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Collateral Damage - By: Bruce G. Richardson
Wednesday, 11.21.2012, 07:49pm (GMT+1)

Collateral Damage

By: Bruce G. Richardson

The above innocuous term, ‘collateral damage’ was coined by the U.S. military to mitigate public perception and negative discourse surrounding the extraordinary numbers of civilians who have perished in any of our many wars. The euphemistic phrase ‘collateral damage’, beginning with the war in Iraq, was seized upon by major media organizations in sympathy with and deference to government claims that extraordinary measures were being taken to protect non-combatants and that civilian deaths were an unavoidable fact of fighting the ‘war on terror.’

However, in his meticulously-researched book The Death of Others, The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars, (2011) the author, John Tirman has over the course of many years, collected, analyzed and articulated the often ignored and underreported yet massive collection of incontestable evidence that inarguably demonstrates the existence of a profound indifference in America as to the death of many thousands of innocent civilians, a result of our predisposition to war. As history avers, the tactic of deliberately attacking the civilian population has often times been a premeditated strategy of U.S. militarists, employed to terrorize and force submission of the population and thereby induce surrender in many of the U.S. wars. In this highly acclaimed, landmark book, under the chapter-heading of ‘The Epistemology of War’, the author collects, catalogues, analyzes and articulates the obvious avoidance of debate in America on a taboo, very controversial subject despite overwhelming evidence demonstrating American military disregard for civilians in a multitude of theatres of war.

From the publisher:

‘Americans are greatly concerned about the number of our troops killed in battle…100,000 dead in World War I; 300,000 in World War II; 33,000 in the Korean War; 58,000 in Vietnam; 4,500 in Iraq; over 1,000 in Afghanistan…and rightly so. But why are we so indifferent, often oblivious, to the far greater number of casualties suffered by those we fight and those we fight for? This is the compelling, largely unanswered question the author ponders in The Death of Others. Between six and seven million people died in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq alone, the majority of them civilians. And yet Americans devote little attention to these deaths. Other countries, however, do pay attention, and Tirman argues that if we want to understand why there is so much anti-Americanism around the world, the first place to look is how we conduct war. We understandably strive to protect our own troops, but our rules of engagement with the enemy are another matter’.

From atomic weapons and carpet bombing in World War II to napalm, depleted uranium, white phosphorous and daisy cutters in Vietnam, Afghanistan and beyond, we have used our superior weapons technology to intentionally kill large numbers of civilians and terrorize our adversaries into surrender as evident by the ‘Village Destruction Program’ (VDP) now underway in Afghanistan, clearly an extralegal tactic recently discovered as developed and ordered by American General, David Petraeus. This U.S. tactic represents a callous disregard for the lives of non-combatants and a program clearly in violation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions IV and 1923 Hague Draft Rules, both to which the United States is signatory. This secret (VDP) program was designed to glean intelligence from the general population and to punish, threaten and intimidate those who were deemed uncooperative with destruction certain under collective-retributive aerial/drone attack.

Americans, however, are mostly ignorant of these facts, believing that American wars are essentially ‘just, necessary and good and (alone) carrying the heavy burden of the necessary fight against evil’.  Examining the ‘necessary and good’ of American wars, however, Tirman investigates America’s acknowledged racial undertones and considerations in play since the earliest days of the American Republic’s genocidal pogrom against the indigenous Native Americans (Indians) during westward expansion, and more recently, the history of casualties caused by American forces, often times under a myriad of infractions of international law, convention and treaty to which they are signatory.  Tirman’s critical and thorough research examines the present as well as the historical record compiled over the centuries in order to explain why America remains so unpopular and what motivates the U.S. armed forces to operate the way they do.

‘Trenchant and passionate, The Death of Others forces readers to consider our predisposition to violence and subsequent indifference to the death of others as a result of our aggression and the tragic, international consequences of American military action not just for Americans, but especially for those we fight.’

