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Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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It may finally be 2009, but in some ways, given these last years, it might as well be 800 BCE.
From the ninth to the seventh centuries BCE, the palace walls of the kings who ruledthe Assyrian Empire were decorated with vast stone friezes, filled with enough deadbodies to sate any video-game maker and often depicting –in almost comic strip-style– various bloody royal victories and conquests. At least one of them shows Assyriansoldiers lopping off the heads of defeatedenemies and piling them into pyramids foran early version of what, in theVCE (Vietnam Common Era) of the 1960s,Americans came to know as the "body count."
So I learned recently by wandering through a traveling exhibit of ancient Assyrian art from the British Museum. On the audio tour accompanying the show, one expert pointed out that Assyrian scribes, part of an impressive imperial bureaucracy, carefully counted those heads and recordedthe numbers for the greater glory of the king (as, in earlier centuries, Egyptian scribes had recorded countsof severed hands for victorious pharaohs).
Hand it to art museums. Is there anything stranger than wandering through one and locking eyes with a Vermeer lady, a Van Eyck portrait, or one of Rembrandt's burghers staring out at you across the centuries? What a reminder of the common humanity we share with the distant past. In a darker sense, it's no less a reminder of our kinship across time to spot a little pyramid of heads on a frieze, imagine an Assyrian scribe making his count, and – eerily enough – feel at home. What a measure of just how few miles "the march of civilization" (as my parents' generation once called it) has actually covered.
Prejudiced Toward War
If you need an epitaph for the Bush administration, here's one to test out: They tried. They really tried. But they couldn't help it. They just had to count.
In a sense, George W. Bush did the Assyrians proud. With his secret prisons, his outsourced torture chambers, his officially approved kidnappings, the murders committed by his interrogators, the massacres committed by his troops and mercenaries and the shock-and-awe slaughter he ordered from the air, it's easy enough to imagine what those Assyrian scribes would have counted, had they somehow been teleported into his world. True, his White House didn't have friezes of his victories (one problem being that there were none to glorify); all it had was Saddam Hussein's captured pistol proudly stored in a small study off the Oval Office. Almost 3,000 years later, however, Bush's "scribes," still traveling with the imperial forces, continued to count the bodies as they piled ever higher in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Pakistani
borderlands, and elsewhere.
Many of those body counts were duly made public. This record of American "success" was visible to anyone who visited the Pentagon's website and viewed
its upbeat news articles complete with enumerations of "Taliban fighters" or, in Iraq,
"terrorists," the Air Force's news feed listing the number of bombs dropped on "anti-Afghan forces," or the U.S. Central Command's
stories of killing "Taliban
On the other hand, history, as we know, doesn't repeat itself and – unlike the Assyrians – the Bush administration would have preferred not tocount, or at least not to make its body counts public. One of its small but tellingly unsuccessful struggles, a sign of the depth of its failure on its own terms, was to avoid the release of those counts.
Its aversion to the body count made some sense. After all, since the 1950s,body-counting for the U.S. military has invariably signaled not impending victory, but disaster, and even defeat. In fact, one of the strangest things about the American empire has been this: Between 1945 and George W. Bush's second term,the U.S. economy, American corporations, and the dollar have held remarkablesway over much of the rest of the world. New York City has been the planet's financial capital and Washington its war capital. (Moscow, even at the height of the Cold War, always came in a provincial second.)
In the same period, the U.S. military effectively garrisoned much of the globe from the Horn of Africa to Greenland, from South Korea to Qatar, while its Navy controlled the seven seas, its Air Forcedominated the global skies, its nuclear command stood ready to unleash the powers of planetary death, and its space command watched the heavens. In the wake of the Cold War, its various military commands (including Northcom, set up by the Bush administration in 2002, and Africom, set up in 2007) divided the greater part of the planet into what were essentially military satrapies. And yet, the U.S. military, post-1945, simply could not win the wars that mattered.
Because the neocons of the Bush administration brushed aside this counterintuitive fact, they believed themselves faced in 2000 with an unparalleled opportunity (whose frenetic exploitation would be triggered by the attacks of 9/11, "thePearl Harbor" of the new century). With the highest-tech military on theplanet, funded at levels no other set of nations could cumulatively match, the United States, they were convinced, was uniquely situated to give the phrase "sole superpower" historically unprecedented meaning. Even the Assyrians at their height, the Romans in their Pax Romana centuries, the British in the endless decades when the sun could never set on its empire, would prove pikers by comparison.
In this sense, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the various neocons in the administration were fundamentalist idolaters – and what theyworshipped was the staggering power of the U.S. military. They were believers in a church whose first tenet was the efficacy of force above all else. Though few of them had the slightestmilitary experience, they gave real meaning to the word bellicose. Theywere prejudiced toward war.
With awesome military power at their command, they were also convinced that they could go it alone as the dominating force on the planet. As with true believers everywhere, they had only contempt for those they couldn't convert to their worldview. That contempt made "unilateralism" their strategy of choice, and a global Pax Americana their goal (along with, of course, a Pax Republicana at home).
If All Else Fails, Count the Bodies
It was in this context that they were not about to count the enemy dead. In their wars, as these fervent, inside-the-Beltwayutopians saw it, there would be no need to do so. With the "shock and awe" forces at their command, they would refocus American attention on the real metric of victory, the taking of territory and of enemy capitals. At the same time, they were preparing to disarm the only enemy that truly scared them, the American people, by making none of the mistakes of the Vietnam era, including – as the president later admitted – counting bodies.
