Bin Laden, Gaddafi and Modern Warfare: On the Highway of Death
by John W. Whitehead
by John W. Whitehead: The
Drone-ification of America
thou art come unto a feast of death. ~ Shakespeare, 1 Henry VI 4.5.7
War is not
about territories. War is not about oil. War is not even about winners
and losers. In the end, all that can really be said is that war
is about killing. It is about the taking of human life.
is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent,
a part of the main, wrote John Donne. Any mans
death diminishes me because I am involved in Mankind
If this is so, then we belong to a race of human beings that has
been greatly diminished over time. In fact, one atrocitologist
estimates that roughly 174 million people died in the 20th century
alone due to acts of war, genocide and tyranny.
War is also
about the loss of humanity a loss that has become an inherent
part of modern-day warfare. And with every new death, civilian or
otherwise, we lose yet another piece of our humanity and regress
toward our primitive, animal instincts. This is what we must grapple
with in the wake of the reported assassination of Osama bin Laden
and the NATO airstrike said to have claimed the lives of leader
Muammar Gaddafis 29-year-old son and three young grandchildren.
Whether or not it was actually bin Laden or Gaddafis relatives
who were killed, as some have questioned, is not the issue. As CIA
Director Leon Panetta remarked, Bin Laden is dead. Al-Qaida
In other words,
while Americans may be celebrating the death of the most infamous
terrorist of our time, seeing it as a fitting act of retribution
for the innocent lives lost on 9/11, the war effort is far from
over. Indeed, Americas military response to 9/11 has spawned
such blowback in the Middle East that we now find ourselves in a
permanent state of war.
As a result,
the war machine will continue unimpeded and the civilian death toll
will rise higher with every passing day. All the while, most Americans,
comforted by expressions of patriotism and pride in their military,
distracted by mindless entertainment, technological gadgets and
materialistic pursuits, and relatively insulated from the devastation
being wrought overseas, seem to be unconcerned about the escalating
costs of war in dollars and lives. Even as these endless
wars drag America to the brink of bankruptcy, both financially and
morally, most Americans continue to live in a state of denial about
the part we have played are playing in this bloody
totally dehumanizes warfare and, in the process, totally dehumanizes
us as human beings. While it allows us to wage battles from afar,
modern technological warfare also reduces the act of killing human
beings to nothing more than targeting blips on a screen a
macabre video game with faceless victims and no danger of someone
shooting back. And when an American drone annihilates innocent civilians
in some far-away land, this is simply written off as yet another
I was an infantry
officer in the Army from 1969 to 1971. Men in my platoon who had
served time in Vietnam told me many stories but none more
chilling than the one from two helicopter pilots. They told me how
they would shoot the friendlies on their way back from
reconnaissance missions just so they could empty their ammunition
before returning to base. The friendlies were South
Vietnamese women and children, helpless victims in a war they did
not understand. But to the American pilots, they were simply dots
on the ground.
This is what
warfare does to so-called civilized people. Unfortunately, these
joy killings are not isolated instances. Take, for instance,
a U.S.-led attack that occurred during the Gulf War on the night
of February 2627, 1991, after Saddam Hussein announced a complete
troop withdrawal from Kuwait in compliance with U.N. resolutions.
On a 60-mile
stretch of road from Mutlaa, Kuwait, to Basra, Iraq, a convoy of
more than 2,000 vehicles and tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers
and civilians were fleeing. These were people who were putting up
no resistance, many with no weapons, leaving in cars, trucks, carts
and on foot. The American armed forces bombed one end of the main
highway from Kuwait City to Basra, sealing it off, then bombed the
other end of the highway, sealing it off. They positioned mechanized
artillery units on the hill overlooking the area and then, both
from the air and the land, massacred every living thing on the road.
Fighter bombers, helicopter gunships and armored battalions poured
merciless firepower on those trapped in the traffic jams, backed
up as much as 20 miles. One U.S. pilot reportedly said, "It
was like shooting fish in a barrel." That fateful stretch of
road has since been dubbed the "Highway of Death."
A report submitted
to the Commission of Inquiry for the International War Crimes Tribunal
stated that those killed were Palestinian and Kuwaiti civilians
trying to escape the siege of Kuwait City and the return of Kuwaiti
armed forces. The report claimed that no attempt was made by U.S.
military command to distinguish between military personnel and civilians.
after the attack show charred and dismembered bodies. Some of these
photographs can be viewed by clicking on the link for Peter Turnleys
photo essay, The Unseen Gulf War. Ramsey Clark, a former
U.S. Attorney General under Lyndon Johnson, suggested the carnage
could only have resulted from the use of napalm, phosphorus or other
incendiary bombs anti-personnel weapons outlawed under the
1977 Geneva Protocols.
did not stop with the Gulf War. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks,
the American government dispatched its arsenal of deadly weapons
to Afghanistan to quash Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaida network
but to no avail. And once again, there were reports of the
indiscriminate killing of civilians by American forces where entire
villages were wiped out and women and children lay dead on the cold
earth of Afghanistan. Then the American military industrial complex
trained its sights on Iraq, once again unleashing its awesome war
machine. And the carnage continued, made even worse by horrifying
reports of Iraqi prisoners being tortured, raped and subjected to
all manner of other abuses at the hands of U.S. soldiers.
reports and photos have surfaced of a so-called kill team
comprised of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan who murdered innocent
civilians, mutilated their corpses, and then photographed the kills.
As Rolling Stone reported, The photos, obtained by Rolling
Stone, portray a front-line culture among U.S. troops in which
killing Afghan civilians is less a reason for concern than a cause
for celebration. Most people within the unit disliked the
Afghan people, whether it was the Afghan National Police, the Afghan
National Army or locals, one soldier explained to investigators.
Everyone would say they're savages. One photo shows
a hand missing a finger. Another depicts a severed head being maneuvered
with a stick, and still more show bloody body parts, blown-apart
legs, mutilated torsos. Several show dead Afghans, lying on the
ground or on Stryker vehicles, with no weapons in view.
rising death toll among the military and civilians, despite the
cost to the economy (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone have
already cost more than $1 trillion), despite the fact that the American
military, acting as an international police force, is spread dangerously
thin, despite the fact that Congress has yet to actually declare
war against most of the countries in which America is making war
(thus undermining the one thing that stands between us and tyranny
our Constitution), the American government continues to bang
the war drums. And when all is said and done, after all the blather
about national security and fighting terrorism and defending freedom
abroad have died down, if these endless wars amount to anything
at all, it is nothing less than the utter destruction of every decent
and noble ideal for which America is supposed to stand.
The fact that
modern technological warfare is turning human beings into non-feeling
killing machines should cause us to tremble. It should give us reason
to pause and question how we could let ourselves travel so far down
the road to perdition. We have placed others on the highway of death.
In the end, however, it is we who are traveling the highway of death.
May God help us all.
attorney and author John W. Whitehead [send
him mail] is founder and president of The
Rutherford Institute. He is the author of The
Change Manifesto (Sourcebooks).
© 2011 The Rutherford Institute
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