Updated: April 27, 2012 8:06AM
The murder of 17 Afghan civilians earlier this month, allegedly by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, has been cast by the military-industrial-congressional-media complex as the isolated madness of a single soldier. But in fact, the victims are just the latest among 6 million who have perished in America’s wars-of-choice in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan.
That sobering estimate of death comes from John Tirman, executive director of the MIT Center for International Studies.
Elected as the Democratic anti-war candidate in 2008, President Barack Obama was co-opted in less than a year by the permanent war machine that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the country about in his farewell address of 1961, the year Obama was born. Speaking in December 2009 to cadets at West Point, Obama justified his own elective war-making with an address reminiscent of drum-beating by his weekend warrior predecessor, George W. Bush, who sat out Vietnam in the Texas National Guard.
Obama’s election came just two years after Democrats won back both the Senate and House of Representatives, an electoral repudiation of the Bush administration and its neoconservative war-of-choice in Iraq. But where are those same congressional Democrats now? With Obama’s hands as bloody in Afghanistan as were those of Bush in Iraq, these progressives and liberals avert their eyes when it comes to the death visited on Afghanistan by their own White House.
Just as their “conservative” predecessors tried to erase from collective memory the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and the Abu Ghraib prison torture in Iraq, these “liberals” attempt to excise from memory U.S. Marines urinating on dead Muslims and Bales’ rampage. They give themselves political cover and comfort with the illusion that this was just an isolated incident, involving a lone gunman killing children in a distant Afghan village, where America is, after all, only pursuing democracy.
With an exceptionalist view of our own goodness, Americans ignore the genocidal carnage unleashed on the world in the decades since the good war was fought by America’s greatest generation. The reason isn’t complicated. The chicken-hawk elites who start, propagandize and run the wars don’t have to put themselves in harm’s way fighting them. The Bushes and Obamas send 20-somethings to their deaths in the deserts of the Middle East and the tribal hills of Central Asia, in service to the industrial war profiteers, neoconservative think tank experts and editorial page war hawks. Done in the name of “national defense,” offensive military spending becomes Republican corporate welfare and a Democratic jobs program.
Occasionally, after gas prices rise too high or too many flag-covered boxes arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, a majority of Americans will tell pollsters “the wars aren’t worth it.”
But then, in the blink of a cable TV camera eye, the liberally-led masses return to infatuation with Barack’s picks in the March college basketball brackets. The corporate, media and political leaders who helped elect Obama go silent on the real madness because they don’t carry the guns or drive the tanks in Afghanistan, and they don’t know anyone who does.
Ignoring the “collateral damage,” Americans join their leaders in assuaging collective guilt by offering more government benefits to reclaim the health of psychologically devastated and physically maimed veterans.
And the liberal Democrats join their conservative Republican colleagues in the empty mouthing of “support our troops.”
Terry Michael, former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, is director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism.