Digby, You Bastard
Digby made me go to the warporn post at Americablog. Not really. I thought I should check out what he was talking about for myself. And I did make a point of looking at every single horrifying image. With a head full of kind bud. I feel physically sick. Jeebus H.
My first conscious reaction was "everybody should see these" (hold your horses, gentle reader, read on before you do). To paraphrase John at AmericaBlog, this is what war looks like. It's not like the movies, not some at all, to use a Louisiana expression I learned this weekend at dKos.
--- Warning! Gruesome descriptions ahead! --
People who get shot don't just cry out and fall over dramatically. Huge holes are punched through their bodies, blood spills all over them and dries, maggots start crawling out of their mouths after a while.
People who get shot in the head don't just stand there and look surprised when a tiny puncture appears right in the middle of their foreheads. Their heads pop open like ripe melons full of pink guts. The edges of the cavity lined with chunks of skull matted with hair.
People who blow up don't just vanish in a cloud of smoke. Their body parts end up hanging from a thatched awning nearby. Their faces become crumpled masks of skin laying empty on the pavement. Their bodies, still sitting in their cars, turn into anatomy mannequins with every muscle's surface scorched to a crisp.
I want to sit the whole US Congress and the Corporate Media Whores down for a quick powerpoint presentation and force them to look at everything I've just seen. After the last slide my holleration would begin:
"You want to pussyfoot and hedge your bets and triangulate about THIS, motherfuckers? This is why war is always the last resort. Every single one of you knows that going into Iraq was entirely fucking optional! And you voted for it! You cheerleaded for this fucking carnage! And now you're scared to admit it was wrong?
The American young men and women you sent there experience this shit every day. 140,000 US citizens are going to come home straight psychos if this shit is any indication.
The Iraqis are seeing this every day in the flesh (don't let me hear anyone chuckle) and they know it would not be going on if it weren't for your stupid, self-serving decisions. If I saw this happening to somebody I know I would vow to kill those responsible by any means necessary.# If it means I have to die in the process, so be it. Let's fucking roll. Arabs and Muslims are seeing this shit on Al-Jazeera and the internet every day. Still think "fighting them over there" is making us safer?
My one question to you: What are you going to do to stop this, as of right fucking now?"
-- end of holleration
It looks like I had a different reaction than Digby.
Yes, the people who posted these pictures are scumbags. They are bad people. They should be punished. I can't find exact the HST quote but I think he said something like "some people are genuinely rotten".
But what does the moral outrage really do to stop these things from happening? Because that's the point, right?
Attempting to explain a pattern of behavior (and this is definitely a pattern: the abuse, the photography are not isolated incidents) is not the same thing as excusing that behavior.
Explaining cause and effect through facts and logic is the Progressive way. Explaining mass phenomena with arguments about character and culture is the Conservative way. At least this is a pattern of behavior I have observed. Simply put, Conservatives believe shit happens. Progressives believe shit happens for a reason.
Balkinization has a detailed, evidence based post that details how US torture and abuse are the effect of specific government policies.
Let's take, as an example of the different philosophies' approach to the "why do people do bad things?" question, the case of urban violence and crime in the US.
Conservatives would say:
"these people made bad choices. This is because they didn't grow up with a culture of personal responsibility that prizes hard work and godliness. They listen to gangta rap. They believe they deserve fancy clothes and fancy cars just because they're cool and they think it's OK to just take it at gunpoint or by selling drugs. It's a culture of welfare. They believe they should just get paid to do nothing.
Some people just don't have good character. Some scientists and newspaper writers even think some groups of people are all just born with a character that is not conducive to being responsible members of society. I'm not sure about that, but it's an interesting theory. I mean why are so many of them criminals?"
Progressives would say:
"The government policy that says school funding is determined by the wealth of the surrounding neighborhoods makes it so poor urban kids get the crappiest education possible. Through no fault of their own. They get less resources even though their need is greater.
When they approach adulthood their choices are limited. Their crappy education is not conducive to the higher education necessary to get a good job. Documented patterns of discrimination continue to this day while Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action initiatives are shunned by scared politicians.
With limited access to the legal economy, they turn, for survival, to the illegal economy. In the illegal economy you can't sue if your business rival steals your capital or if your creditor refuses to pay. Violence is the only recourse. Violence is the way to maintain your means of survival. The government allows the illegal economy to flourish, only interfering enough to fulfill arrest quotas set by politicians.
Murderers, rapists and all violent criminals should be incarcerated. We are not condoning or excusing their actions. But we maintain their actions are influenced by their environment. An environment that can be changed by changing specific government policies. Scolding people for their moral failings and punishing individual perpetrators does nothing to solve the problem. We propose practical solutions that can help fix these problems."
-- end of speaking in the first person plural
Politicians who send soldiers to fight in an unnecessary, immoral and pointless war put them in a very difficult environment. Epecially if they're occupiers so the people who want to kill them look just like the civilians they're supposed to be liberating. Especially if they're weekend warriors away from their families and they're serving endless tours.
I guess I was more shocked at the content of the pictures than at the people who posted them. I want the carnage to stop. I don't really care who's taking pictures of it.
What are you going to do, change US culture and this will never happen again? Change human nature? Who knows what good intellectual pc-trained liberal/lefties would do in the same environment. I bet you that with a large enough sample, some individuals would slip into that same behavior.
People who do and/or see horrible things need to find a way to live with them. US soldiers in WWII saw the same type of stuff but they could tell themselves they were stopping the Nazis from taking over the world, stopping them from exterminating millions of people. However, thanks to our current fuckheaded government, soldiers in Iraq don't have the luxury of a decent, reality-based moral justification for what they've been ordered to do.
But the psyche will find a way. Being a sick, sadistick fuck and posting pictures of dead bodies on the internet will do, for some, for a while. Convincing yourself that they're all subhumans out to kill you is another.
Yet another justification is convincing yourself that what you're doing is retribution for 9-11 and that it's going to prevent your freinds and family back home from future terrorist attacks. I don't know why soldiers in the field should be so faulted for this latter delusion when it's been professed as conviction by brilliant and accomplished politicians and journalists back home.
The goal is to make the torture, abuse and senseless carnage perpetrated by US soldiers stop. The only way to do it is to force our elected representatives to change the policies of the US government. If we get all US troops out of Iraq it will stop. If the US military adopts strict enforcement of Geneva conventions and non-insane rules of engagement it will stop.
A society needs warriors. A US soldier in Iraq said in an interview I saw: "soldiers are trained for two things: to break things and kill people." Fortunately, this society was set up so the civilian government controls the military. The military will do whatever the civilian government tells it to do.
The responsibility of US governmenet is to send it's soldiers into war only if absolutely necessary, as a last resort, with a clear goal and a strategy to make the war end as quickly as possible. To give them unambiguous instructions on how to treat the enemy and civilians. The responsibility of citizens is to make the government keep to it's responsibilities and to change it, as quickly as possible, if it doesn't.
The only thing holding back US citizens is this belief that government representatives somehow know better than we do, that it is acceptable if they refuse to represent our sense of values through urgent, practical action.
Also holding us back is getting caught up in divisiveness and Dr.Phil-type judgemental moral outrage exercises and culture war while losing focus on the real people responsible for causing atrocities to happen in our name. We're a nation of people known as problem solvers. We've got some serious fucking problems right now. Let's solve them.
Fuck. Digby: I'll still buy you that drink if you ever come up to SF.