Of course, both the Pax Americana and the Pax Republicana would prove will-o'-the-wisps. As it turned out, the Bush administration, blind to the actual world it faced, disastrously miscalculated the nature of American power – especially military power – and what it was capable of doing. And yet,had they taken a clear-eyed look at what American military power had actuallyachieved in action since 1945, they might have been sobered. In the major wars (and even some minor actions) the U.S. military fought in those decades, it had been massively destructive but never victorious, nor even particularlysuccessful. In many ways, in the classic phrase of Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong, it had been a "paper tiger."
Yes, it had "won" largely meaningless victories – in Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada in 1983; against the toothless Panamanian regime of Manuel Noriega in Operation Just Cause in 1989; in Operation Desert Storm, largely an air campaign against Saddam Hussein's helpless military in 1990 (in a war that settled nothing); in NATO's Operation Deliberate Force, an air war against the essentially defenseless Serbian military in 1995 (while meeting disaster in operations in Iran in 1980 and Somalia in 1993). On the other hand, in Korea in the early 1950s and in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from the 1960s into the early 1970s, it had committed its forces all but atomically, and yet had met nothing but stalemate, disaster, and defeat against enemies who, on paper at least, should not have been able to stand up to American power.
It was in the context of defeat and then frustration in Korea that the counting of enemy bodies began. Once Chinese communist armies had entered that war in massive numbers in late 1950 and inflicted a terrible series of defeats on American forces but could not sweep them off the peninsula, that conflict settled into a "meatgrinder" of a stalemate in which the hope of taking significant territory faded; yet some measure of success was needed as public frustration mounted in the United States: thus began the infamous body count of enemy dead.
The body count reappeared quite early in the Vietnam War, again as a shorthand way of measuring success in a conflict in which the taking of territory was almost meaningless, the countryside a hostile place, the enemy hard to distinguish from the general population, and our own in-country allies weak and largely unable to strengthen themselves. Those tallies of dead bodies, announced daily by military spokesmen to increasingly dubious reporters in Saigon, were the public face of American "success" in the Vietnam era. Each body was to be further evidence of what Gen. William Westmoreland called "the light at the end of the tunnel." When those dead bodies and any sense of success began to part ways, however, when, in the terminology of the times, a "credibility gap" opened between the metrics of victory and reality, the body count morphed into a symbol of barbarism as well as of defeat. It helped stoke an antiwar movement.
This was why, in choosing to take on Saddam Hussein's hapless military in 2003 – the administration was looking for a "cakewalk" campaign that would "shock and awe" enemies throughout the Middle East – they officially chose not to release any counts of enemy dead. Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the administration's Afghan operation in 2001 and the invasion of Iraq thereafter, put the party line succinctly, "We don't do body counts."
As the president finally admitted in some frustration to a group of conservative columnists in October 2006, his administration had "made a conscious effort not to be a body-count team." Not intending to repeat the 1960s experience, he and his advisers had planned out an opposites war on the home front – anything done in Vietnam would not be done this time around – and that meant not offering official counts of the dead which might stoke an antiwar movement… until, as in Korea and Vietnam, frustration truly set in.
When the taking of Baghdad in April 2003 proved no more of a capstone on American victory than the taking of Kabul in November 2001, when everything began to go disastrously wrong and the carefully enumerated count of the American dead in Iraq rose precipitously, when "victory" (a word the president still invoked 15 times in a single speech in November 2005) adamantly refused to make an appearance, the moment for the body count had arrived. Despite all the planning, they just couldn't stop themselves. A frustrated president expressed it this way: "We don't get to say that – a thousand of the enemy killed, or whatever the number was. It's happening. You just don't know it."
Soon enough the Pentagon was regularly releasing such figures in reports on its operations and, in December 2006, the president, too, first slipped such a tally into a press briefing. ("Our commanders report that the enemy has also suffered. Offensive operations by Iraqi and coalition forces against terrorists and insurgents and death squad leaders have yielded positive results. In the months of October, November, and the first week of December, we have killed or captured nearly 5,900 of the enemy.")
It wasn't, of course, that no one had been counting. The president, as we know from Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, had long been keeping "'his own personal scorecard for the [global] war [on terror]' in the form of photographs with brief biographies and personality sketches of those judged to be the world's most dangerous terrorists – each ready to be crossed out by the president as his forces took hem down." And the military had been counting bodies as well, but as the possibility of victory disappeared into the charnel houses of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon and the president finally gave in. While this did not stoke an antiwar movement, it represented a tacit admission of policy collapse, a kind of surrender. It was as close as an administrationthat never owned up to error could come to admitting that two more disastrous wars had been added to a string of military failures in the truncated American Century.
That implicit admission, however, took years to arrive, and in the meantime, Iraqis and Afghans – civilians, insurgents, terrorists, police, and military men – were dying in prodigious numbers.
The Global War on Terror as a Ponzi Scheme
As it happened, others were also counting. Among the earliest of them, a Web site, Iraq Body Count, carefully toted up Iraqi civilian deaths as documented in reputable media outlets. Their estimate has, by now, almost reached 100,000 – and, circumscribed by those words "documented" and "civilian," doesn't begin to get at the full scope of Iraqi deaths.
Various groups of scholars and pollsters also took up the task, using sophisticated sampling techniques (including door-to-door interviews under exceedingly dangerous conditions) arrive at reasonable approximations of the Iraqi dead. They have come up with figures ranging from the hundreds of thousands to a million or more in a country with a prewar population of perhaps 26 million. United Nations representatives have similarly attempted, under difficult circumstances, to keep a count of Iraqis fleeing into exile – exile being, after a fashion, a form of living death – and have estimated that more than 2 million Iraqis fled their country, while another 2.7 million, having fled their homes, remained "internally displaced."
Similar attempts have been made for Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch has, for instance, done its best to tally civilian deaths from air strikes in that country (while even TomDispatch has attempted to keep a modest count of wedding parties obliterated by U.S. air attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq). But, of course, the real body count in either country will never be known.
