It’s exactly when we experience a nightmare like [the] bombing of the Boston Marathon that we need a serious assessment of risk and danger in this country. An event like this, horrific as it is, and the panic that goes with it will inevitably be the spark for yet greater investment, both emotionally and financially, in the national security state, greater up-armoring of the police, a further militarization of society, further moves to give latitude to intelligence agencies as they search amongst us, and so on. Perhaps counterintuitively, this is exactly the moment for a piece like the one I wrote – though obviously I had no crystal ball and couldn’t see a terror bombing coming – on the general lack of major enemies in our American world. The panic of a terrible event like this makes us even blinder to reality, to what dangers we actually face (and don’t face), globally and locally. The murder of innocents is always a terrible and tragic thing, but it’s also a moment to suck it up and not plunge deeper into the twenty-first century American Big Muddy. Terror is a horrific thing, but it does not truly endanger us as a country. It is, in many ways, strangely helpless, even when it can kill and wound small (or even, as on 9/11, large) numbers of people. Give into it and you’re not really ‘safe,’ you’re just in another America.
In late December 2001, not long after Washington’s second Afghan War began, there was that wedding celebration in eastern Afghanistan in which 110 of 112 villagers were reportedly killed by American B-52 and B-1B bombers using precision guided weapons. Then there were the more than 40 Iraqi wedding celebrants (27 from one extended family, including 14 children) who died when U.S. planes struck their party at a village near the Syrian border back in May 2004, and the Afghan bridal party of 70 to 90 who were taken out by a U.S. airstrike on a road near the Pakistani border in July 2008. (The bride and 46 of those accompanying her died, according to an Afghan inquiry, including 39 women and children.) Added to this list should be the 24 unarmed Iraqi men, women, and children, ranging in age from 3 to 76, murdered by U.S. Marines in November 2005 in the long-forgottenHaditha massacre. And the 14-year-old girl whom American soldiers gang-raped and murdered along with her family in Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, the next year. And then there was the headline-grabbing case of those 16 civilians, nine of them children, 11 from one family, reportedly slaughtered (and some of their corpses burned) by Staff Sergeant Robert Bales in two southern Afghan villages in the course of a single night in March 2012.
Let’s not forget either the 12 Iraqis, including two Reuters employees, shot dead (and two children badly wounded) on a Baghdad street in July 2007 by the laughing crew of an Apache helicopter, as revealed in an infamous video released by WikiLeaks. There were also the 60 children (and up to 30 adults) who died in the Afghan village of Azizabad on an August night in 2008 while attending a memorial service for a tribal leader who had been, villagers reported, anti-Taliban. That, too, was thanks to air strikes. There were also those three (or more) Afghan civilians hunted down “for sport” in the summer of 2010 by a self-appointed U.S. “kill team” who were collecting trophy body parts. And there were the 10 boys, including two sets of brothers, collecting wood for their families in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province early in 2011, who were attacked by U.S. helicopters. Only one wounded boy survived. Or most recently, the 11 Yemeni civilians, including women and children, in a Toyota truck killed by a U.S. airstrike and initially labeled “al-Qaeda militants.”
Such a list, of course, only scratches the surface of a reality that we in the United States have hardly noticed and so have to expend no effort whatsoever to ignore. Unlike for the victims of 9/11 or more recently of Newtown, there will be no memorials, no teddy bears, no special rites, no solemn ceremonies. Nothing. The distant dead of our wars have largely paid the price in silence and anonymity for what the U.S. intelligence community likes to call the last superpower’s duty of being a “global security provider” — and which elsewhere often looks more like inflicting mayhem on local populations.
In addition, the particular form of “security” we’ve brought to such areas via the U.S. military continues even after we leave. U.S. troops are gone from Iraq, for example, but the violence our invasion and occupation set loose has never ended. Iraq Body Count has just issued its report on rising deaths from violence in that country in 2012, both among the Iraqi police (922) and civilians (4,471). It concludes: “In sum the latest evidence suggests that the country remains in a state of low-level war little changed since early 2009, with a ‘background’ level of everyday armed violence punctuated by occasional larger-scale attacks designed to kill many people at once.” We bear genuine responsibility for this, but no longer care a whit.
