Tuesday, April 06, 2010

War Is Hell

The video is in black and white, and records a helicopter circling a group of individuals gathered on an Iraqi street that the pilot thinks are hostile. Permission is recieved to engage, and the shooting starts. The bodies fall in a hail of bullets and a cloud of dust. A lone survivor tries to crawl away. Audio records the pilots talking to one another and themselves. Just pick up a weapon, they urge, so the shooting can begin again.

A van pulls up, and some other folks try to carry the wounded individual into the van. Again permission is recieved to engage, again the shooting, the hail of bullets, the cloud of dust. The van slams into the building. The pilots congratulate themselves on a good shoot. Later, American ground forces pull two children from the van, try to rush them to an American hospital, and are ordered to take them to a local medical facility instead.

A pilot opines that they shouldn't have brought their kids to the battle.

Outraged yet? Plenty of people are. And another host of folks are outraged at these folks for being outraged. Because that's how we roll in America, it is all about our thin-skin feelings being hurt by other Americans' words.

Here we have a video of stuff that really went on, and all we do is log on to some website and register our outrage. We want to blame somebody for something.

One thing Greenwald gets right: folks in charge didn't want you to see this video. Our society depends on our body politic being divided and our perceptions being removed from what really goes on. We don't want to see this. We don't want to see photos from Abu Grahib or Guantanamo. We don't want to see pictures of flag draped coffins landing in Maryland.

Because that might change some people's opinions. Reality might hit home for more than just the troops, their families and friends and the folks who live and work in the war zones "over there."

All we have to do to "support the troops" is buy this American flag sticker for our car and call folks who don't agree with the war "anti-American." That way, we know who "stands" with the troops. On the other hand, all we have to do to express our displeasure with the war is point to countless "outrages" that are being done "in our name." That way, we can attempt to shame those individuals with the flag stickers into agreeing with us, or at least wash our hands of being thought complicit.

One wonders how any such behaviors would have led to a different outcome in this video.

Drink in these images. Drink them deep. This is war, and war is hell. It has been going on a long time, it will go on for even longer. This is what happens when the safeties get flicked off, and nations determine the time for talk is over. This is what it looks like when fire and blade win out over pen and plow. The result is rarely glory. The most often returns are tears and sorrow.

If your society is not prepared to deal with things like this maturely, and deal with them en masse, your society is not prepared for war. That is why we keep going over this again and again. We are not a society that handles real war very well. We don't like to know the actual cost.

We'd rather imagine some "good war" from the past, some oversimplified version of cavalry charges where the enemy is always clearly defined and fighting against the side of all that is good and Godly in the world.

Or we'd rather imagine some utopia where people never have to fight one another, where no one ever gets hurt, and bad things don't have to be done in our names. Where war is an abberation and not a constant human condition.

None of that is reality. So now that we have to face that reality, if only temporarily, we will see who can shout the loudest before we can go back to ignoring it again.

Update: The Daily Dish posts a reader's commentary of the video.



DADvocate said...

During the Vietnam War some of the images shown on the nightly news was graphich and shocking. I vividly remember a clip in which a Viet Cong was being interrogated by repeatedly being dunked under the water in river by a soldier big enough to pick him up with one hand. When finished the VC was thrown on the ground and shot repeatedly.

My memory may not be accurate. I was in high school at the time I saw that on the news. But, from what I saw on the news, things in Vietnam were almost as crazy as portrayed in "Apocalypse Now."

"War is hell." Truer words were never spoken. Unfortunately, it's a fact of life, or at least a potenttial fact of life. I don't expect much of an outcome from Iraq and Afghanistan. Even with a "victory," I believe in the long term we won't have accomplished all that much. Better that we work on energy independence than fight over there.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

The saddest lesson of Vietnam is that some people think we lost that war because of videos like the ones you describe.

Resolve is a finite resource. The Continental Army under Washington knew that if they held out long enough, Britain would lose their resolve. The Confederacy came closer to breaking the North's resolve than many Americans will ever dare admit.

I've always seen WWII as an American abberation, as resolve hardly wavered once the issue was forced, and was seen through to a swift end. But, rarely is fighting the good fight framed in such stark terms.

But almost every other war has involved deep, philosophical and moral questions regarding the reasons for fighting, the tactics and strategies employed, and the behavior of our soldiers.