Monthly Archives: August 2012

Burying the Dead, Burying Them Deep

To pick up from yesterday’s post, Fox News’ response to Afghan civilian casualties wasn’t an anomaly.

CNN’s chairman in 2001, Walter Isaacson, told his reporters in a memo “to balance images of civilian devastation in Afghan cities with reminders that the Taliban harbors murderous terrorists, saying it ‘seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan,'” Howard Kurtz reported in the Washington Post.

“We must talk about how the Taliban are using civilian shields and how the Taliban have harbored the terrorists responsible for killing close to 5,000 innocent people,” Kurtz wrote, quoting the memo, written before an accurate account of 9/11 deaths. The final number came in just under 3,000. But, really, one was enough.

The dead Afghans were “innocent,” too, but that didn’t matter. It also didn’t matter that no reporter at that time had confirmed that the Taliban were “using civilian shields.” The American press just took that on faith from the likes of Donald Rumsfeld. (To this day, I don’t think the human-shield line has been independently proven.)

Isaacson told Kurtz, “I want to make sure we’re not used as a propaganda platform,” even while he trumpeted U.S. government propaganda, as Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting has noted.

Newspapers got in line, too. They almost never ran a photo of a dead Afghan — man, woman or child — from U.S. bombing.

Jim Romenesko gave us this memo from the News Herald in Panama City, Fla.:

DO NOT USE photos on Page 1A showing civilian casualties from the U.S. war on Afghanistan. Our sister paper in Fort Walton Beach has done so and received hundreds and hundreds of threatening e-mails and the like…. DO NOT USE wire stories which lead with civilian casualties from the U.S. war on Afghanistan. They should be mentioned further down in the story. If the story needs rewriting to play down the civilian casualties, DO IT. The only exception is if the U.S. hits an orphanage, school or similar facility and kills scores or hundreds of children.

PLAY DOWN CIVILIAN CASUALTIES, DO IT. Unless we kill 20. Check that: hundreds. I feel so sorry for the people at the News Herald, especially if they’re still working for the spineless propaganda whore who wrote that memo.

Sadly, propaganda still is alive and well in the American press. After Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, formerly Carlos Leon Bledsoe, shot up a military recruiting station in Little Rock in 2009, killing one young man and wounding another, the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Paul Greenberg, wrote in the Jewish World Review:

In the end, the explanation for this long, long war — which grows longer — doesn’t lie in anything we’ve done but in who we are: a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Has there ever been a doctrine more subversive to the despotisms of the world?

What we in the West do, right or wrong or neither, is but an excuse for the war being waged against our civilization by a rapacious enemy.

The message: We can do whatever we want. It’s not our fault some people retaliate. We kill for lofty reasons; they do it because they hate our way of life. They hate our freedom.

Mindless drivel.

That’s not to say Abdulhakim shouldn’t have gotten what he so rightly deserved: a life sentence. That’s not to say that Osama bin Laden shouldn’t have been killed. Amen that he was. That’s not to say the Taliban don’t deserve a special place in hell. They do. (Not in May 2001, though, when our own State Department gave them $40 million.)

It’s to say that we deny, or hide, our sins at our own peril. And at the peril of innocents.

Americans, we freedom-loving people, are drunk on our collective avoidance of our own atrocities.

I leave you today with a reminder:

At around 1:00 am, I heard the noises of warplanes and helicopters and

then numerous explosions within the village. After the planes and

helicopters left the area, I came out of the house and saw that my

cousin’s house was completely destroyed. I ran screaming and shouting

towards the house and searched for survivors. In the second room

I saw blood on the bricks and found Zarghona in the rubble, the four year

old daughter of my cousin. She was dead. All the villagers came to help

search for survivors. In the rubble of the third room we found the nine

year old son of my cousin. The explosion severed his head from his

body. All people were shouting and screaming. We then found the dead

body of his mother next to him, her face was completely destroyed. I

could not continue.

The UN report comes from a relative of 18 civilians killed in a June 6, 2012,  airstrike in Logar Province, Afghanistan.

Man, did I bury this?

