of knuckle-dragging grunts, and chiefly on a defective, damaged female refugee from trailer-trash squalor.

The true horror of this grossly dishonest ploy by lying military top brass and   powerful civilian criminals responsible for these travesties is that, in  focusing the attention of our deeply ignorant public on what is represented as proper justice for a rare and regrettable crime, they mask and conceal the fact that our massive, wealth-devouring military machine is a mass murder juggernaut that kills, and has killed for decades, millions of ignorant, innocent people around the world for the benefit of American Capitalism.

All our government’s phony, sanctimonious bullshit about “nation building”, “promoting democracy”, “defeating terrorism”, “punishing dictators”, “R2P” and all the vast lexicon of doublespeak official America blathers at a jaded world, is just hollow, dishonest, pathetic cover for the voracious Capitalist Jabberwock that mandates the rape and destruction of the world for the vile greed of its boss clique of mindless, heartless, subhuman monsters.

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Paul Edwards is a writer and film-maker in Montana. He can be reached at: hgmnude@bresnan.net

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