Joined: Sat May 29, 2004 11:46 pm
|A CULTURE OF ATROCITY
by Chris Hedges
All troops, when they occupy and battle insurgent forces, as in Iraq, or Gaza or Vietnam, are swiftly placed in what the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton terms “atrocity-producing situations.” In this environment, surrounded by a hostile population, simple acts such as going to a store to buy a can of Coke or driving down a street means you can be killed. This constant fear and stress leads troops to view everyone around them as the enemy. The hostility is compounded when the enemy, as in Iraq, is elusive, shadowy and hard to find. The rage that soldiers feel after a roadside bomb explodes, killing or maiming their comrades, is one that is easily directed over time to innocent civilians who are seen as supporting the insurgents. It is a short psychological leap, but a massive moral one. It is a leap from killing—the shooting of someone who has the capacity to do you harm—to murder—the deadly assault against someone who cannot harm you. The war in Iraq is now primarily about murder. There is very little killing. American Marines and soldiers have become, after four years of war, acclimated to atrocity.
The American killing project is not described in these terms to the distant public. The politicians still speak in the abstract of glory, honor and heroism, of the necessity of improving the world, in lofty phrases of political and spiritual renewal. The press, as in most wars, is slavishly compliant. The reality of the war—the fact that the occupation forces have become, along with the rampaging militias, a source of terror to most Iraqis—is not transmitted to the American public. The press chronicles the physical and emotional wounds visited on those who kill in our name. The Iraqis, those we kill, are largely nameless, faceless dead. Those who kill large numbers of people always claim it as a regrettable but necessary virtue.
The reality and the mythic narrative of war collide when embittered combat veterans return home. They find themselves estranged from the world around them, a world that still believes in the myth of war and the virtues of the nation.
Tina Susman in a June 12 article in the Los Angeles Times gave readers a rare glimpse into this side of the war. She wrote about a 17-year-old Iraqi boy killed by the wild, random fire unleashed by American soldiers in a Baghdad neighborhood following a bomb blast. These killings, which Iraqis say occur daily, are seldom confirmed, but in this case the boy was the son of a local Los Angeles Times employee.
Iraqi physicians, overseen by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, published a study last year in the British medical journal The Lancet. The study estimated that 655,000 more people than normal have died in Iraq since coalition forces invaded the country in March 2003. This is more than 20 times the estimate of 30,000 civilian deaths that President Bush gave in a speech last December.
Also see this story:
It’s now five months into the U.S. troop “surge” in Iraq, and although American Defense Secretary Robert Gates claimed during his visit to Baghdad this weekend that it’s still too early to tell if the surge is working, one U.S. military higher-up, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, admitted that only 40 percent of Iraq’s capital city is consistently safe.
http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/ ... _in_sight/
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