The whole thing is regrettable, really. Shocking, truth to tell. And so sad, I’m sure, for those people, those blanket-wearing, beard-growing, false-god-worshiping, probably-related-to-terrorists, citizens of Afghanistan whose wives and children and babies were gunned down in their beds, shot, murdered, slaughtered, and then burned by one of America’s finest Sunday morning. But hey, what are ya gonna do? These things happen.
It seems the soldier in question was not, in fact, representative of our brave fighting men and women. He was just another in the continuing series of lone gunmen who have been shooting up the world here and overseas for as long as any of us have been reading the newspapers. David Cortright, the director of policy studies at Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, tells us "This may have been the act of a lone, deranged soldier.” I saw a headline that said he was a rogue. OK; rogues do as often as not, “go rogue” as no less an authority than Sarah Palin would have us know. So given time to reflect a bit, I guess I’m sorry I impugned our noble troops.
President Barack Obama summed it up as succinctly and as eloquently as only a man of his unflappably cool reserve could, I suppose: “This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan.” Well there. And yer goddamn right, Mr. President. Our boys kick butt! We take it to ‘em! We light up the friggin sky! They don’t mess with the U.S.A. and get away with it. You don’t kill three thousand brave American heroes on September the eleventh, ten years ago, and expect your four year old girl to sleep in her own bed unmolested. Unkilled. Unburned. We do what needs to be done to keep America free, and sometimes along the way an enlisted man goes a little nuts. Just one. Just every little once in a while.
Mr. Obama got right on the telephone and called up our “partner” in this whole great reworking of Afghanistan, Mr. Hamid Karzai, and told him we were sorry. Or something like that. He expressed condolences. So did Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. I’m sure those were awkward conversations, but you know, the buck does stop there, and that’s why we pay those boys the long dollar. Speaking of which, compensation will be paid. You betcha. We have a formula. I don’t know, fifteen hunnerd bucks or so. Each.
And we’re even-handed and generous in spraying our condolences and compensations. When we kill civilians as a part of our regularly scheduled, officially sanctioned, presidentially authorized drone strikes, it makes Mr. Obama sad, too. It is regrettable, of course, that so many children will insist on living in the same hovels as the alleged terrorists we need to kill, or with somebody who kind of looks like one of them or who might once have been associated with them in some way. We were attacked, you know, and candidate Obama said his predecessor wasn’t prosecuting the Afghanistan adventure vigorously enough, but he would, and he for sure, by God has, hasn’t he?
Does it feel different to be dead by drone than dead by M-1? Does Obama have nightmares? Did Bush? Do they wash their hands, trying to scrub off the blood? We do not doubt this particular atrocity was perpetrated by a young man gone leave of his senses, but we are not encouraged that he will be tried in a military court, found crazy, demoted, dismissed, given cursory mental health treatment and some time in an institution. We wonder if our Congress and our President should be pronounced crazy, too. Or maybe just criminal. And what about us, neighbor, in our complicity? We who elected them and will re-elect them or others just as cold and cruel and as able to calculate that the life of an Afghan child is not worth much compared to our unending and unyielding compulsion to exercise extreme power in pursuit of God only knows what.
Has anybody thought to ask Barbara Bush about this situation? You’ll remember she said the victims of Hurricane Katrina the New Orleans cops herded into the Superdome (those they didn’t shoot) so they could sweat and starve and suffer among piles of shit and debris for several days, had a pretty good deal: "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this—this [chuckle] is working very well for them."
OK! You’re way ahead of me here, aren’t ya buddy? Take Mr. Samad Khan, a farmer who lost all 11 members of his family: wife, kids, maybe an old mom or a crippled dad, for all I know. Eleven times even a thousand dollars each will net him eleven grand. And I’ll bet Afghanistan doesn’t even tax dead baby compensation income. Do we pro-rate babies and old people?
Hell, old Mrs. Bush wouldn’t really have any problem with the midnight murder run itself (yeah, I know, it was three a.m., but I can’t pass a chance at a cheap alliteration without hooking it any more than Lieutenant Calley could leave a peasant hut un-incinerated). Sure, she was talking about her boy’s Iraq adventure, but the emotion is surely transferable: "Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? Oh, I mean, it's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?" A precious thing for sure, you bloated old bag; don’t waste it. Aw, Jesus! That wasn’t nice. I’m sorry, Mrs. Bush. My deepest condolences over the condition of your mind. Fuck, I’m sorry about your whole stupid family.
But I’m not here to “look backward.” President Obama told us years ago there’d be none of that. And I’m not going to beat up Republicans. Why no less a liberal figure than Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, said that, while it did seem a hard choice to make, she believed the deaths of half a million children in Iraq was a worthwhile price to pay to get old Saddam. So five hundred thousand, compared to a dozen or so….
