Band of Brothers

Every time I turn on the TV, I'm bombarded with ads for the Band of Brothers "epic miniseries event" on HBO. Buoyed by the success of Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg gives us a longer, more intense version of the European Theater World War II drama. With a budget in the millions, I'm sure it will faithfully recreate the terror, adrenaline, and dizzying action blitz of the European Theatre.

The contemporary view of World War II is that it was the last really good war, the last one with a clear moral mandate for the United States to join. Hitler was evil incarnate. The Japanese attacked us. Our Allies needed us to save democracy. Never mind that Stalin killed more Ukranians and Kulaks in the previous decade than Hitler killed in the entire war. Never mind that the only thing separating Stalin's gulags from Hitler's concentration camps was that the gulags killed 10 times the number of people the camps did. Never mind that Hitler and Stalin divvied up Poland, and exterminated millions while we sat and watched. Never mind that Americans killed around a half million civilians ourselves by firebombing and atomic bombing cities full of non-combatants.

I'm sure the only moral predicaments in Band of Brothers will be those on the small scale: an individual soldier's struggle over killing other soldiers; coping with the horror of war from the individual perspective. I have a suggestion for HBO and Mister Spielberg. Why not do something more contemporary? The chance to film in downtown Belgrade during NATO's "humanitarian bombing" is gone, but with bombs falling on Iraq every few days and the action revving up in Afghanistan, our intrepid filmmakers have fantastic locations for some live action footage. With the special effects supplied by the US military, this is one can be realistic, without high production costs for the studio.

I wonder what effect footage from Iraq would have on HBO's audience: starving people, deformed children, a smashed country without clean water, electricity, medicine, or hope. The only exposure Iraqis have to the United States comes at the unfriendly end of a Tomahawk missile with the Stars and Stripes painted on the tip. It's funded by our tax dollars. It's carried on by our consent.

26 years ago we pulled out of Vietnam. Officially, we got in to fight communism and contain the Soviet menace after “they fired first” in the manufactured Gulf of Tonkin incident. We left not because of the 3 million dead Vietnamese, but because of the 60,000 dead Americans.

Apparently the US Military learned from Vietnam. The lessons: when invading another country, every US military casualty counts, but soldiers on the other side do not. Civilians don't count much as long as they are killed by bombs, or in small numbers by Navy SEALs who later become Senators. Civilians killed by secondary effects like disease and starvation don't count at all. So far, the military has been right about us. As long as we're killing the other guy, and not losing any Americans, everything's ok with the majority of Americans. Killing a few thousand Iraqi POW's will get you a post-military career as Drug Czar. Bombing a Yugoslav civilian passenger train on its regular route might get you in a bit of trouble. But, have some CIA functionary speed up the footage so it looks unavoidable, and you won't even get a reprimand for hitting it not one, but twice. Ditto for bombing an open-air market, or a refugee column with those military-style red tractors.

Psychologists, Sociologists, and other pseudo-scientists have a legion of theories to explain how a civilized, seemingly normal people like the Germans could participate in a bloody Holocaust. One of them revolves around our human ability to see things only in the light we want. Get a few of the really evil Germans to do the concentration camp dirty work, and the rest can pretend that the worst really isn't happening as neighbors and friends are shipped off in the box cars.

How does this compare with our willful ignorance of the conditions in Iraq. The greedy and soul-less in the military industrial complex keep up the illegal patrols of Iraq and bomb anything that locks on to them, in self-defense, of course. When bombing even gets mentioned, the late night news shows an F-15 icon in the corner as the anchor relates the latest sortie in our ten-year Iraqi bombing campaign. I wonder if things would be different if they showed the graves of half a million Iraqi children.

Maybe things would be different if HBO made a miniseries with the visceral effects of our contemporary war. Our latest in Afghanistan may give them the chance to get some real “live action, uncut footage”. Here's a link to some pictures of present day Afghanistan. The people know they're screwed. Over a hundred thousand refugees have been milling around Afghanistan after heading for the sealed off borders with Pakistan and Iran. International aid, the only thing heading off mass starvation, has picked up again. For now. HBO probably won’t show any of these. Some things are too realistic even for them. As you click through in your air conditioned room, with power and a computer, think how long it's been since you were hungry for more than an hour; think how awful it is to behold human misery. Think how much worse it is to realize it can be prevented.

Bring our soldiers home now, while they're alive, instead of later in flag draped boxes. Remove our 26 "forward deployed" bases from Italy, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, South Korea, Okinawa, and elsewhere. Get our troops out of the one hundred plus countries they're in. Reap the benefit of instant world goodwill and the economic benefit of hundreds of thousands of able-bodied Americans contributing to the economy here instead of abroad.

Bin Laden and the al-Qaeda can be brought to justice using letters of marque and reprisal, as suggested by Congressman Ron Paul. It won't be a Band of Brothers style fireworks show, but privateers may be just the answer to our dual objectives of capturing or killing bin Laden and al-Qaeda, without further radicalizing the Muslim world. That's been bin Laden's plan all along, or so it would seem based on his pre-taped call for jihad among all Islamic nations. So far, only a minority of Muslims have heeded the call, but escalating and widening this war with our conventional army is a sure way to increase that number.

October 11, 2001