One thing is certain, however: it is an obscenity of the present moment that Iraq, still a charnel
house, still in a state of near total disrepair, still on the edge of a whole host of potential conflicts, should increasingly be
portrayed here as a limited Bush administration "surge" success. Only a country – or a punditry or a military – incapable of facing the depths of destruction
that the Bush administration let loose could reach such a conclusion.
If all roads once led to Rome, all acts of the Bush administration have led to destruction, and remarkably regularly to piles of dead or tortured bodies, counted or not. In fact, it's reasonable to say that every Bush administration foreign policy dream, including its first term fantasy about a pacified "Greater Middle East" and its late second term vision of a facilitated "peace process" between the Israelis and Palestinians, has ended in piles of bodies and in failure. Consider this a count all its own.
Looked at another way, the Bush administration's Global War on Terror and its subsidiary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have, in effect, been a giant Ponzi scheme. At a cost of nearly one trillion taxpayer dollars to date (but sure to be in the multi-trillions when all is said and done), Bush's mad "global war" simply sucked needed money out of our world at levels that made Bernie Madoff seem like a small fry.
Madoff, by his own accounting, squandered perhaps $50 billion of other people's money. The Bush administration took a trillion dollars of ours and handed it out to its crony corporate buddies and to the Pentagon as down payments on disaster – and that's without even figuring into the mix the staggering sums still needed to care for American soldiers maimed, impaired, or nearly destroyed by Bush's wars.
With Bush's "commander-in-chief" presidency only days from its end, the price tag on his "war" continues to soar as dollars grow scarce, new investors refuse to pay in, and the scheme crumbles. Unfortunately, the American people, typical suckers in such a con game, will be left with a mile-high stack of IOUs. In any Ponzi scheme comparison with Madoff, however, one difference (other than size) stands out. Sooner or later, Madoff, like Charles Ponzi himself, will end up behind bars, while George, Dick, & Co. will be writing their memoirs and living off the fat of the land.
Eight years of bodies, dead, broken, mutilated, abused; eight years of ruined lives down countless drains; eight years of massive destruction to places from Baghdad to New Orleans where nothing of significance was ever rebuilt: all this was brought to us by a president, now leaving office without apology, who said the following in his first inaugural address: "I will live and lead by these principles: to advance my convictions with civility… to call for responsibility and try to live it as well."
He lived, however, by quite a different code. Destruction without responsibility, that's Bush's legacy, but who's counting now that the destruction mounts and the bodies begin to pile up here in the "homeland," in our own body-count nation? The laid off, the pensionless, the homeless, the suicides – imagine what that trillion dollars might have meant to them.
It's clear enough in these last days of the Bush administration that its model was Iraq, dismantled and devastated. The world, had he succeeded, might have become George W. Bush's Iraq.
Yes, he came up short, but, given the global economic situation, how much short we don't yet know. Perhaps, in the future, historians will call him a
Caesar – of destruction. Veni, vidi, vastavi… [I came, I saw, I devastated…]
[Note: I rely on many wonderful sources and Web sites in putting together TomDispatch.com, but as 2009 starts, I would feel remiss if I didn't credit three in particular: Antiwar.com, Juan Cole's Informed Comment, and Paul Woodward's The War in Context. Each is invaluable in its own way; each made my task of trying to make some sense of George W. Bush's world so much easier. A deep bow of thanks to all three. Finally, I can't help wondering about one missing Iraqi who remains on my mind: a young Sunni woman living in Baghdad in 2003, who adopted the pseudonym Riverbend. She began her "girlblog from Iraq," Baghdad Burning, with this epigraph: "…I'll meet you 'round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend…" For several years, she provided a vivid citizen's reportage on Bush's disaster that should have put most journalists to shame. As I wrote in 2006, hers was "an unparalleled record of the American war on, and occupation of, Iraq (and Riverbend writes like an angel). [It represents] simply the best contemporary account we are likely to have any time soon of the hell into which we've plunged that country." Her last report from Syria
– she had just arrived as a refugee – was posted on Oct. 22, 2007. Since then, as far as I know, she has not been heard from.]
Posted, by Mark Benjamin, to Salon Magazine, March 13 2008
"It has often been remarked but seldom remembered that war itself is a crime. Yet a war crime is more and other than war ... It is an act beyond the pale of acceptable actions even in war. Deliberate killing or torturing of prisoners of war is a war crime. Deliberate destruction without military purpose of civilian communities is a war crime." -- Former infantry platoon leader William Crandell opening the "Winter Soldier Investigation" in Detroit, Jan. 31, 1971
More than 100 veterans gathered in a Detroit hotel in early 1971 to talk about things they had seen and done in the Vietnam War. Called the Winter Soldier Investigation, the group spoke about a horrifying array of allegations: convoys driving over civilians; burning of villages; bodies thrown out of helicopters; torture, mutilation and infamous "free-fire zones," where anyone not wearing a U.S. uniform could be killed.
Thirty-seven years later, more than 100 veterans will gather over the next several days for "Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan." The event is designed to be another purging of the horrors of war, and another effort to put American military policy on trial in the public eye. The gathering this time, at the National Labor College outside Washington, D.C., is sponsored by the group Iraq Veterans Against the War. "Soldiers will certainly be testifying about their experience and observation of actions which are absolutely in violation of international law," says IVAW spokesperson Perry O"Brien, who served as an Army medic in Afghanistan in 2003.
In interviews with Salon, several veterans from the group described incidents in Iraq that they believed constituted wrongdoing by the U.S. military, including disproportionate use of air power resulting in civilian deaths. The soldiers were unable to provide Salon with any conclusive evidence of war crimes. But as the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq approaches, the allegations they and other Winter Soldier members will publicize in Washington this week add to a long-term set of questions about the damage and destruction wrought by U.S. military operations over years of war.
