Memorial Day, 2018


The US is still at war: overt war such as Afghanistan, and covert wars all over the world. Let’s have a day of remembrance.

A lot of the writing about Memorial Day is stuff like “there have been ${dead} American war dead since ${date}” and then sometimes something about a sacrifice.

I do feel bad for anyone who died because they were young and foolish – or perhaps mistakenly idealistic – and took the oath to serve as cogs in the great imperial war-machine. We should remember them, so we can say “mothers, don’t let your children grow up to be soldiers.” Anyone who wants to be a soldier ought to be able to read any history book and know that the US has not really ever fought a “good war” except maybe World War I and II. That’s why the US holds them up as noble wars; the rest weren’t. There are three main characteristics of America’s other wars that we should remember, but seldom do – so for Memorial Day, let me remind you of them:

  1. They were entered into on false pretenses.
  2. The dead are erased; we are treated to detailed accounting of every American killed – we know their names and inscribe them on walls – but the enemy, and the enemy’s civilians are unnamed and uncounted.
  3. The US caused massive civilian casualties and suffered virtually none in return.

Who counts and remembers the dead on the other side, especially the noncombatants? We seldom do; there’s tremendous amounts of discussion about “surges” or “heroes” and “service” but the brute fact of the matter is that when the US goes to war, it leaves behind demolished cities, destroyed hospitals (the US military seems to have a penchant for accidentally hitting hospitals) depleted uranium, cluster bombs, and wounded and broken people. It also leaves angry and suspicious people – and why wouldn’t they be? The US lies constantly about why it gets involved in those wars, and downplays their consequences, then talks a mighty game of “we’re here to help” but all they see is the mess and the ruined lives we leave behind. Remember when the American neo-conservatives said that the Iraqis would be liberated and would greet the Americans with flowers and parades?

What we should be left with, as memories go, is that the US destroyed Iraq in an illegal war, oversaw the brutal execution of its leader, destroyed several cities (Falluja and Sadr City) and directly or indirectly killed several hundred thousand noncombatants. We did the same in Afghanistan, and Libya, too. To me, it’s painful to even contemplate some of these things, because there is, literally, absolutely no point in the US maintaining a military force in Afghanistan except so that the US Government can say “we have not been driven out of Afghanistan.” The US military could not stabilize Afghanistan with 100,000 troops; it will not stabilize Afghanistan with a “surge” that puts troop levels up to where the US was losing anyway. Meanwhile, like in Vietnam, the government is implicitly lying about the war being successful – since there really is no viable political agenda any more, accomplishing one’s mission looks like hunkering down in a fire-base and not provoking any trouble. We should be remembering “let’s not get fooled again” not our fallen, but the US population has been well-programmed to follow the shiny thing.

This morning, I read an article somewhere, about a serviceman who was the most recent casualty in the US Army; he died in Kuwait (did you know we still have troops in Kuwait? I didn’t) disarming a cluster munition from Gulf War I. The author of the article was remembering the soldier that died, but forgot that those cluster bombs are weapons that the international community has been trying to get the US to stop using. It hasn’t worked. He didn’t remember that those were US cluster munitions that were dropped on fleeing Iraqi troops (potentially a war crime). So they were, with all good intentions, remembering another casualty of the US military, killed by: the US military on foreign soil, where they have no business being, having been forgotten by Congress and the taxpayers. In a way, that really does exemplify Memorial Day, since it bypasses and ignores the other dead in US wars, while we focus on one of our guys who died cleaning up one of our bombs from a more or less forgotten war.

Comments

  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    … there is, literally, absolutely no point in the US maintaining a military force in Afghanistan except so that the US Government can say “we have not been driven out of Afghanistan.”

    A pro-war advocate might make a case that the US remains to protect the Afghans who supported the US and those likely to face butchery for whatever reasons from the Taliban after they take over once the US withdraws. The former objection could be answered by handing out a hundred thousand refugee visas and transportation tickets (and telling several million xenophobes to STFU); the latter looks a lot more open-ended.

    One might also assert some sort of domino theory; I for one just don’t know how susceptible the neighboring -stans might be to jihadi attacks if the Talibs took over (the rest of) their country.

