"Sometimes a guy will go down, and I'll let him scream a bit
to destroy the morale of his buddies. Then I'll use a second shot."

~ A 21 year old Marine sniper with 24 confirmed kills,
talking to a reporter during a "breather" in Fallujah
.

Snapshots from the front

4/30/04

As you know, I do not support our troops. I look at their faces as the McNeill News Hour silently ticks off their dead every night, and most of them, aged mostly 19-22, stare out of their bible-belt boot camp graduation photos like nasty, robotic little killers who have just been told to think about what they would do to somebody who had gang raped their sisters. Their eyebrows are shaved off or covered by their hats, and their eyes, full of the haunted, lobotomized romance of soldiery, are someplace between hating you and not giving a shit about you. Maybe it's just me. I think more about what they do to other people than about what other people do to them. They are nobody's kids. They are intruders, lethal units of brute power, and they don't refuse to do it. I'm sorry they're brainwashed and dumb and vicious. I'm sorry for their mothers and for Buney Mae and the kid back in some godforsaken South Carolina trailer park. I'm sorry they're too young to think for themselves and that they are the slaves of ruthless grownups and raging hormones. But apart from that, fuck 'em. They shouldn't have let other people dictate their values or define their world. They shouldn't have been stupid and uneducated. They shouldn't have followed orders to shoot civilians. They shouldn't have come to Iraq or let themselves be used as pirates. We all have courage and decency in us, a bona-fide conscience and the option to choose or ignore it. These young men and women were not denied the exercise of moral freedom.

I realize that it is not cool to not support our troops. They are the kids and grandkids of our neighbors and friends. They've bagged our groceries and delivered our newspapers. But they are in somebody else's neighborhood today, making it into a wasteland of death and desolation, making other people and their friends into smoking corpses. Excuse me. Iraq has not sent a horde of lethal teen agers to annihilate Des Moines.

I also understand that it is politically counterproductive to contribute to the perception that liberals don't support the troops. So let me say right now that I speak not as a liberal but as a castaway space traveler lost on your planet, confused about your customs, and hoping that I will be rescued before you decide to kill me too. Please don't take me for a typical supporter of John Kerry, a fine liberal who, unlike myself, is filled with patriotism. He supports the troops and believes in all your sacred cows, and should therefore be your choice for President. I'm not running for office or promoting any candidates, and I say the troops can go fuck themselves.

Last weekend we (our soldiers, some of whom were busted less than a year ago for drinking beer after their high school prom parties) killed at least a dozen babies in Fallujah. These babies, whose pictures were published in every newspaper in the world (except, of course, our own), these babies, whose stories were documented by a stack of eyewitness accounts, these babies, who were not merely collateral damage in the vicinity of "fighting", were (with their mommies) shot dead by American soldiers (our neighbors' kids) with sniper rifles purchased with our tax dollars and aimed and fired by our children. Ours is a war against everything that moves in a culture which we despise, in a city where everybody is our enemy (the people for whose sake our flaccid politicians claim to be doing this) leaving us no choice but to butcher them in the hundreds, and let God, or whoever came up with this wonderful plan for our lives, parse the insurgents from the Baathist diehards from the terrorists from the ordinary Iraqis who are just sick and tired of us. We have become the bad guys. We've killed thousands of people who haven't done anything to us, and we have commandeered their society and stolen their stuff. We are Blackbeard. If justice ever appears in this slough of avarice we will properly go down in flames.

Are you getting this America? We are the evildoers. We are an aggressor nation. We are a Christian monster.

We've entered again that humiliating space of soiling ourselves. We've joined the Congolese where 14 year old Lendu tribesmen spent this afternoon killing people with Kalashnikov rifles, splitting them open with machetes, and eating their hearts and livers. (Winning hearts, Africa style.) In Fallujah, bullet holes in babies and ambulance drivers, put there with absolute precision by Ricky and Dave from down the street, who will come back to our communities soon to share their nightmares with us. In Palestine someone straps on the body explosives that will shortly make him, and several of his enemies, into sidewalk stains. The killing of political leaders has become fair play. Torture has become fair play. Did I mention babies?

