I rarely accept invitations for speaking arrangements. It is not my cup of tea. When I rarely do I insist in dividing my allocated time into 1/3 for speaking and 2/3 for Q & A. I don’t like canned speeches, but I happen to truly like lengthy Q & A sessions. Why? Because: It enables me to talk about what my audience really wants to hear about, it gives me a chance to get to know others’ points of view and perceptions, and let’s face it, it just makes the whole process less boring, more interactive, less predictable, thus more fun.
Two months ago, during one of my very rare speaking arrangements, the topics of discussion took many spontaneous turns and twists and ended up in the area of our wars- our never-ending, perpetual wars. Of course you know where I stand on that. And most likely you won’t be surprised to hear that not many people share my stand; at least not as bold and vehemently. Most public figures who engage in public speaking know how to frame their talking points and answers very diplomatically so that they will get uniformed nods from their audience; at least most of them. And they do. I know the trick, and I know how it is done. But I never use it. Meaning, I do not engage in public speaking for the purpose of being liked and admired uniformly, and to play it safe. It is not me. In fact I do exactly the opposite, meaning, I actually try to push buttons, and as a result bring out the real inner thinking of my audiences. So what if that makes me not-so-popular and not likely to be invited again? I ain’t running for public office!
Now that we have established my modus operandi when it comes to public speaking, let’s go back to my Q & A session from my latest ‘engagement.’
We began discussing our latest wars-our wars since September 11, 2001. One lady raised her hand and proposed that these wars were highly justified based on what took place on 9/11. After all, she said, we were attacked, thus, we had to defend ourselves.
I provided her with the conservative estimate of our civilian casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. She responded to that: ‘Don’t take me wrong. I am sorry that these innocent people had to die, but we had to do what we had to do, and the loss of innocent people does not change this reality.’
I asked her: ‘Would you see the reverse as justified? Meaning, would you see it as justified when those people attack us in defending against our perpetual attacks on them, and as a result kill tens of thousands of our innocent people?’ She said: ‘But that is not the same. They are terrorists. We are not. Wars are not the same as terrorism.’
Basically, she was entering the many-times-argued ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ area. So I kept pushing, respectfully, until the real her began surfacing. She said: ‘What we are seeing is an inevitable clash. It is the clash of civilized democratic people with the barbaric third world countries’ inhabitants.’
And that, my friends, brings me to one of the macro topics we frequently discuss here at Boiling Frogs Post: Why don’t we see major backlash and protests in the face of our atrocious wars waged around the globe?
Sure. We can talk about how awful the media has been in framing, thus justifying our unjustifiable wars. We can discuss the fear-mongering factor being played by all our politicians and media outlets. We can talk about all that, but let’s talk about another factor that is rarely discussed: The Us versus them. The civilized vs the barbaric. The White vs Yellow or Olive or Black. The Christians vs the Muslims. The Superior Westerners vs the Inferior Easterners or Southerners. The superiority complex that says not all lives are equal. The Exceptionalism that says we are far more superior, valuable and worthy of life and liberties.
I usually don’t cover the highly polarizing, and frequently misused notions of racism, sexism, religion-ism, classism, etc. Not because these factors and notions are not highly prevalent in our daily lives, including in our media, politics, education, and yes, foreign policy. But because there are only so many topics and areas I can possibly cover, it is due to not wanting to get into one of those highly polarized discussion areas where tempers and biases and hatred easily boil to the top, and also it is due to not considering myself an expert in sociology and or psychology. All that said, this topic keeps coming up. In one form or another. It ends up being one of those gigantic elephants in the room. So, let’s go ahead and discuss it, and then, face it.
The over a million deaths caused by our Vietnam War did not mean anything compared to 50,000+ deaths of our soldiers. Was that war in self-defense? No. But, that doesn’t matter. Was it a justified war? Surely not, but that doesn’t matter. Who were those people anyway? They were not like us. They didn’t look like us. They didn’t eat like us, and didn’t talk like us.
The estimates of killed and wounded in Hiroshima (150,000) and Nagasaki (75,000) are overly conservative. The atomic bomb we dropped in Hiroshima alone was the equivalent of 20,000 tons of TNT. Was it justified to use the worst kind of weapons of mass destructions and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, and affecting their offspring to come? No. Should it be categorized as a type of genocide and war atrocity? Yes. Do most people in our nation see it as such? No. We can go around the world and point fingers at nations who may or may not possess WMD, and begin bombing the hell out of them. On the other hand, it is perfectly okay for us to have the world’s biggest WMD cache, and be the only nation that has repeatedly used WMD, and atrociously killed hundreds of thousands using them. Why? Because we consider ourselves civilized. However barbarically. Even when we engage in the most barbaric atrocities, we are still civilized- barbarically civilized, that is.
Here is an example of how we can be Barbarically Civilized, or Civilized Barbarically:
The Volume of American bombing in Vietnam exceeded the 2.7 million tons of bombs dropped by the Allied Forces in all theaters during World War II. The estimated war casualties range from 195,000 to 430,000 civilian war deaths. The lowest total estimate is 1,234,000 military and civilian deaths from 1965 to 1974.