The first Winter Soldier Investigation, sponsored in 1971 by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, ultimately helped fuel the antiwar movement in the United States. And the kinds of atrocities in Vietnam they alleged have been well documented since then. The first event also resulted in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asking John Kerry, the young veteran who would go on to be a U.S. senator, to testify three months later, when he famously asked, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
In fact, the first Winter Soldier investigation was largely ignored by the media, initially. "I don't think we had nearly the effect we had hoped for," the Vietnam veteran Crandell told me in a telephone interview. "The reporters on the scene were very impressed," he said. "But the networks sat on it." Perhaps that was because it was held in the Motor City (a bad decision then, organizers admit). Perhaps it was because the country wasn't yet ready to hear how a seemingly invisible enemy in Southeast Asia had driven otherwise honorable American soldiers to commit unthinkable atrocities, including acts that were officially or unofficially condoned by military policy.
It is unclear whether Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan will gain wider attention from the media and the public, but its organizers say that today's technology could make a difference. "The modern soldier carries a digital camera almost as a sidearm," explained O'Brien. The group says that potentially explosive photos and video from Iraq displayed at this Winter Soldier investigation will help "expose the human consequences of failed policy" in the war zones. The searing images from Abu Ghraib, of course, came to light because soldiers working inside the prison made use of their personal digital cameras.
The veterans of Winter Soldier face the challenge of condemning U.S. military policy without the event being interpreted as -- or twisted into -- an unpatriotic attack on their fellow troops. "That is the tightrope they have to walk," explained Rick Weidman, a Vietnam veteran and director of government relations at Vietnam Veterans of America. "Don't blame the troops who are thrust into the middle of a goddamn civil war where you can't tell who the enemy is." He added: "You don't blame the troops for being put in an impossible situation. Some of this stuff is part of war. You could not retake Fallujah without what many people consider atrocities."
Vietnam veterans faced a similarly difficult balancing act 37 years ago. When Crandell opened the Winter Soldier Investigation in 1971, he tried to make it clear that the event was not intended to put American troops on trial. "There will be no phony indictments; there will be no verdict against Uncle Sam," Crandell said back then. The testimony, he argued, was supposed to expose "acts which are the inexorable result of national policy."
But it is unclear if Americans who are politically conservative will pick up on that distinction, particularly at a time when just about any critique of the war is quickly spun by both right and left. "I think they have to be as clear as they can," Crandell continued. "I still have conversations with Vietnam vets 40 years later who feel defamed by what we did. I feel sorry about that." But Crandell said this new Winter Soldier event should still go forward, "to whatever extent it helps with resolving the war or the maverick policies that need to be curtailed."
Some Iraq veterans agree that the pro-war crowd will work to create the impression that the event is an unpatriotic smear against the troops. "It troubles me a little bit," Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America said about the coming event. "I hope that they are thinking this out, because there are plenty of people who are going to want to have their ass."
Rush Limbaugh is likely to be one who goes after them. The widely heard right-wing radio host last fall claimed that some veterans who oppose the war are, in fact, "phony soldiers."
Limbaugh has said he was referring to the case of Jesse MacBeth. Several years ago MacBeth, then an IVAW member, alleged he committed war crimes in Iraq as a soldier in the Army. In May 2006, the Army reported that MacBeth, in fact, had never served in Iraq at all.
IVAW counters that the MacBeth incident occurred before the organization put in place a requirement that members provide proof of service. For Winter Soldier, the group has also assembled a verification team of combat veterans to interview soldiers testifying, examine discharge paperwork and review corroborating evidence including additional witnesses, video and photos.
But even with all that evidence, people sitting in the audience at National Labor College may have trouble evaluating some of the testimony they hear. Wartime accounts are notoriously difficult to untangle and verify, even when coming from multiple primary sources who appear to be telling the truth to the best of their knowledge. Soldiers are limited to a grunt's-eye-view of the world. They will tell it like they saw it, but admit that they don't have all the answers about what may have happened in a given incident.
One example that will likely be discussed at the Winter Soldier meeting in Washington involves a powerful air attack carried out on apartment buildings in Baghdad in 2003. Soldiers who witnessed the attack told Salon that they believe innocent civilians were killed. But they witnessed it at night, from a distance, and never saw direct evidence of dead civilians.
"I'm pretty sure we saw some pretty fucked-up shit," said Clifton Hicks, who was a private in the 1st Armored Division in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 and will be testifying at the Winter Soldier event. Hicks and two other soldiers from the division's 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment described a Nov. 13, 2003, nighttime airstrike on five apartment buildings a few hundred yards outside the perimeter of Camp Slayer, their sprawling base located just south of the Baghdad airport.
In separate interviews with Salon, all three soldiers described the buildings as shoddily constructed structures, maybe four stories high. The Iraqis living there would stand and stare when the soldiers rode by on vehicle patrols. Laundry hung out to dry on the balconies. But the structures provided one of the few clear lines of sight into the soldiers' compound, and occasionally somebody would take a random pot shot at the base from one of the apartment buildings. After one such attack involving a lieutenant colonel on the base in fall 2003, the military launched an airstrike using an AC-130, a four-propeller gunship armed with powerful cannons.
The strike appears to have occurred as part of Operation Iron Hammer, an early effort to snuff out a growing insurgency through massive use of air power in Baghdad. The officer allegedly involved in calling in the airstrike, Lt. Col. Chuck Williams, was quoted on Nov. 13, 2003, by CBS News discussing Operation Iron Hammer. "If you are trying to send a message by firing and harboring yourself inside of an area like this, we want to send the message right back that you can be reached," he told CBS. "We will find you and surgically remove you." A Pentagon news article dated the next day noted only that an AC-130 "destroyed a building that had sheltered terrorists firing on U.S. forces for several days."