Did I mention torture? (Funny how news reports break in while we're writing these little tomes, to add a sidebar from the real world outside our overheated imagination.) Photos of American soldiers sexually torturing naked Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison (Saddam's infamous hellhole, now under U.S. management) have emerged. Did this sick revelation of the sadistic pathology of war come from those propagandizing bastards over at Al Jazeera? Nope. Our kids took the pictures themselves. Copies were happily distributed, leaking from hand to hand like some smelly fluid, and finally vented on 60 Minutes. The world is practically wallpapered with our grotesque prison porn this week. The Ugly American? Oh yeah.

The "incident" is being billed as an aberration, like the My Lai "incident." An isolated event contained by a consequence-sealed plastic bag, a neocondom. Brigadier General Kimmett, who oversees these operations, gave one of those typically inverted military statements: "This is not the Army." But, as we can plainly see in the photos, it is indeed the Army. People wired for electricity. People beaten to death. Soldiers standing around, grinning. Yep, it's the Army all right.

Well, who's the porn queen? Lynndie England, George Bush's Monica Lewinsky. Save those khakis, honey. The semen stains will come in handy (as it were). Who's that other prankster, the guy in charge of the MI ward? "Chip" Frederick, a Virginia prison guard who made it into the Reserves and plans to plead 'not guilty' because the Army didn't provide him with any guidelines instructing him not to force Iraqi prisoners to strip and pose for pictures having group sex. How was he supposed to know?

Was the Chipster acting on his own? He says Military Intelligence (sic) commended him for a great job. "We've had a very high rate with our style of getting them to break. They usually ended up breaking within hours." Spilling their guts, one supposes, about the location of the WMDs.

*****

Ted Koppell, the embedded reporter from Disney News, ran pictures and names of all the year's dead soldiers last night - 730 of them so far, over 130 from April alone. They had to do it now, since if they waited until, say, mid-summer, the program would have to be extended to an unreasonable length. About a third of them looked like nice enough people, like Lynndie and Chip. The parade of their faces sharpened the sense of loss, that they were gone and wouldn't be showing up for breakfast any more. Another third looked like the kind of unemployable losers you would expect to end up in an Army recruitment office, reminding us that there are still an awful lot of them left alive and we are going to have to find things for them to do. And a third were those official Marine photos where they looked like they had already been killed and then mounted by a bad taxidermist who couldn't get their eyes right.

Koppell took some criticism from his right-wing fans who, out of "respect," would prefer to have kept the dead soldiers hidden under flags in dark aircraft hangers, at least until after the election. About a third of his affiliate stations (owned by a single media mogul, Sinclair Broadcast Group), would not air his show at all. For one giddy afternoon yesterday, some of us thought Koppel had grown his balls back. No such luck, as he hastened in his parting thought to transcend mere politics and assure his viewers that he was not personally against George Bush's creepy little war. The point remaining, if there was one, was that this was a hell of a lot of dead guys. Those of us who consider Iraqis to be human beings were led to the further reflection that their dead are over ten times that number, a list which, if anyone possessed it, would have taken another eight hours to read.

Pro and anti war people will, Koppel correctly pointed out, use this poignant demonstration of the cost of war to reinforce the positions they already hold. Pacifists will say that 730 casualties is already too high a price to pay for a war that should never have been fought in the first place. Those who favor staying the course will say that to pull out now would dishonor and nullify the sacrifice that these brave man and women have already made, and that (I hope I'm getting this right) the only way to give meaning to their deaths is to get busy and add another 730 to the list.

*****

Even the most enlightened voices, anti war and anti Bush, speak of defeating terrorism as if the words were more than just flippancies. There are no terrorists. Our fears alone are real, and possessed of the power to turn average people into terrifying "Hajis hopped up on jee-had." Terrorists are local people with seriously neglected grievances, who will see your F-16 rocket attack and raise you a schoolbus bomb. They are, as Osama said the other day, nothing more than your own shit coming back at you. The enemy who, per Pogo, is us. What do you mean when you say you're going to defeat them? When you take yourself out to the alley to beat yourself up, who is it who gets beat up? Who wins? When you're done, is everything all better? We aren't going to win this thing. We can't even talk about it intelligently.

*****

Support the troops? I don't support the human race.

"Why should I hear about body bags and deaths? Oh, I mean, it's not relevant! Why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"

Barbara Bush
March 18, 2003