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The PSY Scandal: Singing about Killing People v. Constantly Doing It

Americans would benefit from less outrage at anti-US sentiment and more energy toward understanding why it's so widespread

South Korean rapper Psy performs Gangnam Style in New York in September. (Photograph: Jason Decrow/Invision/AP)Which of these two stories is causing more controversy and outrage in the US?

New York Daily News, Friday:

"Fiercely anti-American lyrics from Korean rapper Psy have been unearthed just two weeks before the star is scheduled to perform for President Obama.

"The 'Gangnam Style' singer calls for US soldiers to be killed in one song, prompting a short-lived petition to ax Psy from the bill at the Christmas in Washington celebration.

"In 2004, Psy rapped on a South Korean metal band's song, 'Dear American', at a protest concert, The Washington Post reported. 'Kill those f---ing Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives', he said. 'Kill those f---ing Yankees who ordered them to torture. Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers. Kill them all slowly and painfully.'

"Two years earlier, after a pair of Korean schoolgirls were mowed down by a U.S.-operated armored vehicle, Psy again expressed vitriol toward America. Onstage, he smashed a plastic model of a U.S. tank into pieces as the crowd cheered, The Korea Herald reported.

"Psy apologized in a statement to the Daily News, adding that the song in question is from nearly a decade ago, and was 'part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two Korean schoolgirls.'"

The Guardian, Friday:


"The US military is facing fresh questions over its targeting policy in Afghanistan after a senior army officer suggested that troops were on the lookout for 'children with potential hostile intent'".

"In comments which legal experts and campaigners described as 'deeply troubling', army Lt Col Marion Carrington told the Marine Corp Times that children, as well as 'military-age males', had been identified as a potential threat because some were being used by the Taliban to assist in attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. . . .

"In the article, headlined 'Some Afghan kids aren't bystanders', Carrington referred to a case this year in which the Afghan national police in Kandahar province said they found children helping insurgents by carrying soda bottles full of potassium chlorate.

"The piece also quoted an unnamed marine corps official who questioned the 'innocence' of Afghan children, particularly three who were killed in a US rocket strike in October. Last month, the New York Times quoted local officials who said Borjan, 12, Sardar Wali, 10, and Khan Bibi, eight, from Helmand's Nawa district had been killed while gathering dung for fuel.

"However, the US official claimed that, before they called for the strike on suspected insurgents planting improvised explosive devices, marines had seen the children digging a hole in a dirt road and that 'the Taliban may have recruited the children to carry out the mission'. . . .

"'When you get to the suggestion that children with potentially hostile intent may be perceived to be legitimate targets is deeply troubling and unlawful,' [said Pardiss Kebriaei, senior attorney of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a specialist in targeted killings]."

Whatever else one wants to say, the US is a country that, for more than a decade, has loudly and continuously declared itself to be a "nation at war". It's not "at war" in any one county, but in many countries around the globe.

In the last four years alone, it has used drones to end people's lives in six predominantly Muslim country (probably more). Under its Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader, it has repeatedly wiped out entire families (including just this week), slaughtered dozens of children at a time, targeted and killed people rescuing and grieving its victims, and either deliberately or recklessly dropped bombs on teenagers (including its own citizens), then justified it with the most foul and morally deranged rationale.

It embraces and props up the world's most repressive tyrants. It isolates itself from the world and embraces blatant double standards in order to enable the worst behavior of its client states. It continues to maintain a global network of prisons where people are kept indefinitely in cages with no charges. It exempts itself and its leaders from the international institutions of justice while demanding that the leaders of other, less powerful states be punished there. And it is currently in the process of suffocating a nation of 75 million people with an increasingly sadistic sanctions regime, while proudly boasting about it and threatening more.

It spent years imprisoning even Muslim journalists with no charges. And then there's that little fact about how, less than a decade ago, it created a worldwide torture regime and then launched an aggressive war that destroyed a nation of 26 million people, one that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings.

Those are all just facts. And while there is no shortage of Americans willing to step up and dutifully justify some or all of those acts, it's so astonishing to watch people express surprise and bewilderment and anger when they discover that this behavior causes people in the world to intensely dislike the United States.

If you want your country to rule the world as an aggressive and militaristic empire, then accept the inevitable consequence of that: that there will be huge numbers of people in the world who resent and even hate your country for that behavior. Don't cheer while your country constantly kills, invades, occupies, and dominates the internal affairs of countless other nations - and then expect to be liked. Immorality aside, producing this reaction is one reason not to do such things. This kind of imperial behavior, inevitably and in every era, generates extreme levels of animosity and, ultimately, returned violence. That's why George Washington, in his 1796 Farewell Address, warned against all of this:

"[N]othing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. . . .

"Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests."

The reaction to this story about PSY's lyrics is quite redolent of the reaction of Americans to the 9/11 attack. Prior to the 9/11 attack, the US had spent decades propping up and arming the most repressive dictators in the Muslim world with the clear intent to suppress the views of the populations and ensure subservience to US interests. It overthrew or blocked their democratically supported leaders. Its decade-long sanctions regime against Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of people while strengthening Saddam, its former ally, and a top US official coldly told the world when asked about dead Iraqi children that it was "worth it". Its steadfast support of Israel shielded the civilian-killing aggression of that nation from all forms of challenge or accountability. It bombed and destroyed a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan that kept large numbers of people alive.

All of these facts are, and long have been, widely discussed in most of the world, where they have generated simmering, intense fury. As one small example: the Sudanese pharmaceutical factor destroyed in the Clinton years is now a shrine, accompanied by what the Christian Science Monitor's Scott Peterson this year described as enduring "bitterness and anger at what is widely seen as an unjustified strike".

But most of these facts are largely suppressed, at the very least steadfastly ignored, in establishment US media discourse. That was why the 9/11 attack produced that truly bizarre though understandable reaction on the part of the US public: why do they hate us? The premise of that question, of course, was that the US is a country that simply minds its own business, doesn't harm or bother anyone, simply wants peace for the world, and it's thus inconceivable that anyone would ever want to harm it.

For someone who believes that, who sees the world that way, that post-9/11 bewilderment was natural: why would anyone possibly have such animosity toward the US, of all countries? When an answer to that question was needed, the US government and its media - rather than tell its population the truth about what the actual, well-known, long-standing grievances were - manufactured the self-flattering "They-Hate-Us-For-Our-Freedom" mythology and fed it to them. And many have been eating it up ever since.

The potency of this propaganda is what causes even federal judges who preside over terrorism cases to express genuine shock and confusion as to how someone could possibly be willing to plot to bomb American cities when they know that the bomb will likely even kill children. These federal judges have to have it slowly explained to them by the defendants that the US has been doing exactly that in their country and many other countries for years, and they resorted to similar violence out of a desperate inability to see any other alternatives for stopping US violence.

Obviously, artistic license or not, what is advocated by the lyrics sung by PSY (attacking and torturing the family members of US soldiers) cannot be justified, just as the targeting of innocent civilians on 9/11 cannot be. Still, singing about killing innocent people is not in the same universe as doing it, yet many Americans infuriated about the former express little if any condemnation of the latter when done by their own government. More to the point, to react to expressions of extreme anti-American sentiments - including the desire to harm US soldiers - as though they're the slightest bit surprising or irrational is itself warped and irrational.

Extreme animosity toward the US continues to be the rule, not the exception, in the Arab and Muslim world, and, especially at the time these lyrics were sung by PSY, was pervasive in South Korea as well. There are actual reasons for this, many of which are quite rational.

We like to tell ourselves that anti-American animosity is produced by propaganda from foreign factions hostile to the US. Actually, that belief is the one that is the by-product of propaganda. The acts of the US government that generate this hostility are rarely discussed in US political discourse, though they are widely discussed in most of the rest of the world. Americans would benefit from spending much less time and energy expressing outrage and offense at anti-American sentiment, and far more time and energy trying to understand why it's so widespread and intense.

UPDATE

From Associated Press today:

"The U.S. military has detained more than 200 Afghan teenagers who were captured in the war for about a year at a time at a military prison next to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, the United States has told the United Nations . . . .

"If the average age is 16, 'This means it is highly likely that some children were as young as 14 or 13 years old when they were detained by U.S. forces,' Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's human rights program, said Friday.

"'I've represented children as young as 11 or 12 who have been at Bagram,' said Tina M. Foster, executive director of the International Justice Network, which represents adult and juvenile Bagram detainees."

Imagine if a foreign army were imprisoning American teenagers on US soil for years without any charges or due process. Would anyone have difficulty understanding why there were extreme levels of hostility and a desire for violence against the country doing that?

Speaking of songs that advocate violence, recall that roughly 46% of Americans voted for this person to be president after he sang this song:

Of course, the 53% who voted for his opponent ended up enabling all sorts of violence against innocent people around the world. Anyway . . . aren't those lyrics sung by PSY so awful and outrageous? Why would anyone harbor such anger toward America?

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