    Complicated problems rarely have simple solutions.

  2. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#2:
    One might also assert some sort of domino theory; I for one just don’t know how susceptible the neighboring -stans might be to jihadi attacks if the Talibs took over (the rest of) their country.

    Well, since the Taliban are partially supported by the Pakistani secret service, it certainly is complicated – it’s a regional problem. The US insisted that the 9/11 plotters had reached out from Afghanistan and hurt the US, but the truth was that it was Saudis, and the US may have attacked Afghanistan just because it was a more convenient target (and the Afghan government at the time did not immediately hand over Bin Laden). The whole “hand over Bin Laden” thing was theater – the Afghan government had no control over those regions – and the US should have known that and acted accordingly.

    It’s definitely complicated.

  3. Dunc says

    One might also assert some sort of domino theory; I for one just don’t know how susceptible the neighboring -stans might be to jihadi attacks if the Talibs took over (the rest of) their country.

    Well, even at the height of their former power, they never really controlled the north, and as Marcus has observed, they’re not limited to Afghanistan now.

    A big part of the issue here (as elsewhere) is that the national borders drawn by the colonial powers do not actually correspond with the social, cultural or political realities on the ground.

  4. jrkrideau says

    I cannot see any serious chance of a domino effect. The Taliban are more nationalistic movement who are strongly religious than an expansionary religiously-base ideology such as Al Qaeda or Daesh.

    They are unlikely to even think about exporting a “Taliban Ideology” should such a thing exist. My impression is that they want to get the foreigners out of the country and try to take it over. That last is easier said than done.

    I am not up on the current situations in Turkmenistan, or Tajikistan but nothing I can remember seeing makes me think they are likely to be favourable to Taliban ideas.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    Marcus Ranum @ # 3: … the Afghan government at the time did not immediately hand over Bin Laden

    If the Busheviks had really wanted them to do that, a couple of duffel bags full of greenbacks would prob’ly have worked a charm. But the allure of taking and holding a base adjoining Iran and China, and in cruise-missile range of the Kazakh oil fields, “obviously” outweighed such pragmatic considerations.

    jrkrideau @ # 7: … Turkmenistan, or Tajikistan but nothing I can remember seeing makes me think they are likely to be favourable to Taliban ideas.

    No one would’ve thunk that of Afghanistan either, before the US made them into a sacrificial pawn in the cold-war Great Game.

  6. Dunc says

    The Taliban actually offered to hand over Bin Laden for trial in a third country, on two conditions:

    1. The US stop bombing Afghanistan.
    2. They were shown some evidence of his involvement in 9/11.

    Source: Bush rejects Taliban offer to hand Bin Laden over.

    They dropped the second condition a few days later: New offer on Bin Laden.

    Admittedly, it’s not clear that they could actually deliver on either of these offers, but they were definitely made, and the conditions were not unreasonable.

  7. says

    Dunc@#9:
    2. They were shown some evidence of his involvement in 9/11.

    That would have actually been pretty hard to come up with. There were more people involved than Bin Laden and it appears he mostly just gave the attack a green light. So, rather than take him back to have a show trial, they shot him in the head. Easy.

  8. Dunc says

    Yeah, back in 2001, the Taliban hadn’t quite got with the idea that the standard of evidence for summary execution on terrorism charges is “because we say so”…

  9. says

    A grand uncle was killed serving in the German Army in WWII. I’ve started posting his death notice with a comment we need to be sure what actually are the reasons soldiers are dying.

  10. says

    robertbaden@#12:
    A grand uncle was killed serving in the German Army in WWII. I’ve started posting his death notice with a comment we need to be sure what actually are the reasons soldiers are dying.

    I am often completely dumbfounded by the reasons people accept nationalism. There’s a podcast I listen to, [intelligence matters] that is run by a former CIA bigshot, and he often has other CIA and intelligence people on; they all seem to accept the idea that “we must do these things for the good of the world” and somehow I don’t. It’s really an odd feeling to realize that these people are simply incapable of questioning the nationalist agenda they have been filled with. They are so sure of themselves, and I am so sure of doubts, it makes me feel a little like maybe the problem is with me.

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