And it’s Monday, anyhow, and back to work, you know, and the weather looks good and the economy is incrementally better (experts say) and the job creators are working darned hard to create jobs for bums like you and me; gas isn’t as expensive as it might be, all things considered, and President Obama will probably get those lunatic Israelis to hold off bombing Iran until after he’s re-elected (they can kill all the Palestinians they like, of course, because they’re just, well, Palestinians for Christ’s sake.) So this will fade away about as fast as that Koran burning did, don’t you think?
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But before we move on, why don’t you do what I did this evening? Google around the WWW and stir up some photographs. Do it on your desktop if you still own one—the portables, the notebooks, the smart phones the cool kids all flash just don’t give you the big picture. You might find the AP photo captioned “Anar Gul points to the body of her grandchild.” You could see eight pictures the New York Times has assembled into a little slideshow.
Let Google Images round up whatever it can find (36,100,000 results in .19 seconds) under the search terms Afghanistan shootings. You’ll see the bodies. The babies. And the faces of their families. We caption them, “the bereaved.” These images should haunt you. Someday somebody related to some of these sufferers, these victims, these collaterally damaged souls, may try to kill you. And I have to tell you, I think you’ll have it coming.
Suppose a foreign army had been rummaging around the United States for a decade. They’d have built us some concrete-block elementary schools of course and drilled a few water wells. And their president or premier or prime minister would have secretly flown in under elaborate and expensive secrecy and security to shake hands with the soldiers and tell them what a good job they were doing bringing peace and stabilization to our misguided land, and who among us would not be grateful for that?
But then suppose, just occasionally, at intervals, one or several of those soldiers or pilots or special forces teams or secret espionage units burned a bunch of civilians for no good reason any of us could see? Mowed ‘em down. Ran ‘em over with a tank. Busted in the door in the nighttime and gutshot somebody’s old grandfather. Would that begin to take the glow off our gratitude?
OK, let’s be specific. Forget the afore-mentioned Samad Khan and the grieving Anar Gul. Don’t trouble yourself about the names of their children. (Do they even name their children like we do, these Muslims?) Pick any names that come to mind—good, honest, American names. Say Sam Knox is missing his wife and kids and Anne Greene sits there numb and devastated as she looks at the blanket her child is wrapped in. Does that feel any different? How much compensation would it take to make them get over it?
Come on, you cowardly bastard—look at those pictures! I know we don’t read so much these days, but you might have run across the term empathy during some mandatory literature course back in high school or college. So. How does it feel?
My kid has annoyed me a time or two today. Loud, wild, antagonistic here and there. (He’s seven.) I told him to stay off the rotten ice on the pond inlet stream while I was cutting bushes, but there he was, “I’m cold!”, up to his knees in slush and muck and icewater, and we quit early and repaired to the woodstove to dry him out. (He did agree he ought have listened to my wise counsel.) Then again, he told me a dozen times he loved me. And when he just couldn’t possibly get to sleep on his own, he had not the slightest trouble when I let him lie on the couch in my office as I wrote my little letter to you all out there.
And there he sleeps. And you could bomb my house and blow up my car and take away a leg and an arm and I might take your compensation check and relocate and regroup and nurse my grievances in the barroom. But if you or you or you or anybody came in here and killed him, I don’t care if you’re Christian or Jew or Mohammedan or a pagan suckled in some creed outworn, if you hurt him accidentally or on purpose, under orders or because you snapped under the pressure of your third deployment. I’d just want to kill you. And I don’t doubt I might kill you slowly and abuse your damned corpse in some ugly way. You and the guy behind you and the army that comes after that. I’d open you up and I’d nail you to the porch floor.
Oh, I’d be a bad person for doing so. Why, you might even say I’d become a terrorist, I suppose. And killing you wouldn’t bring back my wonderful boy, because whatever God you might pray to or believe in only ever made one of him, and you killed him, and there could be no joy, no purpose, no happiness in my life after that other than getting to you and grinding you up and making you pay. You’d compensate me with your flesh for forty-two pounds and forty-four inches of boy. And if I went crazy enough (and I might, and anybody might), I might need to kill a whole lot more who seemed to me to be pretty much like you. And there we would be.
I’m done. The snow is almost gone, and the pond will open up next week and the turtles come out of the mud, and Karter and I may just hatch some frog eggs in a tank in our kitchen. Because he won’t be a pile of bones and guts soaking into a blanket in the back of a truck, you see. I’ll gather him up now and dump him where I want him to sleep, and he’ll wake in the morning to defy me and argue with me and disobey my firm instructions to do this or that, and to love me as I’ll love him because that is how we evolved, and we do what we must do. As it is in Afghanistan and all over this world the United States of America thinks it owns.
Beware the rogue soldier, the corrupt government and the corporate press and the easy justification.
Come on. Just one more time. Look at their faces!