THE FIRST CASUALTY OF WAR
Kelly Michael James
Most of today’s youngsters don’t know it, but for a while the legal drinking age almost everywhere in the United States was 18 or 19. It wasn’t even that long ago (in fact, many of today’s youngsters can thank their very existence on the short-lived nationwide experiment with a lowered drinking age until federal law raised it to 21 in 1984).
The great argument that carried the day was “If they’re old enough to fight and die for their country then by Gawd they’re old enough to have a drink if they want one.” That’s a very compelling argument, even if the loudest advocates were liquor industry lobbyists. In fact, one could just as logically argue (and they have, historically) that they should have the opportunity to toss back a few while they’re doing the actual fighting and dying. It helps in a barroom, why not a battlefield? Given enough vodka even the skinniest, wimpiest, most milquetoast Rick Moranis doppelganger in the bar suddenly thinks he’s Mike Tyson. Then he pukes.
The problem with the “old enough to die/old enough to drink” argument is that it is a lie. The first casualty of war is the always the truth. Eighteen is in no fucking way old enough to die. An eighteenth candle on your birthday cake doesn’t suddenly make you go from boy to man—it just makes you conveniently expendable in the eyes of an ambitious, bloodthirsty government. Sending kids from their high school proms to the battlefield is a blatant, obvious, unforgivable obscenity. Eighteen-year-old kids need a drink like they need a bullet in the head. It’s the duty of adults to try and see that they avoid both.
The first casualty of war is the truth. And the first truth of war is that children get killed. Children soldiers and even younger children civilians. The first truth is that children get killed in war so that old men can indulge themselves in an illusion of power. Why war-mongering old men feel inadequate in the power department we’ll leave for the Freudians to explain fully, but let’s just say that the only drumstick ever used to beat a war drum is an otherwise useless, limp dick. In the animal kingdom older males often kill young males before they can reach maturity and become rivals during rutting season. Here at the top of the evolutionary hierarchy we do the civilized thing and give ‘em a rifle and send ‘em off to the front.
Sadly, war sometimes is unavoidable. Until we’re further evolved as a species, violence is the only defense we have against immediate evil. Some fuckers just need killin’, Hitler, for example, and all the other corrupt assholes who spread nationalistic, jingoistic lies to justify bloody invasions that get other people’s kids killed and butchered but whose true purpose is only to advance corporate profits by securing oil revenue, securing lucrative infrastructure rebuilding contracts, and mining interest payments off loans on speculative military adventures. Line ‘em up and shoot those bastards.
Why is truth always the first casualty of war? Because an annoying thing like truth gets in the way of ambitious dreams of wealth and power. It would help if we had a watchdog press instead of star-wannabes who are happy to be power’s bitch. Give us, the great unwashed masses, the truth and let our informed voices participate in the determination of life and death policy being implemented in our name and with our financing. Don’t show us titillating, “Warning: Graphic” photographs of assassinated, touched-up corpses of the enemies de jour. Give us the truly disturbing graphics showing the profits campaign-contributing giants Bechtel and Lockheed Martin and (Dick Cheney’s) Halliburton and (George Bush’s) Carlyle are reaping from the death and destruction. Talk about shock and awe!
Most of us don’t see the actual battlefield; we just pay the tab. Mostly, we get our “truth” about the fighting from our trusted news sources, including the new Pentagon-approved, aptly named, “imbedded” journalists. There are other ways to get impressions of war. For instance, you could go fight in one. George W. Bush didn’t have to bother with that unpleasantness. Rich kids don’t fight in wars (only one current member of the U.S. House or Senate has a child in the armed services). George W. Bush’s rich daddy got him a safe, cushy spot defending Texas from the Red Invasion, and even then he didn’t bother to show up for that tour of “duty.” Madigan Army Hospital was a fun place to hang out during the Vietnam War. Lots of late-teens/early twentysomethings wheeling their newly leg-less bodies around the halls or staring blankly out of windows for hours. The lucky ones. George W. Bush, the Hero of Baghdad, just cut off health care benefits for hundreds of thousands of them and their brother combat veterans to pay for a gift to himself and his millionaire friends of an average of over $93,500 each. Mission accomplished, indeed!