Steven Casey, who back then was a scout in the same Army unit, provided Salon with videotape of the strike taken from the roof of a building at Camp Slayer, date-stamped Nov. 13, 2003. While the airstrike can clearly be heard on the tape, darkness and distance render it mostly useless for verification purposes. (Word had quickly spread through Camp Slayer that the strike was coming and soldiers had gathered on a rooftop to watch.)
The Army would not comment on the airstrike. Williams, the lieutenant colonel allegedly involved in calling in the airstrike, refused a request for an interview.
But it is not just the darkness on the videotape that makes the story hard to gauge. News clips from that time period claim that the military was evacuating civilians prior to Operation Iron Hammer airstrikes, in an effort to destroy empty buildings that had been used to launch attacks on U.S. forces. Brig. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who commanded the 1st Armored Division at the time, claimed in a Nov. 20, 2003, press conference that "we have had no civilian casualties resulting from Iron Hammer."
Salon also contacted a human rights group, which said they had staff in Iraq at that time, but they could verify no details about the airstrike or its outcome. And the three soldiers interviewed admit that while they saw the heavily damaged buildings after the strike, nobody got out of their vehicles to see if there were, in fact, dead civilians in the rubble.
Regardless of what happened that night, dozens if not hundreds of interviews with returning veterans have shown that throughout the war, the military regularly responded to real or perceived threats with overwhelming firepower. Some of those incidents clearly resulted in unwarranted civilian deaths. Other attacks may have inadvertently resulted in an unknown but potentially significant number of civilian casualties. (It should also be said that many officers and soldiers have taken great pains to protect civilians throughout the war.)
The U.S. military's overall approach with using overwhelming force supposedly changed under the counterinsurgency strategy implemented by Gen. David Petraeus starting in early 2007. Civilians were now seen as the "center of gravity" in the war effort, and it was deemed that great lengths should be taken to protect them and win over their support. High-level military officials say Petraeus has been successful in changing the way the military conducts itself in this regard; the Air Force has implemented rigorous protocols to reduce collateral damage from airstrikes.
Still, the vast majority of the American public does not have a clear picture of what has gone on for years in Iraq and Afghanistan due to U.S. military operations. In the coming days, the new generation of veterans gathering for the Winter Soldier event hope to make it more clear.
What the Western allies face is a long, sustained and proactive defence of their societies and way of life. To that end, they must keep risks at a distance, while at the same time protecting their homelands. International terrorism today aims to disrupt and destroy our societies, our economies and our way of life. ...
These different sources of [Islamist] propaganda and/or violence vary in their intellectual underpinnings, sectarian and political aims, ... . But what they have in common is an assault on the values of the West – on its democratic processes and its freedom of religion...
Notwithstanding the common perception in the West, the origin of Islamist terrorism is not victimhood, nor an inferiority complex, but a well-financed superiority complex grounded in a violent political ideology.
If the irrational and fanatical [Islamist organizations] get out of hand, there is a risk that, ... the rise of fundamentalisms and despotisms will usher in a new, illiberal age, in which the liberties that Western societies enjoy are seriously jeopardized.
The threats that the West and its partners face today are a combination of violent terrorism against civilians and institutions, wars fought by proxy by states that sponsor terrorism, the behaviour of rogue states, the actions of organised international crime, and the coordination of hostile action through abuse of non-military means.
Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership".
Group report by former chiefs of staff General John Shalikashvili, (US), General Klaus Naumann (Germany), Field Marshal Lord Inge (UK), Admiral Jacques Lanxade (France) and Henk van den Breemen (The Netherlands), published by the Netherlands based Noaber Foundation, December 2007, (emphasis added)
The controversial NATO sponsored report entitled “Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership". calls for a first strike use of nuclear weapons. The preemptive use of nukes would also be used to undermine an "increasingly brutal World" as well as a means to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction:
"They [the authors of the report] consider that nuclear war might soon become possible in an increasingly brutal world. They propose the first use of nuclear weapons must remain "in the quiver of escalation as the ultimate instrument to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction". (Paul Dibb, Sidney Morning Herald, 11 February 2008)
The group, insists that the option of a nuclear first strike is indispensable, "since there is simply no realistic prospect of a nuclear-free world." (Report, p. 97):
Nuclear weapons are the ultimate instrument of an asymmetric response – and at the same time the ultimate tool of escalation. Yet they are also more than an instrument, since they transform the nature of any conflict and widen its scope from the regional to the global. ...
...Nuclear weapons remain indispensable, and nuclear escalation continues to remain an element of any modern strategy.
Nuclear escalation is the ultimate step in responding asymmetrically, and at the same time the most powerful way of inducing uncertainty in an opponent’s mind. (Ibid, emphasis added)
The Group's Report identifies six key "challenges", which may often result as potential threats to global security:
Demography. Population growth and change across the globe will swiftly change the world we knew. The challenge this poses for welfare, good governance and energy security (among other things) is vast.
Climate change. This greatly threatens physical certainty, and is leading to a whole new type of politics – one predicated, perhaps more than ever, on our collective future.
Energy security continues to absorb us. The supply and demand of individual nations and the weakening of the international market infrastructure for energy distribution make the situation more precarious than ever.
There is also the more philosophic problem of the rise of the irrational – the discounting of the rational. Though seemingly abstract, this problem is demonstrated in deeply practical ways. [These include] the decline of respect for logical argument and evidence, a drift away from science in a civilization that is deeply technological. The ultimate example is the rise of religious fundamentalism, which, as political fanaticism, presents itself as the only source of certainty.
The weakening of the nation state. This coincides with the weakening of world institutions, including the United Nations and regional organizations such as the European Union, NATO and others.