Come, Homer

The first book of The Iliad teaches us, among other things, that war erupts sometimes simply because people can’t stop being children. And as children, they just don’t consider the consequences. Nor do they want to. What Achilles says of Agamemnon – “He lacks the sense to see a day behind, a day ahead” – surely applies to him as well.

Homer’s Achilles, “doomed to the shortest life of any man on earth,” is the quintessential child. He may fight better than anyone. But when his feelings are bruised – when he has to give up Briseis, his captive slave-woman, to Agamemnon – he goes to momma.

And Thetis, wondering why she ever bore this child of doom (Roe v. Wade hadn’t been adjudicated back then), goes to Zeus to plead his case; and then Hera, Zeus’ sister and wife, gets jealous and pleads Agamemnon’s case; and all Zeus wants is to be left alone. At one point he threatens to “throttle” Hera if she doesn’t suspend her “eternal suspicions.”

Then the first book ends in what has to be the most brilliant and incomparable example of foreshadowing:

And Olympian Zeus the lord of lightning went to his own bed

where he had always lain when welcome sleep came on him.

There he climbed and there he slept and by his side

lay Hera the Queen, the goddess of the golden throne.

(Book I, 732-35, Robert Fagles translation)

In other words, war’s afoot. So is all that comes with it. All’s been settled by a night of spooning gods.

Homer, an enigma to literary scholars and historians, knew people. The scholars think they know that sometime between 725-625 B.C., his hexameters were composed, derived from an oral tradition that went back many years. (Hey, it’s hard to be a scholar of the most important work of art on Earth.) But while Homer the person, historically, may be hard to legitimize, his words aren’t. And they are timeless.

Cover of "Where Men Win Glory: The Odysse...

Cover via Amazon

John Krakauer borrowed Homer’s words for his great book Where Men Win Glory (Book I, 584), an account of former Arizona Cardinals defensive back Pat Tillman and the Bush administration’s lies about his death from friendly fire in Afghanistan (I thought Christians weren’t supposed to lie), all to push its odious propaganda war, ala Joseph Goebbels. If you’ve read the book and aren’t disgusted – and as angry as a cornered possum – lying to Tillman’s mother about how her son died is unforgiveable – you’re lost.

But propaganda works, even while it rots the soul, the heart, the mind.

Some people have asked me why I don’t go back to newspapers, and I always resist telling them. I envision the same response I got from my CO in the Navy when I refused to pray with him and my shipmates back in the 70s: “You’re a godless communist, aren’t you, Seaman Wigginton. Clean the shitters with your toothbrush, then brush your teeth.”

Truth is, I don’t and won’t go back to the American press, print or otherwise, because newsrooms are the playgrounds of the status quo, wrapped up in propaganda. The powers that be may say they want and encourage input from their subordinates, may say they want great journalism, but they really don’t. As a result, most stories are thinly disguised pieces of PR — a dance of embedded stenography.

So I’d rather cut grass and paint houses for a living – though my brother tells me I’m so-so slow – than step into another American newsroom, places that literally make me ill.

I could blame this on Afghanistan, because I just couldn’t come back and believe in what I was doing anymore. As much as I tried, I couldn’t.  It’s hard to transition from seat-of-the pants life or death to some school-board meeting. The movie The Hurt Locker is absurd in many ways, but it does get some things right: When Jeremy Renner finds himself in that grocery-store isle, looking at all those cereal boxes and not knowing what to do, that’s real. I’ve been there. I know exactly what’s going on in that troubled head.

But Afghanistan isn’t to blame. I started questioning my involvement with the American press shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.

Dan Rather telling Dave Lettermen that he was, essentially, a soldier for President Bush made me ashamed: Real journalists have no country.

But it got worse, culminating on Fox News on the night of Nov. 5, 2001. That was the beginning of the end for me.

On that night, Brit Hume and his Fox News reprobates argued, like Homeric children, that American journalists shouldn’t be driven by the deaths of Afghan civilians.

It was a bad night for journalism.

It was a bad night for the heart.

It was a bad night for truth.