I musta missed the “Commander-In-Chief gives himself a generous raise at troops’ expense” headline. I guess Tom “ We’re Sure as Hell Not The Greatest Generation” Brokaw must have been busy covering other, more important, news, like the latest urgent sex scandal. Ten bucks says Karl Rove sent Kobe Bryant a dozen roses. (And speaking of Kobe: His trial should coincide with next year’s election season. Even those of us who haven’t yet had to pawn our TVs for food money by that time will be pretty fed-up with W’s “Jobs and Growth” programs. Unless he can somehow stage a dramatic, made-for-TV, life-saving victory over a terrorist attack, W’s gonna need a(nother) distraction for the masses. Kobe is a large black man. His “victim” is a white, teen-aged girl. Willie Horton comes to the rescue of another Bush?)
Meanwhile, those tireless purveyors of truth—our erstwhile professional news journalists—assure us of their solemn struggle with the propriety of splashing photographs of a dead Uday and Qusay Hussein on their dinner-time broadcasts. (To be fair, the ghouls at the Ministry of Truth for our Oceana—FOX news—didn’t give it a second thought. The only struggle at FOX—a/k/a al-GOP-zeera—was how to get the photos on “American Juniors” without being too obvious. Robert Johnson went down to the crossroads and sold his soul to the Devil to become a star, so the Devil kept his word and turned him into Brit Hume.)
Over at CBS, CIA asset Dan Rather went on and on telling us of the agony they went through trying to decide whether using photographs of corpses was an appropriate news reporting technique. Sureyadid. The only question your ratings-driven, tabloid-caliber, dog & pony/Tijuana donkey show posing as serious journalism had was “Will it sell soap?”
Miraculously, all the respectable journalists somehow came to the same conclusion. After what we were assured was a momentous wrestling of consciences of the
Great Modern Minds of independent reporting, we were treated to all dead Uday and Qusay photos, all the time. Truth is, it was never really in doubt. Once we saw the set up the previous day—the same footage on all the networks of the same three Iraqis demanding to see the bodies before they would believe the Sons of Evil were really dead—we knew what was coming. The fix was in. The news hacks justified their sensationalism by telling us how because of Iraqi demand, darnit, they simply had no choice. Good thing those three Iraqis didn’t demand to see John Wayne Bobbitt’s severed dick. (Although some reliable translators have claimed what they were actually saying was that they really needed to see NBC White House correspondent Campbell Brown’s tits. C’mon girl—it’s for the war effort!)
Why did the networks try to sell us the horseshit that showing gruesome photographs of corpses of assassinated Iraqi leaders was an act of journalistic bravery on a par with storming the beach at Normandy? Because truth is the first casualty of war. Pictures of dead Iraqi strongmen, shown with commentary telling us what a great victory this is, help the effort that the owners of the networks support. Some cynical observers might call that propaganda. Some may recall that a few years ago, the photograph of a dead U.S. soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu caused a shit-storm of controversy. Showing that photograph was considered irresponsible and reprehensible, almost treasonous. Yet, we’re to believe that showing us pictures of the decaying, stinking, dead bodies of Uday and Qusay somehow makes Dan Rather heroic? Don’t set aside the time for the medal ceremony just yet, Dan.
They didn’t give a shit about our sensibilities or the sensibilities of the millions of children tuned in to their bile. Thanks a lot for deciding for us that we can handle seeing pictures of two dead guys. But if you really have faith in us, how about showing us the truth instead? We can handle it. Stop trying to fix what’s for sale in the marketplace of ideas.