Traditionally, war powers have resided with Congress — or so the Constitutional story goes. It’s been a long time, of course, since that’s been a reality, but over the last few decades American wars have become ever more purely and starkly presidential in nature. Last year, in a situation of open armed intervention in Libya, President Obama declined to seriously discuss the matter with Congress, or even abide by the more recent War Powers Resolution of 1973. And that was for our most recent “overt” war. The “covert” ones (which, by the way, in a new definition of that term, are regularly in the news and amount to bragging points in an election year) are now purely presidential — from the ongoing full-scale drone war in Pakistan to more minor versions of the same in Yemen and Somalia. The president even picks the individual targets of the attacks himself. The same was true of the Special Operations Forces raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden. War in all its aspects is increasingly the president’s private domain, not a matter for either Congress, or certainly the American people.
In recent years, in one of the more dangerous, if largely undiscussed, developments of our time, the Bush and then Obama administrations have launched the first state-planned war in cyber space (in conjunction with the Israelis), until recently utterly secret and purely by presidential fiat. The target: Iran, its nuclear program, and banks outside that country that may be helping the Iranians launder their money. First, there were the “Olympic Games,” then the Stuxnet virus, then Flame, and now it turns out that other sophisticated malware programs have evidently followed. This “war” was launched not just preemptively, but essentially on the basis of Dick Cheney’s infamous 1% doctrine (even a 1% chance of an attack on the United States, especially involving weapons of mass destruction, must be dealt with as if it were a certainty). Once again, as with drones, the White House is setting the global rules of the road for every country (and group) able to get its hands on such weaponry.
Can you be in a war involving weapons of mass destruction and not know it? The answer: indeed you can — and we are. Now, American officials are suddenly raising the alarm that malefactors (like Iran) might already be doing smaller scale versions of the same to us with potentially disastrous results (since we are perhaps more dependent on computer systems and the world of the Internet than any country on the planet). After all, cyber war does potentially involve the use of weapons of mass destruction in the most literal sense. … And even if no cyber apocalypse hits, … [the] fear of it is likely to be used to further [lock] down “the homeland.”
And yet the more dominant the U.S. military becomes in its ability to destroy and the more its forces are spread across the globe, the more the defeats and semi-defeats pile up, the more the missteps and mistakes grow, the more the strains show, the more the suicides rise, the more the nation’s treasure disappears down a black hole — and in response to all of this, the more moves the Pentagon makes.
The U.S. has 1,000 or more bases around the world; other countries, a handful. The U.S. spends as much on its military as the next 14 powers (mostly allies) combined. In fact, it’s investing an estimated $1.45 trillion to produce and operate a single future aircraft, the F-35 — more than any country, the U.S. included, now spends on its national defense annually.
The U.S. military is singular in other ways, too. It alone has divided the globe — the complete world — into six “commands.” With (lest anything be left out) an added command, Stratcom, for the heavens and another, recently established, for the only space not previously occupied,cyberspace, where we’re already unofficially “at war.” No other country on the planet thinks of itself in faintly comparable military terms.
The president now has at his command not one, but two private armies. The first is the CIA, which in recent years has been heavily militarized, is overseen by a former four-star general (who calls the job “living the dream”), and is running its own private assassination campaigns and drone air wars throughout the Greater Middle East. The second is an expanding elite, the Joint Special Operations Command, cocooned inside the U.S. military, members of whom are now deployed to hot spots around the globe.
Now, on September 11, 2012, the national security complex is … beyond accountability for any crimes it may commit. It exists in a post-legal America not available to 99% of us. As for our freedoms, a lack of the slightest urge to prosecute anyone who committed a crime on Washington time means that our governmental officials now have extraordinary new freedoms — more license than 007 ever did — to kidnap, torture, abuse, murder, surveil, and assassinate (including American citizens). That’s a record to ponder as another September 11th rolls around and, living in the greatest nation on earth, you ask yourself: Who really won, them or us?Tom Engelhardt
Few Afghan veterans are likely to return from the war to infuse with new energy an antiwar movement that remains small indeed, nor will they worry about being ‘spit upon.’ There will be little controversy. They — their traumas and their wounds — will, like so many bureaucratic notices, disappear into the American ether, leaving behind only an emptiness and misery, here and in Afghanistan, as perhaps befits a bankrupting, never-ending imperial war on the global frontiers.Tom Engelhardt | The Road to Amnesia
In the service of this war, in the midst of a perpetual state of war and of wartime, every act committed by [our] leaders is, it turns out, absolutely, totally, and completely legal. We have their say-so for that, and they have the documents to prove it, largely because the best and most elevated legal minds among them have produced that documentation in secret. (Of course, they dare not show it to the rest of us, lest lives be endangered.)
Tom Engelhardt, America as a Shining Drone Upon a Hill
The problem with perfect weapons, historically speaking, is that they never deliver on their promises, but by the time they don’t they are already deeply embedded in our world (think the tank in World War I or nuclear weapons as World War II ended), and we can’t get rid of them.Tom Engelhardt
The ‘lessons of Vietnam,’ fruitlessly discussed for five decades, taught Washington so little that it remains trapped in a hopeless war on the Eurasian mainland, continues to pursue a military-first policy globally that might even surprise American leaders of the Vietnam era, has turned the planet into a ‘free fire zone,’ and considers military power its major asset, a first not a last resort, and the Pentagon the appropriate place to burn its national treasure.The Smog of War | Tom Engelhardt
If you don’t already read the posts at TomDispatch.com whenever you can, you’re missing one of the most important conversations on the internet. The following is a brief history of the site’s beginning, by it’s creator, Tom Engelhardt:
[When] our bombing of Afghanistan began in October 2001, the writing was already on the wall for anyone to read. Watching the Bush administration, absorbing its imperial pretensions, sensing where they might lead, knowing that we were already “at war,” and that the country was being turned into some new kind of garrison state, I suddenly felt that nothing I had done was faintly good enough.
That sense actually went remarkably deep. I have a daughter and a son whose future I care about. I knew in some visceral way that we were heading into the worst years of my life, which meant theirs, too. I had a strong feeling that I simply couldn’t sit back and let them (and their peers) inherit the kind of planet I feared was in their future — not without doing something to resist our moment. Since I’m no megalomaniac, I didn’t expect anything to come of it; I simply felt a powerful need to raise my hand, to act, even if I had no idea how.
The result was a no-name listserv I began sending around late that October, first to friends and relatives and then to whoever jumped aboard. Nothing surprises me more than this: a decade-plus later, I’m still obsessively involved with its spawn, TomDispatch.com. I just had the urge to act in a way that seemed to fit with my life, an urge — thought of another way — to say to my children that I was sorry for the world I was leaving them.
[The] American public has been detached from our perpetual war-making. The crucial moment here occurred almost four decades ago when President Nixon officially ended the draft Army, essentially severing citizens in a distinctly rebellious mood from military service. Think of it as a pacification campaign that worked. The citizenry was demobilized and left to go about its business without any obligation to Washington’s war-making. A fully professionalized all-volunteer military, increasingly separated from (if also deified by) American society, paved the way for many things: first came professional war, then privatized war, then mercenary and outsourced war—the arrival of what I call the “warrior corporation.” (In Afghanistan, there are now more private contractors dying than troops.) Americans are almost startlingly remote from our present wars, which go on without us (if you leave aside the tiny percentage of Americans who fight, or who are family members of those fighting). Perhaps this is why drone warfare, which couldn’t be more literally “remote” from us or make us more remote from war, seems, according to the latest poll I’ve seen, so soaringly popular here.Tom Engelhardt
[Keep] in mind that when drones are capable of taking off from and landing on aircraft carrier decks, they will quite literally be offshore with respect to all borders, but capable of crossing any. (The Navy’s latest plans include a future drone that will land itself on those decks without a human pilot at any controls.) War has always been the most human and inhuman of activities. Now, it seems, its inhuman aspect is quite literally on the rise. With the U.S. military working to roboticize the future battlefield, the American way of war is destined to be imbued with Terminator-style terror.Tom Engelhardt | Kicking Down the World’s Door