Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

"Lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers," said President Donald Trump in a recent interview with FOX News. "Boy, you think our country’s so innocent? You think our country’s so innocent?"

The Mass Grave We Call Collateral Damage

Robert C. Koehler

“Lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. Boy, you think our country’s so innocent? You think our country’s so innocent?”

We have carnage and we have irony.

The speaker is the president, of course. It’s Super Bowl Sunday and here he is, generating another eyeball-popping headline as he dares to compare American collateral damage over the years with (as a chorus of shocked critics exclaimed) Vladimir Putin’s remorseless homicides. This happened during a pre-Super Bowl interview with Bill O’Reilly last Sunday, after O’Reilly had challenged Trump’s coziness with Russia and called Putin a killer.

How many children have been buried thus far in the mass grave we call collateral damage? Nawar was the sister of Abdulrahman Awlaki, a 16-year-old boy killed in a 2011 drone strike, two weeks after the children’s father, an alleged al Qaeda leader (and U.S. citizen), was killed, also in a drone strike. “Why kill children?” Nawar’s grandfather asked after the girl’s death.

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska summed up the outrage thus: “There is no moral equivalency between the United States of America, the greatest freedom-loving nation in the history of the world, and the murderous thugs that are in Putin’s defense of his cronyism.”

Too bad we can’t ask 8-year-old Nawar al-Awlaki for her opinion on whose killings are worse, America’s or Russia’s. She apparently bled to death from a neck wound a week before the Trump interview, during the disastrous U.S. raid on Yemen that left a Navy SEAL — and maybe 23 civilians — dead. This was a Trump authorized raid, the first of his presidency, but had been planned many months earlier. A newborn baby was also killed in the raid, according to the British humanitarian organization Reprieve, along with other women and children.

How many children have been buried thus far in the mass grave we call collateral damage? Nawar was the sister of Abdulrahman Awlaki, a 16-year-old boy killed in a 2011 drone strike, two weeks after the children’s father, an alleged al Qaeda leader (and U.S. citizen), was killed, also in a drone strike. “Why kill children?” Nawar’s grandfather asked after the girl’s death.

But the politics of our drone assassinations and our air strikes and our wars justify and soften the murders we commit. Even now, as consensus consigns the Iraq war to the status of “mistake,” we still refuse to take official responsibility for its consequences. The shattered country, the dead, the dislocated, the rise of terrorism — come on, cut us a little slack, OK? We were bringing democracy to Iraq.

The unpredictable Trump spews out a fragment of spur-of-the-moment truth in a Fox News interview — “you think our country’s so innocent?” — and the consensus critics can only writhe in outrage. “One can argue that’s the most anti-American statement ever made by the president of the United States,” retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey exclaimed on MSNBC, defending American exceptionalism as though it’s God.

What a strange game this president is playing. Fervid belief in this exceptionalism is the foundation of Trump’s support. The raw meat he throws to his supporters is fear and hatred and clearly defined enemies: Muslims, Mexicans, refugees and immigrants from everywhere (except Europe). His allegiance to white nationalism and corporatocracy and war, the unacknowledged beneficiaries of this exceptionalism, is serious, and reflected in his cabinet choices.

“Everyone on Trump’s national insecurity team seems to agree on one thing: the United States is in a global war to the death,” Ira Chernus writes at TomDispatch, for instance, quoting the crusading militarism of a number of his advisors and appointees, such as Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland.

“If we do not destroy the scourge of radical Islam, it will ultimately destroy Western civilization . . .  and the values we hold dear,” she has said.

“For her,” Chernus noted, “it’s an old story: civilization against the savages.”

And, indeed, Trump’s ascension to the presidency was cited by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists as the reason they set the Doomsday Clock — Planet Earth’s largest, most ominous metaphor — ahead by thirty seconds in January, to two and a half minutes to midnight. The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board explained:

“This already-threatening world situation was the backdrop for a rise in strident nationalism worldwide in 2016, including in a U.S. presidential campaign during which the eventual victor, Donald Trump, made disturbing comments about the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons and expressed disbelief in the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.”

I note all this in the context of Trump’s Fox News tease — that the United States is no more innocent in its wars and murders than Russia is — and his perplexing, perhaps business-related friendliness with Putin, which seems to address one of the major concerns of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The Board, in its Doomsday Clock statement, noted with alarm: “The United States and Russia—which together possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons—remained at odds in a variety of theaters, from Syria to Ukraine to the borders of NATO.”

Trump is a walking maelstrom of racism, arrogance, greed, incompetence and political incorrectness. He approved the Navy SEAL raid in Yemen with a shrug, as he ate dinner. Children died. The smiling face of Nawar al-Awlaki now haunts the mission.

As Bonnie Kristian wrote recently at Business Insider: “President Trump promised real change in U.S. foreign policy, and in at least one clear regard he has already delivered: Where President Obama spent six years waging covert drone warfare in Yemen and nearly two years quietly supporting brutal Saudi intervention in the Gulf state’s civil war, Trump drew national outrage to this heretofore ignored conflict in nine days flat.”

In his own racism and hypocrisy, is Trump exposing the hypocrisy of the media and the military-industrial complex? Is the new president somehow holding hands with the children whose deaths he will continue to order?


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Robert C. Koehler

Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Koehler has been the recipient of multiple awards for writing and journalism from organizations including the National Newspaper Association, Suburban Newspapers of America, and the Chicago Headline Club.  He’s a regular contributor to such high-profile websites as Common Dreams and the Huffington Post. Eschewing political labels, Koehler considers himself a “peace journalist. He has been an editor at Tribune Media Services and a reporter, columnist and copy desk chief at Lerner Newspapers, a chain of neighborhood and suburban newspapers in the Chicago area. Koehler launched his column in 1999. Born in Detroit and raised in suburban Dearborn, Koehler has lived in Chicago since 1976. He earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Columbia College and has taught writing at both the college and high school levels. Koehler is a widower and single parent. He explores both conditions at great depth in his writing. His book, "Courage Grows Strong at the Wound" (2016). Contact him or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

World Faces 'Loaded Gun' on Hiroshima's 77th Anniversary

“We must ask: What have we learned from the mushroom cloud that swelled above this city?”

Common Dreams staff ·


'Extremely Concerned': Shelling of Europe's Biggest Nuclear Power Plant More Worrying Than Chernobyl

Ukraine said parts of the facility were "seriously damaged" by Russian military strikes.

Common Dreams staff ·


'Backsliding on Democracy': Indiana Governor Signs Extreme Abortion Ban Bill

'The extremist lawmakers who forced this bill through a special session clearly could not care less about what their constituents want or need.'

Common Dreams staff ·


After Kansas Win, Abortion Rights Advocates Call Ballot Measures the 'Next Frontier'

"Ballot initiatives are a phenomenally powerful tool when there's a disconnect between the popularity of an issue and what's being enacted by politicians," said Kelly Hall of the Fairness Project.

Jessica Corbett ·


Sanders Crafts Amendment to Close 'Holes' in Medicare That 'Are Harming Seniors'

"Adding dental, vision, and hearing benefits to Medicare is supported by 84% of the American people," said an aide to the senator, who plans to propose including the expansion in Democrats' reconciliation package.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo