March 2015

Collateral damage

By David Long

It was called “collateral damage,” as though giving the random killing of human beings such a vaguely scientific name somehow took away its awful truth – that truth being our government was quite willing to take innocent Iraqi lives as a prelude to George W’s invasion of their country.

After all, Iraq was in the Middle East and some Arabs were responsible for the destruction of the World Trade Center and therefore attacking Saddam Hussein (remember him?) was justified and the “softening up” of Baghdad through high-altitude bombing was necessary to make it safer for our troops to build a fledgling democracy that in the long run would be an example eagerly followed by all those other counties there with hard-to-pronounce names that were also somewhat responsible for the shocking attack on the most prominent symbol of capitalism in America.

And never mind that most of the airplane hijackers were Saudis, as was Osama Bin Laden (remember him?) and that Bush and their king were great buddies who held hands while strolling around his Texas ranch. Why, we were his biggest oil customer and he – well, he would certainly never countenance what had been done to us, the most important country in the Free World.

And never mind that his country was – and still is – one of the most regressive on the planet when it comes to equal rights and so on – those essential ingredients of democracy that would become common once we made an example out of Iraq. And forget that picture of Saddam and Donald Rumsfeld (remember him?) – by then Bush’s Secretary of War, uhh Defense – shaking hands and smiling back when Saddam was waging war on Iran, using poison gas forbidden by the international code of war and fashioned from ingredients sold to him by American corporations. That was when Saddam was our friend, before he went bad, and Iran was our straw boogieman and, well, it’s complicated, but foreign policy experts could explain it to you, and the important thing to remember is that George W. stood on the rubble of the Trade Center and vowed to make someone pay, and by God, you’re either for us or against us and if you’re going to object to a little thing like “collateral damage” and allow refusing to never mind the Iraqis had nothing to do with it stand in the way of our revenge and at the same time transform the Middle East into a Paradise of democracies much like our own, well, then . . . you are so ignorant and stupid that you just don’t appreciate what we were trying to do and it really is unfortunate that during a month of bombing Baghdad a few simple-minded souls went to the Great Oasis in the Sky a little early. It was all for a good cause and anyway, cheap Iraqi oil would pay for the whole thing and the common folks who survive will welcome the invasion with cheers and rose petals once we’ve established a peaceful place where the Sunni and the Shiites get along and mass murders in the streets aren’t an everyday occurrence.

It would only take a few months anyway, maybe a couple years at the longest.

Does anyone else remember those halcyon days, those naïve times when it was for most of us easier to believe this horseshit than speak out against it and be seen as unpatriotic subversives who wanted to ignore 9/11?

Yeah, it’s still kind of painful to remember, isn’t it, even as the 9/11 fervor subsides to the point it only gets a token mention on network news and it’s on to new adventures for us world saviors. And drones are taking the place of flesh-and-blood soldiers.

I bring it up only to draw some tire some parallel between what Bush (and all the rest of us taxpayers) did then and what ISIS is doing now, only on a much more personal and graphic level, then showing its results – beheadings and burnings of Americans and their allies – via the Internet for anyone who cares to watch (not necessarily those who care).

Not, of course, to defend what these truly hideous monsters are doing in the name of religion or revenge or whatever. There is no justification, none, for killing an idealistic young woman working to help survivors of the latest war in Syria or reporters trying to keep everyone up to speed on such atrocities.

Just as there was no moral justification for killing young Iraqi mothers on their way to market or their kids walking to school who would never eat that strange-sounding food she was planning to buy for their dinner.

But seeing an airplane pilot burned to death in a cage is far more uncomfortable and nauseating than it was watching our “smart bombs” target a building from thousands of feet in the air. (Another bullseye!)

The killing of one heroic individual makes you hurt all over. The killing of a bunch of anonymous civilians is so difficult to grasp, we can just ignore it. It wasn’t murder. It was collateral damage.

By the way, it doesn’t look like those idyllic democracies will be developing anytime soon after all. And when’s the last time you pumped a gallon of cheap Iraqi gasoline into your tank?

Me, neither.

(A depressing footnote: A recent poll by CBS News found that nearly two-thirds of Americans are willing to put more “boots on the ground” in Iraq to confront ISIS, and there is growing talk of attempting to retake Mosul, that country’s second-largest city from which the U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers recently fled, from the terrorist group in April or May.)

David Long, an award-winning journalist, writes from Cortez, Colo.