I ask you, reader, to be patient as I provide the transcript of the exchanged between Hume, Mara Liasson, Michael Barone and Mort Kondracke, responding to news reports about Afghan civilian deaths from U.S. bombs. Wordsworth told us about moments in our lives that stick, because they reveal the deepest meaning. He called them “spots of time.” Here’s one of mine:

HUME: If you listened to the Pentagon briefings in the past week, watched ABC News in the past few weeks, or CNN to some extent as well, you’ll know that civilian casualties has emerged, at least in those venues, as a major story line of this war. And the question I have is, civilian casualties are historically, by definition, a part of war, really. Should they be as big news as they’ve been — Mara?

LIASSON: No. Look, war is about killing people. Civilian casualties are unavoidable. Now, I think there’s this notion that we have precision weapons and we can actually choose who we want to kill. I don’t think that’s correct. I do think what’s been missing, in a television war where the opposition, your enemy can take reporters to show them purported civilian casualty areas, has been a message from the U.S. government that says we are trying to minimize them, but the Taliban isn’t, and is putting their tanks in mosques, and themselves among women and children.

HUME: Well, we first heard that from the Pentagon. It was Rumsfeld who came out and said that.

LIASSON: Yes, but I don’t think that’s been repeated over and over again in a way that would counter the Taliban message.

KONDRACKE: Well, the Pentagon puts out these pictures which show us hitting a tank or hitting a truck. And one gets the impression that every shot is a perfect shot, which it clearly cannot be. You know, some percentage of shots are going to miss. And it should be clear, but it’s got to be emphasized repeatedly, that the United States is not trying to kill civilians. I mean, if we were, we would carpet bomb Kandahar, which we are not going to do. But it’s hard to know whether ABC and CNN broadcast this because they are offended that we are causing the civilian casualties, or because they’re trying to show us what Al-Jazeera is likely to be showing in Pakistan and elsewhere. If that’s the case, then American people should know, at least, that there are civilian casualties that are being exploited.

BARONE: Well, Mort, I think people do understand that these things don’t hit target 100 percent of the time. A population that’s got cell phones and laptop computers knows that machines don’t always work, even though they’re pretty miraculous when they do. I think the real problem here is that this is poor news judgment on the part of some of these news organizations. Civilian casualties are not, as Mara says, news. The fact is that they accompany wars. What’s newsworthy here is that the United States taxpayer and the United States military has spent billions of dollars to develop these precision weapons, which most of the time hit a very precisely defined military target. They get much more bang for the buck and much more bang for each (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And we very seldom do it. So I think a lot of these stories are holding us to a standard. And the tone and the structure of the story almost suggests that the United States is committing some kind of a war crime when there is a civilian damage or a collateral damage on the side. I think that’s a very wrong judgment of what the rules of war are about. And I think this is very poor news judgment, because civilian casualties are really not news.

It’s still hard to read this without crying. The words reflect the darkest season of the human soul.

Utterly illogical in so many ways, however, these words typify the American character post 9/11.

The Valley of Allah

Damn Reality

Denial in Afghanistan

NATO’s response to Monday’s rocket attack on Bagram Airbase, injuring two and damaging the C-17 transport aircraft used by U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, underscores why we are losing and will lose the war in Afghanistan.

Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in his bunk sleeping when the rockets hit the base late Monday, according to Reuters.

“He was nowhere near the aircraft. We think it was a lucky shot,” NATO senior spokesman Colonel Thomas Collins said in the Reuters report by Rob Taylor.

A lucky shot?

This is a typical response from our military, which now includes NATO, whenever the so-called insurgents, or the Taliban, embarrass us by showing they know what they’re doing in battle. They’re either lucky or they’re cowards because they just won’t come out and fight us, as if they should be good little redcoats constrained by 18th century military tactics. As if we’re still crossing the Delaware in boats, freezing our limbs off.

The response, of course, is laughable. And counterproductive. And counterintuitive. And behind it lies unspoken anxiety, the kind that shuns reality. It’s called denial, one powerful demon.

The Reuters story, in fact, belies the thoughtless response by pointing out that the base is occasionally rocketed and mortared, as is the airbase in Kandahar. In other words, the Taliban gets lucky time and time again.

