More Training, or Fewer Euphemisms?

Another one of our trained Afghan public servants went nuts, killing two U.S. soldiers and wounding another. This situation is not the first of its kind in Afghanistan, and such attacks on American troops have occurred recently in Iraq as well.

What causes this kind of behavior? Certainly, it is expected that many people who have been impacted by a military occupation, and its necessary physical and moral chaos, may harbor resentment and a desire for revenge. Indeed, a small percentage of those may act.

But when the attacker is a soldier or policeman employed as a result of the occupation, working for the American satrap, in routine contact with the American military or their contractors in a presumably cordial setting — perhaps we ought to pay attention to what it means.

The U.S. military has generally responded to these attacks by calling for more or better training. The satrap spokesmen generally call these events isolated crimes, followed by punishments swift and severe.

When prisoners riot and harm their guards, we tend to understand — the prisoners are already prone to violence, and have little collective options for change. Prison guards train to ensure riots don’t happen, and if they do, are contained and minimized. They also understand that there are two teams — one for prisoners and another for prison management.

When students shoot teachers and classmates in public schools and colleges, we immediately seek to psychoanalyze them, their families, and their situation. When we look at these cases, we find mental problems, prescription and other drug dependencies, and psychopathic tendencies. But we also find that in nearly all cases, the attacks were retaliation for real or imagined crimes or injustices.

The worst school attack in the United States occurred in 1927, in Michigan. The Bath Consolidated School was burned by angry school board member Andrew Kehoe, protesting a property tax increase. The assessment of the case indicates that Kehoe was probably unbalanced and prone to violence, but also that his circumstances were dire, and local government policies had exacerbated them.

What we do NOT do in these cases is advocate better training for prisoners, for student-murderers, or for school board members.

The cases of the Iraqi and Afghani soldiers and police who attack our soldiers — even though they are supposed to be on the same team — ought to allow us to speak openly and honestly about what an occupation is, what a puppet government is, and about the real physical, economic, moral and psychological effects of an occupation on the occupied.

Add to the mix the fact that the occupied peoples in Iraq and Afghanistan are expected to be entirely disarmed. The touted "constitution" of Iraq, drafted largely in Washington and by Washington’s lackeys, has features similar to our own, but is specifically lacking any right of the people to bear arms. Similarly, Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution likewise contains no right for citizens to bear arms.

Like most laws, and like our own constitution, these too are dead letters. Iraqis and Afghans are armed — but by bearing arms they risk breaking the law, and are seen as wrongdoers rather than citizens.

If you read the "law of the land" for occupied Iraq and subjected Afghanistan, you will find many good things listed as individual rights, and many fine duties and constraints placed upon the state. But if one wishes to understand the anger and resentment of common Iraqis and Afghanis, and most importantly those employed as enforcers of the respective constitutions, it’s all there too.

For example, Article 6 of the Afghan constitution defines the role of the state — a state the Afghani soldier and police officer swear to uphold and represent: "The state is obliged to create a prosperous and progressive society based on social justice, protection of human dignity, protection of human rights, realization of democracy, and to ensure national unity and equality among all ethnic groups and tribes and to provide for balanced development in all areas of the country."

Or look at Article 15 of the Iraq constitution: "Every individual has the right to enjoy life, security and liberty. Deprivation or restriction of these rights is prohibited except in accordance with the law and based on a decision issued by a competent judicial authority."

State obligations to citizens, and preservation of their rights, doesn’t seem to be a strong suit in our two occupied territories, despite our professional training for their police and military forces.

We get angry, and we should, when an American cop tasers the wrong guy, racially profiles, or delays a motorist trying to visit his dying mother-in-law in the hospital. Often, the sheer hypocrisy of the state is infuriating. As we consider our government actions regarding Wall Street bailouts, in context of past laxity of state regulators just a bit too cozy with the regulatees, this infuriation is well justified. The list goes on — we should be insanely angry at what passes for representative government in this country, and a plurality of Americans already are.

Citizen frustrations with the state — the Iraqi-American state, or the Afghan-American state — must be even more incredible. Add to this frustration an abject sense of powerlessness; how many Iraqis and Afghans have an ability to sue, imprison, cancel a contract, or otherwise seek justice for occupation or puppet government misdeeds and crimes? Afghans and Iraqis live each day reminded of the monstrous chasm between what is said and written about their human and economic rights, and what they experience under occupation.

If the Afghan policeman went nuts, like others before him in this and every occupation throughout history, the last thing we ought to be talking about is better training.

At worst, our generals should be talking about occupation, and how to make it more just. At best, our politicians should be looking deep into their own unread copies of the U.S. Constitution, and finding no mention of foreign occupations, vote immediately to end the ones we’re maintaining in Iraq and Afghanistan.

George Orwell, in his 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language" explains that

political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. … Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

This latest attack — murderous and suicidal — was about calling up a mental picture in the face of endless euphemisms. Eliminating euphemisms, question-begging, and cloudy vagueness for our foreign policy would save lives.

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