The dark side of globalization ... These include internationalized terrorism, organized crime and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, but also asymmetric threats from proxy actors or the abuse of financial and energy leverage. (Ibid)
Deterrence and Pre-emption
According to the Report, a new concept of deterrence is required directed against both State and non-state actors, This "new deterrence" is based on pre-emption as well as on the ability to "restore deterrence through [military] escalation". In this context, the Report contemplates, what it describes as:
“escalation dominance, the use of a full bag of both carrots and sticks—and indeed all instruments of soft and hard power, ranging from the diplomatic protest to nuclear weapons.” (Report, op city, emphasis added).
In much the same terms as the Bush administration, the NATO sponsored report states, without evidence, that Iran constitutes "a major strategic threat":
"An Iranian nuclear weapons capability would pose a major strategic threat – not only to Israel, which it has threatened to destroy, but also to the region as a whole, to Europe and to the United States. Secondly, it could be the beginning of a new multi-polar nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world." (Report, op. cit., p. 45)
Careful timing? The controversial NATO sponsored report calling for a preemptive nuclear attack on Iran was released shortly after the publication of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report entitled Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities. The latter denies Iran's nuclear capabilities. The NIE report, based on the assessments of sixteen US intelligence agencies, refutes the Bush administration's main justification for waging a preemptive nuclear war on Iran. The NIE report confirms that Iran “halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003":
"These findings constitute a damning indictment of the Bush administration’s relentless fear-mongering in relation to an alleged nuclear threat from Iran. They demonstrate that just as in the buildup to the war against Iraq five years ago, the White House has been engaged in a systematic campaign to drag the American people into another war based on lies." (See Bill van Auken, 24 January 2008)
It should be noted that this recently declassified intelligence (pertaining to Iran contained in the 2007 NIE report) was known by the White House, the Pentagon and most probably NATO since September 2003. Ironically, US military documents confirm that the Bush Administration initiated its war preparations against Iran in July 2003, two months prior to the confirmation by US intelligence that Iran did not constitute a nuclear threat.
The July 2003 war scenarios were launched under TIRANNT: Theater Iran Near Term.
The justification for TIRANNT as well as for subsequent US war plans directed against Iran ( which as of 2004 included the active participation of NATO and Israel), has always been that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and plans to use them against us.
Following the publication of the 2007 NIE in early December, there has been an avalanche of media propaganda directed against Tehran, essentially with a view to invalidating the statements of the NIE concerning Tehran's nuclear program.
Moreover, a third sanctions resolution by the UN Security Council, was initiated with a view to forcing Iran to halt uranium enrichment. The proposed UNSC resolution, which is opposed by China and Russia includes a travel ban on Iranian officials involved in the country's nuclear programs, and inspections of shipments to and from Iran "if there are suspicions of prohibited goods" (AFP, 11 February 2008). Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy together with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, have been calling for a unified EU sanctions regime against Iran.
Contradicting the US national intelligence estimate (NIE), Bush's most recent speeches continue to portray Iran as a nuclear threat:
"I feel pretty good about making sure that we keep the pressure on Iran to pressure them so they understand they're isolated, to pressure them to affect their economy, to pressure them to the point that we hope somebody rational shows up and says, okay, it's not worth it anymore," Bush said.
Threat to "The Western Way of Life"
The Western media is involved in a diabolical disinformation campaign, the purpose of which is to persuade public opinion that the only way to "create a nuclear free World" is to use nuclear weapons on a preemptive basis, against countries which "threaten our Western Way of Life."
The Western world is threatened. The NATO sponsored report, according to Paul Dibb: "paints an alarming picture of the threats confronting the West, arguing that its values and way of life are under threat and that we are struggling to summon the will to defend them."(Dibb, op cit)
A preemptive nuclear attack -- geographically confined to Middle East (minus Israel?)-- is the proposed end-game. The attack would use US tactical nuclear weapons, which, according to "scientific opinion" (on contract to the Pentagon) are "harmless to the surrounding civilian population because the explosion is underground". (See Michel Chossudovsky The Dangers of a Middle East Nuclear Holocaust, Global Research, 17 February 2006)
B61-11 bunker buster bombs with nuclear warheads Made in America, with an explosive capacity between one third to six times a Hiroshima bomb, are presented as bona fide humanitarian bombs, which minimize the dangers of "collateral damage".
These in-house "scientific" Pentagon assessments regarding the mini-nukes are refuted by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS):
Diabolical Military Agenda: Nuclear War to "Halt the Spread of Nuclear Weapons"
Professor Paul Dibb is a former Australian Deputy Secretary of Defense, who has, over the years, also occupied key positions in Australia's defense and intelligence establishment. Dibb carefully overlooks the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons in a conventional war theater. According to Dibb, NATO's preemptive nuclear doctrine, which replicates that of the Pentagon, constitutes a significant and positive initiative to "halt the imminent spread of nuclear weapons". .
"They [the group] believe that the West must be ready to resort to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to try to halt the imminent spread of nuclear weapons."
Never mind the nuclear holocaust and resulting radioactive contamination, which would spread Worldwide and threaten, in a real sense, the "way of life".
There is no "way of life" in a World contaminated with deadly radioactive material. But this is something that is rarely discussed in the corridors of NATO or in strategic studies programs in Western universities.
What is frightening in Professor Dibb's article is that he is not expressing an opinion, nor is he analyzing the use of nuclear weapons from an academic research point of view.
In his article, there is neither research on nuclear weapons nor is there an understanding of the complex geopolitics of the Middle East war. Dibb is essentially repeating verbatim the statements contained in NATO/Pentagon military documents. His article is a "copy and paste" summary of Western nuclear doctrine, which in practice calls for the launching of a nuclear holocaust.