It is a fact that we, the world civilized super power nation, have been the world’s most atrocious WMD possessor and user:
In Korea over a three-year period, U.S./UN forces flew 1,040,708 sorties and dropped 386,037 tons of bombs and 32,357 tons of napalm. If one counts all types of airborne ordnance, including rockets and machine-gun ammunition, the total tonnage comes to 698,000 tons
For South Vietnam, the figure is 19 million gallons of defoliant dropped on an area comprising 20 percent of South Vietnam—some 6 million acres. In an even briefer period, between 1969 and 1973, 539,129 tons of bombs were dropped in Cambodia, largely by B-52s, of which 257,465 tons fell in the last six months of the war (as compared to 160,771 tons on Japan from 1942–1945). The estimated toll of the dead, the majority civilian, is equally difficult to absorb: 2 to 3 million in Korea; 2 to 4 million in Vietnam.
Three million tons were dropped on Laos, exceeding the total for Germany and Japan by both the U.S. and Great Britain.
Did Vietnam or Laos attack our nation, or even threaten to attack our nation? No. Does it matter? No. Why not? Because our super government of our super civilized nation knows best. Because let’s face it: who are these people anyway? They are yellow, and most of them are Buddhist or something like that, they eat too much rice …and they are not civilized like us. As simple as that. So the massive civilian casualty number doesn’t bother us; it doesn’t move us. We may be ‘sorry,’ and that is, later, a little sorry, that is, but that’s all.
That brings us to olive colored people. The barbaric Muslims. The Arabic speaking third world Easterners. The Middle Easterners. We have killed massive numbers of them as well, and we continue killing:
The first household survey that appeared was published in The Lancet in October 2004, measuring the war-related mortality in the war’s first 18 months. The researchers–mainly epidemiologists from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and medical personnel in Iraq–estimated 98,000 “excess deaths” due to war.
The second household survey, conducted by the Hopkins scientists again, was completed in June 2006 and published four months later in The Lancet. Its findings: 650,000 people (civilians and fighters) died as a result of the war in Iraq.
More conservative (biased?) reports estimate that Afghanistan and Iraq wars have killed 132,000 Civilians.
Did Iraq have anything to do with 9/11? Of course not. Did Iraq in any way threaten us? Nope. Then, why did we go invade them a few months after 9/11? Who cares! They are olive colored, most of them have beards, they speak a language that sounds like a terrorist language, they are Muslims … and all that make them: Barbaric. Not civilized like us. Why should we be moved by tens of thousands of their children and women being blown to bits? Really? As that woman said during my last speaking event: ‘Let’s face it, they are not like us. They are barbaric terrorists.’
A few days ago, as I was researching, I came across a very-well written editorial on this topic. To my shock the source was none other than the awful Washington Post. As you know I do not cite anything from propaganda publications such as the Washington Post. In fact, we even call it a boycott here at Boiling Frogs Post. Maybe it was one of those rarities buried in the back pages somewhere. Maybe an aberration? Whatever it was, I was impressed, and I am going to quote a few excerpts:
Even civilian atrocities tend to fade quickly from view, or else become rallying points for the accused troops. My Lai, where about 400 Vietnamese were murdered by a U.S. Army unit in 1968, at first shocked the nation, but Americans quickly came to support Lt. William L. Calley Jr. — who was later found guilty of killing 22villagers — and the others involved. More recently, eight Marines were charged in the 2005 Haditha massacre in Iraq, and none has been convicted. (The last defendant’s trial started this past week.) Indeed, each atrocity that fails to alter public opinion piles on to further prove American indifference.
Why the American silence on our wars’ main victims? Our self-image, based on what cultural historian Richard Slotkin calls “the frontier myth” — in which righteous violence is used to subdue or annihilate the savages of whatever land we’re trying to conquer — plays a large role. For hundreds of years, the frontier myth has been one of America’s sturdiest national narratives.
When the challenges from communism in Korea and Vietnam appeared, we called on these cultural tropes to understand the U.S. mission overseas. The same was true for Iraq and Afghanistan, with the news media and politicians frequently portraying Islamic terrorists as frontier savages. By framing each of these wars as a battle to civilize a lawless culture, we essentially typecast the local populations as the Indians of our North American conquest. As the foreign policy maven Robert D. Kaplanwrote on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page in 2004, “The red Indian metaphor is one with which a liberal policy nomenklatura may be uncomfortable, but Army and Marine field officers have embraced it because it captures perfectly the combat challenge of the early 21st century.”
Politicians tend to speak in broader terms, such as defending Western values, or simply refer to resistance fighters as terrorists, the 21st-century word for savages. Remember the military’s code name for the raid of Osama bin Laden’s compound? It was Geronimo.
This well-written editorial piece makes a very troubling and reality-based point: Our apathy towards mass civilian casualties and atrocities caused by our nation is mainly due to a strong sense of Superiority and Exceptionalism. We see it with our aggression and atrocities around the world. It is the barbaric tribal black people in Africa. Or it is the yellow savage communist Asians. Or the bearded olive terrorist Muslim Arabs. We see it in our domestic events as well. Does the media cover a murdered black child as extensively and dramatically as a blue-eyed blond one like Jan Benet Ramsey? Of course not. Not all murdered or abused children are equal. Does our media cover the Palestinian children killed by Israeli terrorism as in-depth and extensively as the Israeli children who fall victim to the terrorism by the other side? Of course not. Not all destructions and deaths caused by terrorism and savagery are equal.
That lady whose button I pushed is not alone. Unfortunately many, even if subconsciously, share this arrogant sense of superiority. Our majority believes our nation to be a civilized one, even if barbarically civilized. We see our barbarism justified, and do not consider all lives and liberties equal. And as long as this remains the case we shall not see the needed logical reaction and opposition to the atrocities committed around the globe and at home in our name, and in our behalf.
Reprinted with permission from Boiling Frogs Post.