In stark contrast to the Cold War, the United States today is not seeking to contain a threatening empire, but rather to convert a broad movement within Islamic civilization to accept the value structure of Western modernity…an agenda hidden within the official rubric of a ‘war on terrorism.’ Evidence is mounting that America’s war in Afghanistan and Iraq has killed thousands of civilians, and perhaps well over 1,000,000. Yet this carnage is systematically ignored in the U.S., where the media and government portray a war in which there are no civilian deaths, because there are no Afghan or Iraqi civilians, just ‘insurgents.’

American behavior and self-perception reveal the case with which a civilized country can engage in large-scale killing of civilians without public discussion. America’s public reaction has been as remarkable as the disclosure…for the reaction has been no reaction. In America, there is something impersonal, numbingly distant, and unusual about Afghan and Iraqi deaths, even though the dead Afghans and Iraqis too had brothers and sisters, parents and relatives, friends and neighbors, husbands and wives, or lovers, possibly children of their own.

Throughout the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, a hackneyed convention of American journalists includes only American casualties…no Afghan or Iraqi…itself a gross violation of the American mainstream media’s own professed commitment to objectivity. Indeed, the dead are counted. But they are American.  The names are named, but they are American. The names and numbers of the dead are intoned aloud or their photographs hung upon media walls and they are always American. Journalists and publishers loyal to the ‘War Party’ pronounce the names of the American dead every day without ever mentioning the names of the Afghan or Iraqi dead, sending a powerful message that, only American dying matters. There is no more candor in Iraq or Afghanistan than there was in Vietnam. But in the age of live satellite feeds the military have perfected the appearance of candor. What we are fed is the myth of war. For the myth of war, the myth of glory and honor sells newspapers and boosts ratings, and provides political campaign sloganeering; Real war reporting does not. We see the war in Iraq and Afghanistan through the distorted lens of the occupiers and the well-endowed (for-profit) defense industry corporate moguls. The absence of candor can be to some degree a result of embedded reporters, reporters assigned to military units who are dependent upon the military for food, shelter, access, and transportation as well as security, and therefore have a natural inclination to protect those who are protecting them. This is the reality of war coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, MSNBC or CNN. In wartime, as Senator Hiram Johnson reminded us in 1917, in war, ‘truth is the first casualty.’


The Death of Others, The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars by John Tirman, and ‘Broadwell Defended Petraeus Village Destruction Program’, by Gareth Porter, Anti-War.Com, 11/16/12, represents sobering assessments and indictments of a criminal American foreign policy. To assess U.S. criminality in their ‘War on Terror’ in Afghanistan and around the globe, see also: Documents on the Laws of War, Second Edition, by Adam Roberts and Richard Guelff, 1995.

Bruce G. Richardson , 11/18/12  

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Other Articles:
. From the Archives: War Crimes in Afghanistan- By: Bruce G. Richardson (18.11.2012)
. Resetting US Policy Toward Afghanistan is the Key to Peace- By: Prof. M. Siddieq Noorzoy (17.11.2012)
. Self (Super Power) Immunization from Prosecution and or Sanction for the Commission of War Crimes…- By: Bruce G. Richardson (13.11.2012)
. The haunting banquet of a civilized culture?- By: Aziz Amin Ahmadzai (13.11.2012)
. International terrorism / By Laiba Yousafzai (11.11.2012)
. Redrawing the Map…Altering the Ethnographic Character of Afghanistan - By: Bruce G. Richardson (10.11.2012)
. ‌By: Bruce G. Richardson - Historical Briefs: November, 2012 (07.11.2012)
. Durand Line…Colonial-Era Legerdemain and Affront to Afghanistan’s Sovereignty… lingers. - By: Bruce G. Richardson (04.11.2012)
. By: Bruce G. Richardson-America’s Drone War… (03.11.2012)
. ‌By: Prof. Noorzoy -The Need To Change US Policy Toward Afghanistan (24.10.2012)

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