No wonder.

The landscape outside Bagram elicits Shakespearean foreboding, the Hindu Kush to the north with reminders of a deadly past, the Somali Plains to the south with echoes of horror, the road to Bagram still littered with the death of empire. The people living there, and into the Panjshir Valley, are some of the poorest on the planet, but they know how to survive, and they have for thousands of years. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the British, the Soviets – they all met demise in the area. Eisenhower – how we need him now – landed there in the 1950s after the U.S. basically built the airbase, only to have it commandeered by the Soviets from 1979-89 – all for naught.

The airbase essentially embodies history that keeps repeating itself, as if the universe has marked it as a spot for episodic human folly and human evil. It’s hard to imagine a worse place – except, perhaps, an Oprah Winfrey audience.

No, Monday’s attack had nothing to do with luck. The reporter should have pushed the Public Information Obstructer on this matter, rather than slop his mindless crap to the public. The attack actually follows a long string of them, including one in 2007 when then-Vice President Dick Cheney was visiting the base. That attack, by a suicide bomber out for Cheney, killed around 20 and injured 20 others.

To his credit, the reporter mentions the 2007 attack, but only in passing, and he doesn’t mention the casualties. He also apparently doesn’t, as he should have, push the PIO on his notion of “luck” and report the man’s response.

The PIO basically gets a free lie, and then the reporter quickly turns his focus to the general and why he came to Bagram, to discuss “green-on-blue” attacks that, so far this year, have killed 40 coalition troops, most of them Americans.

Then the story gets funny. Intended or not, Dempsey comes off like a certifiable idiot, praising his Afghan counterpart for raising the “green-on-blue” matter before he did.

English: General Martin E. Dempsey, USA, 18thC...

Gen.  Martin E. Dempsey, USA, 18thChairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“In the past, it’s been us pushing on them to make sure they do more,” the story quotes him saying. “This time, without prompting, when I met General [Sher Mohammad] Karimi, he started with a conversation about insider attacks – and, importantly, insider attacks not just against us, but insider attacks against the Afghans, too.”

That’s supposed to be a good sign? Afghan soldiers and police are killing coalition troops regularly, and Dempsey’s pleased that Karimi brings up the subject without prodding. What did he expect from Karimi, a refusal to talk about “green-on-blue” attacks, now dubbed “insider attacks” by our Orwellian Pentagon, even though he knew that’s why Dempsey came to Bagram?

Dempsey clearly doesn’t understand Afghans or their hospitality tradition, which amounts to a religious and ethical law, derived from the centuries-old concept of Pashtunwali:

“Honor the guest, O son,” one Afghan proverb goes. “Even though he be an infidel, open the door.”

Another, my favorite, goes something like this: “You can rent an Afghan, but you can’t buy him.”

Pashtunwali also demands bravery, or tureh, which calls on all Afghans to resist, to the death, all invaders.

Tellingly, Dempsey left Afghanistan on a different aircraft.

Leaving A Lovely, Burgeoning Democracy

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney says he has a plan. Basically, he’ll talk to us more about our madness. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of the roughly 10.5 million people considered pure refugees worldwide in 2009, nearly half of them were Afghans and Iraqis, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Afghanistan accounted for 2.9 million, Iraq 1.8 million. Percentage wise, that’s comparable to about 30 million Americans having to leave their homes (roughly three North Carolinas) because of some form of persecution, which doesn’t include natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

We’ve done such a swell job in both countries, in other words, that about 10 percent of their populations just can’t hang around anymore.

In Afghanistan, of course, those numbers don’t include at least another 500,000 men, women and children who are considered Internally Displaced Persons, or people who are so damned poor that they can’t afford to leave. So they get packed into squalid, disease-ridden camps, where life truly is a miserable contest to live day to day, moment to moment.

These numbers are roughly the same as they were when we started dropping bombs Oct. 7, 2001. In other words, all we’ve done is get about 7,000 of our troops killed, kill thousands of innocents, and spend about $1 trillion we don’t have.

