George at Decrepit Old Fool recently had a post up about cluster bombs. He began it with a message of personal responsibility:
My dad taught me that when you fire a gun, you are responsible for everything the bullet does until it comes to a full stop.So did mine. It made sense to me, and it makes sense to George, who goes on to ask why countries can't do the right thing. It's a damned good question.
One of the commenters answered thusly:
I take the opposite side of this argument. Cluster bombs are force multipliers. They keep us from having to put quite as many young Americans on the field. Moral leadership? Not killing sons and daughters by tying the hands of our armed forces IS moral leadership.I wasn't the only one who piled on. You can read our smackdown there, but what I wanted to discuss here was the fact that this isn't by any means the first time I've noticed this line of thinking.
I hear it spilling from self-righteous conservative lips constantly, with only rare concurrences from lukewarm liberals. It's the thinking that led us into Iraq to "fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here." It's the thinking that leads to things such as this:
That is what is known among neocons, hawks and xenophobic fuckwits as "collateral damage." I have another word for it: tragedy. How anyone can read that without weeping is beyond my comprehension.
"We were walking, I was holding my grandson's hand, then there was a loud noise and everything went white. When I opened my eyes, everybody was screaming. I was lying metres from where I had been, I was still holding my grandson's hand but the rest of him was gone. I looked around and saw pieces of bodies everywhere. I couldn't make out which part was which."
That's the testimony of one man caught up in the disastrous airstrike on a Afghan bridal party wrongfully identified as a Taliban force back in July. The carnage was so complete they had to bury the 47 victims in 28 graves. US and NATO troops have denied the attack, but say they are investigating. In another similiar attack back in August they denied involvement at first too. Then investigated and found themselves blameless, only to finally admit their culpability and apologise once independent footage of the destruction surfaced. In a third such incident, in November, footage surfaced before the kabuki dance could begin. So far this year, such mistakes have cost over 600 Afghans their lives.
Dehumanizing the enemy has been a traditional past-time of governments at war and the patriots who cheer them on regardless of the merits. War is sometimes necessary. This callous disregard for its victims is not.
When we start thinking of hugely destructive weapons as mere sanitary "force multipliers" and moral leadership as "kill as many of their civilians as you like, as long as you excuse it by saying it was 'for our troops,'" all we manage to do is destroy our own humanity, lose sight of the real target, and create many more enemies to fight.
I don't understand why some people find it so fucking hard to recognize that the dead they are so callously dismissing as collateral damage were sons and daughters, too.
Neil Gaiman, viewing an exhibition of Robert Capa's war photographs shortly after September 11th, 2001, was struck by an epiphany:
...I found myself looking at the photos of combat, of wounded civilians, of people whose worlds had crumbled and fallen, without any sense of irony. These people were us. Whatever side they were on. They were us, and the images had a truth and an immediacy I couldn’t have imagined until recently.Think of that, should you ever find yourself tempted to dismiss civilian dead, maimed children and grieving grandfathers as nothing more than an unpleasant side-effect of a supposedly just and glorious war.