Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. … And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for ‘the universal brotherhood of man’ — with his mouth. — Mark Twain, The Damned Human Race
As President Barack Obama consoled the nation Wednesday with talk of “rain puddles in heaven,” his agents were murdering four more people in his illegal war in Pakistan. The incongruity was excruciating; you could almost feel your neck snapping from the moral whiplash induced by the contrast between word and deed.
But of course this contrast remained totally obscured. Instead, the media was saturated with bipartisan praise for Obama’s heavenly puddles and “transcendent” rhetoric about “aligning our actions with our values” and measuring our lives by “how well we have loved and what small part we have played in making the lives of others better.” Naturally, in the midst of so much self-congratulatory afflatus, there was not much room for a short story from the Associated Press noting that Wednesday saw yet another attack by American drone missiles on a remote village in Pakistan.
Yet even this report was itself drenched in the mindset of righteous murder that lurked behind the treacly tropes that Obama was delivering to a rapturous crowd. You can see it in the language of the very first paragraph:
Suspected U.S. unmanned aircraft fired four missiles at a house in a militant-infested area of northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing at least four people, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
An “infested” area — the language used for vermin, for insects, for filthy creatures fit only for extermination. These insects are what is being killed in the wilds of Pakistan: not human beings, not sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. Just strange, worthless little creepy-crawlies called “militants.” And if you think this is too extreme an extrapolation, not truly representative of the imperial mindset, recall the words of Admiral William Fallon.
Surely you remember the good Admiral — former head of U.S. Central Command, the military cockpit of the Terror War. For a brief moment back in 2008, this imperial proconsul was the darling of the progressosphere. Why? Because in a fawning article in Esquire, he made a few noises indicating his lack of enthusiasm for an immediate extension of the Terror War into Iran. Yet even this tepid demurral (which he quickly and cravenly denied making) was couched in the exterminationist language that now imbues both the civilian and military wings of the imperial establishment. As I noted at the time:
Fallon himself has long denied the hearsay evidence that he had declared, upon taking over Central Command, that a war on Iran “isn’t going to happen on my watch.” And in fact, the article itself depicts Fallon’s true attitude toward the idea of an attack on Iran right up front, in his own words. After noting Fallon’s concerns about focusing too much on Iran to the exclusion of the other “pots boiling over” in the region, [author Thomas Barnett] presses the point and asks: And if it comes to war? Fallon replies with stark, brutal clarity:
“‘Get serious,’ the admiral says. ‘These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them.'”
The article makes clear that Fallon’s main concerns about a war with Iran are, as noted, about tactics and timing: Sure, when the time comes – no shuffling on that point – we’ll crush these subhumans like the insects they are; but we’ve already got a lot on our plate at the moment, so why not hold off as long as we can? After all, Fallon is conducting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as overseeing an on-going “regime change” operation in Somalia, where the United States has been aiding Ethiopian invaders with bombing raids, death squads, renditions and missile strikes against Somali civilians – such as the one this week that killed three women and three children.
The AP reporter has duly absorbed the trickle-down depravity that seeps from the top of the American establishment. He has also absorbed the by-now reflexive — and absolutely de rigueur — genuflection to authority displayed by every “serious” journalist. The article is based entirely on quotes from anonymous “officials”; there is not a single voice to offer even the slightest deviation from the Terror War narrative.
So what are we told? That four “militants” were killed. Well, surely they had it coming, right, if they were militants? “Militant” means “insurgent” which means “terrorist” which means “big swarthy devil-worshipper coming to shtup your woman and eat your babies.” We know what to do with these insects: you crush them.
But who said they were “militants”? Well, unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials, as indicated at the very beginning of the story. But just three paragraphs later, these same anonymous officials admit that “the identities and nationalities of those killed in Wednesday’s strike were unknown.”
In other words, the “officials” didn’t know who was killed. They didn’t know their names. They didn’t know their affiliations, their activities, their beliefs, their intentions. They didn’t know who they were. They didn’t know where they were from. They didn’t know anything about them. Yet we are told confidently, without contradiction or the slightest doubt, that they were “militants.”
But the story is not finished with its imperial water-carrying yet; not by a long shot. We are then given this bit of savvy insiderdom:
The U.S. refuses to acknowledge the drone strikes publicly, but officials have said privately that they have killed several senior Taliban and al-Qaida leaders.
Yes, unnamed American officials have said “privately” — to every dutiful, genuflecting media outlet in the Western world — that the drone attacks have “killed several senior Taliban and al-Qaida leaders.” That’s what they say — so that is all that the story says. There is not one word about the many studies and reports by international observers, top American officials and independent organizations in Pakistan about the vast number of civilians who have been killed in Obama’s drone war. As Tariq Ali notes in his latest piece about Pakistan’s current death spiral into extremism and chaos:
Can it get worse? Yes. And on every front. Take the Af-Pak war. Few now would dispute that its escalation has further destabilised Pakistan, increasing the flow of recruits to suicide bomber command. The CIA’s New Year message to Pakistan consisted of three drone attacks in North Waziristan, killing 19 people. There were 116 drone strikes in 2010, double the number ordered in the first year of the Obama presidency. Serious Pakistani newspapers, Dawn and the News, claim that 98 per cent of those killed in the strikes over the last five years – the number of deaths is estimated to be between two and three thousand – were civilians, a percentage endorsed by David Kilcullen, a former senior adviser to General Petraeus. The Brookings Institution gives a grim ratio of one militant killed for every ten civilians. The drones are operated by the CIA, which isn’t subject to military rules of engagement, with the result that drones are often used for revenge attacks, notably after the sensational Khost bombing of a CIA post in December 2009.