The stated objective of a Middle East nuclear holocaust is "to prevent the occurrence of a nuclear war". An insidious logic which certainly out- dwarfs the darkest period of the Spanish inquisition...
Neither NATO nor the Pentagon use the term nuclear holocaust. Moreover, they presume that the "collateral damage" of a nuclear war will in any event be confined geographically to the Middle East and that Westerners will be spared...
But since their in-house scientists have confirmed that tactical nuclear weapons are "safe for civilians", the labels on the bombs have been switched much in the same way as the label on a packet of cigarettes: "This nuclear bomb is safe for civilians"
Nukes: Just Another Tool in the Military Toolbox
The new definition of a nuclear warhead has blurred the distinction between conventional and nuclear weapons:
'It's a package (of nuclear and conventional weapons). The implication of this obviously is that nuclear weapons are being brought down from a special category of being a last resort, or sort of the ultimate weapon, to being just another tool in the toolbox," (Japan Economic News Wire, , 30 December 2005)
This re-categorization has been carried out. The " green light" for the use of tactical nuclear weapons in conventional war theater has been granted by the US Congress. " Let's use them, they are part of the military toolbox."
We are at a dangerous crossroads: military planners believe their own propaganda. The military manuals state that this new generation of nuclear weapons are "safe" for use in the battlefield. They are no longer a weapon of last resort. There are no impediments or political obstacles to their use. In this context, Senator Edward Kennedy has accused the Bush Administration for having developed "a generation of more useable nuclear weapons."
Russia and China
Who else constitutes a threat to " the Western way of life"?
Nukes are also slated to be used against Russia and China, former enemies of the Cold War era.
This post Cold War logic was first revealed, when the Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) was leaked to The Los Angeles Times in January 2002. The NPR includes China and Russia alongside the rogue states as potential targets for a first strike nuclear attack. According to William Arkin, the NPR "offers a chilling glimpse into the world of nuclear-war planners: With a Strangelovian genius, they cover every conceivable circumstance in which the president might wish to use nuclear weapons-planning in great detail." (Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2002)
"Decapitate Their Leadership and Destroy their Countries as Functioning Societies"
The use of nukes against "rogue states", including Iran and North Korea (which lost more than a quarter of its population in US bombings during the Korean war) is justified because these countries could act in an "irrational" way. It therefore makes sense to "take em out" before they do something irrational. The objective is: "decapitate their leadership and destroy their countries as functioning societies":
"One line of reasoning is that so-called rogue states, such as Iran and North Korea, are sufficiently irrational to risk a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the US or its allies, such as Israel and South Korea.
The supposition here is that deterrence - that is, threatening the other side with obliteration - no longer works. But even the nasty regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang must know that the US reserves the right to use its overwhelming nuclear force to decapitate the leadership and destroy their countries as modern functioning societies. (Dibb, op cit., emphasis added)
Use nuclear weapons to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction? .
But of course, lest we forget, America's nuclear arsenal as well as that of France, Britain and Israel are not categorized as "weapons of mass destruction", in comparison with Iran's deadly nonexistent nuclear weapons program.
Bin Laden's Nuclear Program
Now comes the authoritative part of the Pentagon-NATO preemptive doctrine: We need to use nukes against bin Laden, because Islamic "fanatics" can actually fabricate nuclear weapons or buy them from the Russians on the black market.
The Report calls for a first strike nuclear attack directed against Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda, which has the ability, according to expert opinion, of actually producing small nuclear bombs, which could be used in a Second 9/11 attack on America: .
The second line of reasoning [contained in the NATO sponsored report] is more difficult to refute. It argues that extreme fanatical terrorists, such as al-Qaeda, cannot be deterred because (a) they do not represent a country and therefore cannot be targeted and (b) they welcome death by suicide. So, we have to shift the concept of nuclear deterrence to the country or regime supplying the terrorists with fissile material.
Nuclear weapons require materials that can be made only with difficulty. Once these materials are obtained by terrorists, however, the barriers to fabricating a weapon are much lower. In that sense the nuclear threat today is greater than it was in the Cold War and it seems the terrorists cannot be deterred.( Dibb, op cit, emphasis added)
The alleged nuclear threat by Al Qaeda is taken very seriously. The Bush administration has responded with overall defense spending (budget plus war theater) in excess of one trillion dollars. This massive amount of public money has been allocated to financing the "Global War on Terrorism" (GWOT).
Confirmed by Pentagon documents, this military hardware including aircraft carriers, fighter jets, cruise missiles and nuclear bunker buster bombs, is slated to be used as part of the "Global War on Terrorism". In military jargon, the US is involved in asymmetric warfare against non-State enemies. ( The concept of Asymmetric Warfare was defined in The National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (2005)
"The American Hiroshima"
The US media has the distinct ability to turn realities upside down.
The lies are upheld as indelible truths. The "Islamic terrorists" have abandoned their AK 47 kalashnikov rifles and stinger missiles; they are not only developing deadly chemical and biological weapons, they also have nuclear capabilities.
The fact, amply documented, that Al Qaeda is supported by the CIA and Britain's MI6 is beside the point.
The nuclear threat is not directed against the Middle East but against the USA, the perpetrators and architects of nuclear war are bin Laden's Al Qaeda (a CIA "intelligence asset"), which is planning to launch a nuclear attack on an American city:
"U.S. government officials are contemplating what they consider to be an inevitable and much bigger assault on America, one likely to kill millions, destroy the economy and fundamentally alter the course of history,...
According to captured al-Qaida leaders and documents, the plan is called the "American Hiroshima" and involves the multiple detonation of nuclear weapons already smuggled into the U.S. over the Mexican border with the help of the MS-13 street gang and other organized crime groups. (World Net Daily, 11 July 2005, emphasis added)
The New York Times confirms that an Al Qaeda sponsored "American Hiroshima" "could happen" .
"Experts believe that such an attack, somewhere, is likely." (NYT, 11 August 2004)
According to the Aspen Strategy Group which is integrated, among others, by Madeleine Albright, Richard Armitage, Philip D. Zelikow, Robert B. Zoellick, "the danger of nuclear terrorism is much greater than the public believes, and our government hasn't done nearly enough to reduce it.":
If a 10-kiloton nuclear weapon, a midget even smaller than the one that destroyed Hiroshima, exploded in Times Square, the fireball would reach tens of millions of degrees Fahrenheit. It would vaporize or destroy the theater district, Madison Square Garden, the Empire State Building, Grand Central Terminal and Carnegie Hall (along with me and my building). The blast would partly destroy a much larger area, including the United Nations. On a weekday some 500,000 people would be killed. (NYT, 11 August 2004)
"Threaten them with a devastating [nuclear] attack"
According to professor Dibb, nuclear deterrence should also apply in relation to Al Qaeda, by holding responsible the governments which help the terrorists to develop their nuclear weapons' capabilities:
"Ashton Carter, a former US assistant secretary for defense, has recently argued, the realistic response is to hold responsible, as appropriate, the government from which the terrorists obtained the weapon or fissile materials and threaten them with a devastating [nuclear] strike. In other words, deterrence would work again." (Dibb, op cit)
The real nuclear threat is coming from bin Laden. The objective is to "to do away with our way of life":
None of this is to underestimate the impact of a nuclear weapon being detonated in an American city. It could be catastrophic, but it is highly unlikely to threaten the very survival of the US. To believe otherwise risks surrendering to the fear and intimidation that is precisely the terrorists' stock in trade.
General Richard Myers, another former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, has claimed that if [Islamic] terrorists were able to kill 10,000 Americans in a nuclear attack, they would "do away with our way of life". But Hiroshima and Nagasaki incurred well over 100,000 instant deaths and that did not mean the end of the Japanese way of life. (Ibid, emphasis added)
In an utterly twisted and convoluted argument, professor Dibb transforms the US-NATO threat to wage a nuclear war on Iran into an Al Qaeda operation to attack an American city with nuclear weapons.
Dibb presents the US-NATO menace to trigger what would result in a Middle East nuclear holocaust as a humanitarian operation to save American lives. By implication, the Al Qaeda sponsored "American Hiroshima" would be supported by Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. and this in turn would immediately provide a juste cause (Jus ad bellum) for retaliation against Iran
"What a nuclear attack on a US city would mean, however, is an understandable American retaliation in kind. So, those countries that have slack control over their fissile nuclear materials and cozy relations with terrorists need to watch out. A wounded America would be under enormous pressure to respond in a wholly disproportionate manner. And then we would be in a completely changed strategic situation in which the use of nuclear weapons might become commonplace. Ibid, emphasis added).
The notion of "preemption" applied to the use of nuclear weapons is predicated on the right to "self defense." "Nuclear Preemption" defines "when it is permissible to wage war" using nuclear weapons: jus ad bellum. The latter concept serves to build a consensus within the Military command structures. It also serves to convince the Military that they are using nukes for a "just cause", to "save the Western way of life".
Dick Cheney's Second 9/11
The insinuation that Al Qaeda is preparing an attack on America has been on the lips of Vice President Dick Cheney for several years now. Cheney has stated on several occasions since 2004, that Al Qaeda is preparing a "Second 9/11": .
In August 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney is reported to have instructed USSTRATCOM, based at the Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, to draw up a "Contingency Plan", "to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States". (Philip Giraldi, Attack on Iran: Pre-emptive Nuclear War, The American Conservative, 2 August 2005)
Dick Cheney's "Contingency Plan" was predicated on the preemptive war doctrine. Implied in the "Contingency Plan" was the presumption that Iran would be behind the attacks.
The Pentagon in a parallel initiative has actually fine-tuned its military agenda to the point of actually envisaging a Second 9/11 scenario as a means to providing the US administration with a "credible" justification to attack Iran and Syria:
"Another [9/11 type terrorist] attack could create both a justification and an opportunity that is lacking today to retaliate against some known targets [Iran and Syria]" (Statement by Pentagon official, leaked to the Washington Post, 23 April 2006, emphasis added)
Meanwhile,. the US Congress is concerned that an "American Hiroshima" could potentially damage the US economy:
"What we do know is that our enemies want to inflict massive casualties and that terrorists have the expertise to invent a wide range of attacks, including those involving the use of chemical, biological, radiological and even nuclear weapons. ... [E]xploding a small nuclear weapon in a major city could do incalculable harm to hundreds of thousands of people, as well as to businesses and the economy,...(US Congress, House Financial Services Committee, June 21, 2007).
As far as sensitizing public opinion to the dangers of a US sponsored nuclear war, there is, with a few exceptions, a scientific and intellectual vacuum: No research, no analysis, no comprehension of the meaning of a nuclear holocaust which in a real sense threatens the future of humanity. This detachment and lack of concern of prominent intellectuals characterizes an evolving trend in many universities and research institutes in the strategic studies, the sciences and social sciences.
Academics increasingly tow the line. They remain mum on the issue of a US sponsored nuclear war. There is a tacit acceptance of a diabolical and criminal military agenda, which in a very sense threatens life on this planet. The US-NATO doctrine to use nukes on a preemptive basis with a view to "saving the Western World's way of life" is not challenged in any meaningful way either by academics or media experts in strategic studies.
Here is a timeline of the intellectual evolution and origins of the species that brought us the iraq war. Click on image to view how Trotsky devolved into Norman Podhoretz, William Kristol and other bottom feeding power brokers