The bloodied faces of the Shaito family, decimated when an American-made helicopter gunship fired a missile into their minivan, has become the symbol of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. "Don't go to sleep, mama!" Ali Shaito shouted through a torrent of tears mixing with his own blood. "Don't die! Please don't die!" A widely distributed photograph caught the sad-eyed Muntaha Saito's last moments. A mother to her dying breath, she used her last ounce of strength to reach out to comfort her frantic son. Muntaha's sister, mother Nazira and uncle Mohammad were also killed in the attack. Eleven other members of the Shaito family, who had evacuated their village after they were ordered to do so by the Israeli military, suffered severe injuries.
The Israeli military said that the Shaito van was hit as part of a barrage of 20 missiles fired at vehicles "suspected of serving the terror organization [Hezbollah] in the launching of missiles at Israel, and were recognized fleeing from or staying at missile-launching areas." The Israelis were thousands of feet away. How could they have "recognized" anything? Obviously, they couldn't.
Accidental killings of civilians are inevitable in war, but casualty rates have soared in wars waged by the United States and other wealthy nations that unleash high-tech air forces against defenseless enemies. Western militaries increasingly rely upon aerial bombardment in lieu of deploying infantry troops on the ground, who can see what's what and who's who--but expose themselves to greater risk. The result of this bombing-oriented policy is the reverse of what one should expect from civilized countries, and it's why the United States has killed more innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq--about 200,000--than enemy troops.
Anyone who has witnessed modern warfare firsthand can see that bombing is a sloppy business. I watched helplessly in 2001 as B-52s pulverized a town in northern Afghanistan, killing hundreds of civilians in an area controlled by the Northern Alliance--America's ally against the Taliban. It wasn't the pilots' faults. How could they know who was doing what thousands, if not tens of thousands, of feet below? They didn't and they couldn't, no more than the IDF helicopter personnel who launched that lethal missile at the Shaito's van. It defies logic, common sense and the facts, yet the American, Israeli and other Western militaries continue to perpetuate the fiction that they (a) have access to reliable intelligence and (b) use reliable intelligence to target their bombs and missiles.
According to neutral observers in southern Lebanon, Israeli warplanes have been bombing vehicles indiscriminately, even in areas where they had dropped pamphlets warning civilians to flee. According the New York Times, "Lebanese Red Cross ambulance drivers complained about narrowly avoiding Israeli fire themselves as they cleared out the wounded, and a Lebanese freelance photographer, Layal Najib, 23, was killed when an Israeli missile struck near her car, about five miles from near the scene of the Shaito family bombing."
If, as our leaders repeatedly claim and most citizens believe, our object is to kill our enemies while sparing civilians, bombs, missiles and other aerial projectiles consistently fail to deliver. They are almost never effective in combat. In 2002 a Hellfire missile targeted an impoverished Afghan nicknamed "Tall Man" Khan because a drone plane operator mistook him for the even taller Osama bin Laden. Another Hellfire attack in January 2006 killed 18 civilians, including five women and five children, in Pakistan. Ayman al-Zawahiri, whom the U.S. claimed to have killed in the Pakistan bombing, later turned up on an Al Qaeda video. From the bunker filled with Baghdadi civilians blown to bits during the first hours of the U.S. invasion of Iraq to the thousands slaughtered in the indiscriminate bombing of Fallujah, the history of bombing is one of repeated failure followed with official claims of success.
The word "indiscriminate" is inherently inseparable from "bombing." The claim that bombs can strike their targets with pinpoint precision is one of the greatest marketing scams ever perpetuated on the American public. So why the hell do we keep using them?
For one thing, bombs--or more accurately, bomb makers--are stocks. Politically connected defense contractors are paid handsomely to replace the billions of dollars worth of bombs we drop on Muslims--the vast majority of whom we have nothing against. But there's a second, even more disturbing reason the American people lend their tacit consent to the cult of Bomb 'em All, Let God Sort Them Out: We value the lives of our troops a lot more than those of civilians in other countries. We're willing to slaughter them en masse in order to minimize casualties among our own.
Think about it: 200,000 dead Afghans and Iraqis, but no one--not even the left--really cares. 2,500 dead American soldiers, and Bush's popularity sinks to those of cable companies and month-old liver. As far as we are concerned, a foreigner's life is worth a thousandth of an American's...maybe less. Perhaps our transparent disregard for foreigners' lives is why they take us less than seriously when we come to "liberate" them.
If we want to rule the world, we can continue to murder the citizens of other countries with the cavalier attitude of a child squashing an insect. If we want to lead the world, we should ban the use of bombs, missiles and other barbaric tools of indiscriminate terrorism against civilian populations, and urge other nations to do the same.
Ted Rall is the editor of "Attitude 3: The New Subversive Online Cartoonists," a new anthology of webcartoons.
© 2006 Ted Rall