That’s right: even a “senior adviser” to the sainted General David Petraeus admits that 98 percent of the people being killed by Obama’s drones are civilians. Two to three thousand innocent people murdered — in cold blood, in an instant, without warning, without any defense, not shriving time allowed, sent down into death and darkness at the order of the man evoking those “rain puddles in heaven” as he exhorts us to “be worthy” of those killed in wanton violence.
And still the story is not finished pushing the imperial line. It ends with yet more savvy analysis of the big picture, the grand strategic games that are so much more important than the stolen lives and mangled bodies of unidentified villagers:
Washington has pushed Pakistan to launch an operation in North Waziristan, but the government has so far refused. The Pakistani army says its soldiers are stretched too thin by military operations against Islamist militias in other tribal area.But many analysts believe the army is reluctant to cross militant groups with which it has historical ties, such as the Haqqani network, who could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign troops withdraw.
Terrible, isn’t it? Those treacherous Pakistanis are truculently refusing to launch a massive war on their own people to ease the pressure on America’s interminable war-profiteering operation in neighboring Afghanistan. And this ungrateful refusal of great Caesar’s reasonable request stems not from any concern on the part of Pakistani officials that launching a vicious civil war would tear their fraying country — still recovering from one of the greatest natural disasters in modern history — to pieces, or even from a simple reluctance to slaughter tens of thousands of their fellow citizens. No; according to AP — or rather, according to the anonymous “many analysts” who provide the sole, unsourced, unsupported viewpoint given voice on the matter — the only reason that Pakistan is reluctant to destroy itself on Washington’s orders is a desire to play games in a post-war Afghanistan.
In fact, even as Obama was making “one of the greatest speeches ever given by any sitting president” and “calling all of us to realize a larger purpose,” his vice president, Joe Biden, was touring the imperial frontier, warning the Pakistanis that America’s patience is growing thin over their continuing failure to instigate a civil war, and hinting darkly the Empire “would not wait indefinitely” for this act of national suicide, but may be ‘forced’ to start carving up the country itself.
Biden then moved on Iraq, to discuss “the issue of whether to keep some U.S. forces in Iraq beyond the Dec. 31 deadline” for withdrawing all American forces from Iraq. (Except for the thousands and thousands of soldiers and mercenaries needed to guard the American fortress city in the midst of Baghdad, of course.) The Americans say they will stay only if the Iraqis need them; and Iraq’s top military commander recently said that the American military guests should stay at least until 2020.
Four people murdered. A civil war — with with the genuine potential for national dissolution and even nuclear war behind it — fomented, encouraged, demanded. The extension of one of the greatest war crimes since WWII — the senseless slaugher of a million innocent people and the destruction of an entire society — “discussed” with toadies who owe their power to the aggressor. All this, while Obama asks us to “sharpen our instincts for empathy.”
“Sharpen your instincts for empathy.” That is what the words say. But the actions say something else altogether: “Close your hearts to pity.”
NOTE: While finishing this piece, I ran across Arthur Silber’s latest essay, which deals more deeply, broadly and eloquently with this same theme. I urge you to read it in full right away.
UPDATE (Jan 14): The indefatigable Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com brings word of yet another murder spree in the border areas of Pakistan. Even as the warm glow of Obama’s Tucson speech spread over the political establishment (see Arthur Silber’s scathing assessment of this development), mortar fire from American-occupied Afghanistan killed eight more human beings: five men and three women. As Ditz reports:
Pakistani officials report that a barrage of mortars was fired from across the Afghan border, likely from either NATO troops or Afghan military forces, and destroyed a home in the North Waziristan Agency, killing eight people.
The attack comes just a day after Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Pakistan, during which he warned that his patience was “wearing thin” with the government for not having invaded North Waziristan yet. NATO has yet to confirm that it was their attack, but promised an investigation.
As with the mystery of who launched the attack, the identities of the victims are unclear as well, with Pakistani officials describing them only as five men and three women and reporting no indications of any militant connections, beyond living in a tribal area that the US wants attacked for being a militant hotbed.
But you know what really matters? Not the shredded viscera of eight defenseless human beings, not the further destabilization and radicalization of a nuclear-armed nation suffering from vast natural disasters and mind-boggling levels of corruption in its American-sponsored elite; no, what really matters is that our bipartisan American elites are pledging to be more civil to each other as they rain death, murder and chaos all over the world.