Showing only the dead bad guys might have some propaganda value to the Rupert Murdochs and Donald Rumsfelds of the world, but it is not truth. Truth includes all the facts. The intense, six-hour firefight that gave the world the gift of the dead Hussein sons actually resulted in four deaths: Uday, Qusay, a “bodyguard,” and Qusay’s 14-year-old son, Mustafa (who, according to the official military reports, was the last “man” standing in the firefight). At the risk of interrupting the feel good moment that a dead 14-year-old boy should give all true red-blooded American patriots, we might pause just a second to remember that while his bullet-ridden 14-year-old corpse is a great victory for freedom loving people everywhere, HE HAD ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH RAMMING HIJACKED AIRPLANES INTO THE WORLD TRADE CENTER OR THE PENTAGON! Neither did his father, his uncle, the alleged “bodyguard,” or his grandfather, for that matter. He was no more a threat to the United States of America than, say, 14-year-old Sammy Weaver, or Jenna Bush. Hopefully, they remembered to check his pockets for weapons of mass destruction.
I know he was the “enemy,” and unquestioning nationalistic patriotism demands we applaud his death (“good news for the Iraqi people,” gushed American Viceroy Paul Bremer), but one wonders the fear level a 14-year-old boy feels when he has only dead bodies (including his father’s) for company and bullets are flying and TOW missiles are exploding all around him. The invasion of Iraq was planned well before September 11th, 2001. Mustafa died in horrible fear. I wonder why those three Iraqis didn’t demand to see the photographs of his corpse? Turns out one person will get the $30 million reward for the tip that led to his execution. The lucky stiff hit the United States-taxpayer-funded lottery. Now that’s our tax money well spent.
Yes, Iraq and the rest of the world are no doubt better off without Uday and Qusay. Maybe now the Iraqi people will finally greet us with the open arms and tears of joy we were told would be waiting for us before our invasion. Maybe now they’ll stop killing our sons and daughters on a daily basis. But don’t lie to us about the cost of this adventure, the costs in money and blood and suffering and dead kids. Don’t tell us to sacrifice life and waste billions that could be spent on real security with allusions to nuclear-equipped drones 45 minutes away from turning our cities into “mushroom clouds” if it isn’t true. Don’t tell us Saddam is in bed with bin Laden if he isn’t. Don’t try to pull a fast one and tell us British Intelligence has “learned” something when American intelligence knew it was bullshit. Don’t tell us aluminum tubes are for nukes when they’re not. If Bush’s business partners in Saudi Arabia funded the 9/11 terrorists, don’t hide behind “national security.” Tell us the truth; we can handle it and react appropriately. And don’t tell us the death of a fourteen-year-old boy is a “great day for a new Iraq.”
The truth is that a 14-year-old boy died (just “collateral damage,” as Timothy McVeigh or Paul Wolfowitz would point out). The truth is that he is a casualty of an unprovoked war of aggression that was “justified” on lies. The truth is that his death was more or less ignored by the US media—not newsworthy, I guess. Never mind the probative value of showing the voting public pictures of the American soldiers killed that same day as Uday and Qusay or even the following week, in the name of truth at least show us the photographs of our 14-year-old enemy’s dead body on the gurney. We can take the truth and we can decide if his death is worth one billion of our tax dollars a week and a dead American soldier a day.
The truth is too many kids die in wars that are nothing more than pursuits of corporate treasure. Adults have a duty to protect children, even after they turn 18. That’s why we passed that law to keep alcohol out of their hands. Sacrificing them in the name of some phony “national security” is an abomination. Want national security? Here’s an idea: Bring back the draft, but set the youngest age eligible to be drafted at 50. Add it to the Geneva Convention: Use of combatants under the age of 50 shall be a war crime. Plus, serving should be mandatory for all politicians and policy makers. (Is there any serious doubt that Hans Blix would still be in Iraq right now and not 130,000—and counting—mostly young U.S. GI’s if George and Dick had to go do the actual fighting?) It’s only fair—if you vote for war, you pick up a rifle. And by all means, have a drink if you want one. You’re old enough.