Meanwhile, Augusta National has invited two women, including war-monger-criminal Condoleezza Rice, to become members of Bobby Jones‘ place. The Voice of America reassures us that we’ve made progress in Afghanistan, citing military officials who obviously are smoking some good stuff; NATO says the country won’t slide into civil war once troops bug out in 2014, as if the country isn’t involved in civil war now; and America’s top general  landed at Bagram Air Field today to discuss the upsurge in “green-on-blue” attacks, as if he couldn’t have phoned in his pointless advice.

Finally, today Mitt Romney said something about Afghanistan. Actually, he didn’t, but the corporate, obsequious press, like dogs sniffing butts, managed to get a few headlines out of Romney not saying anything.

The Wall Street Journal: “The decade-long and deeply unpopular Afghanistan War re-entered the political limelight Monday when Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan,  vowed to provide troops with whatever necessary to complete their mission there.”

From whom have we heard that before? Bush. Obama.

Read the story closely and it becomes clear Romney’s got a helluva credibility problem. On the one hand, he complains that Obama, who has no credibility on this matter either, hasn’t been upfront about America’s mission and so we don’t know what we’re doing there. On the other hand, he says he’ll give the troops whatever they need to accomplish the aforesaid unknown mission.

Of course then he trots out the great lie: We’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here. This is Bush’s lie and Obama’s lie. Same old lie. Does anyone seriously believe that?

The Los Angeles Times and USA Today basically wrote the same story/non-story. It’s enough to make you want to jump off a bridge, reading this drivel that passes as journalism, this tedious horse-race stenography, this reporter-embedded nonsense.

Missing The Story

Honor guard of the Afghan National Army during...

Honor guard of the Afghan National Army during the 2011 commemoration of Afghan Independence Day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once again, The New York Times buries the real news out of Afghanistan. In a story this morning that meanders pointlessly until the last several paragraphs, when the real news emerges, we learn that U.S. and NATO officials don’t have a clue as to why there has been an increase in so-called “green-on-blue” attacks. That ignorance — call it a known unknown, in RumsfeldSpeak — says a whole lot about our presence in the “graveyard of empires.”

But what does the Times do with it? That information is relegated to the end. And I wonder how many readers got there, because the first half of the story is so bland and poorly written.

Here’s how the story opens:

After months of military leaders’ attempts to tamp down worries over the killings of American and NATOtroops by the Afghan forces serving beside them, Gen. John R. Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, called an urgent meeting of his generals last Wednesday to address the escalating death toll. 

In journalism, this is what’s know as a topic lead. These leads, almost without exception, signal that the reporter doesn’t know his subject, doesn’t know the point of his own story. They are fatally dull. They get this universal response: So?

In this case, the reporters actually have a great, revealing story; but neither they nor their editors knew how to structure it. The last two paragraphs nail the real point:

But despite intensified efforts to thwart attacks, some officials say the military is realizing that it ultimately does not fully understand what is driving the attacks, said one American security official in Washington.

Everyone is a “bit desperate,” the official acknowledged. “It’s not that the problem is new — it’s been a problem, we know — it’s that idea of what is driving it that is right at the top of what people are looking at.”

Here’s the real headline: : Officials ‘desperate,’ befuddled over ‘insider attacks’

Of course that would require a whole new trajectory for the story, one that actually tells the truth. And some morons think the Times is liberal.

This is Smart

Davids S. Cloud of The Los Angeles Times reports this morning that, “The Obama administration plans to double the size of a rural police force in Afghanistan and arm it with heavier weapons to fight insurgents as U.S. troops withdraw, despite Pentagon and Afghan government concern about the village self-defense units becoming predatory criminal gangs or defecting to the Taliban.”

The Obama administration clearly has given up and is throwing whatever crazy idea it can at a problem the U.S. created and the president himself exacerbated.

Bush’s — And Obama’s — War

Crazy Is As Crazy Does

Throwing Away $100 Billion A Year

Stephen M. Walt posted a frightening blog today on Afghanistan. Specifically, he points out, as few others have, that neither of our presidential candidates this year talks much, if at all, about the nightmare taking place 9 1/2 hours ahead of us.