Informed Citizens

We don’t recall whether South Eugene High School offered civics in the mid-Seventies. Maybe it was folded into social studies. Maybe we’re remembering Schoolhouse Rock episodes. So when we speak of “high school civics,” we’re not really referring to a documented event in our life. Instead, we’re imagining some ideal of what such a class would offer: the fundamentals of being a citizen in a constitutional democracy.

You know, “rule by the people.” As opposed to rule by King George. Or rule by the Generals.

For the people to govern themselves, they need to know, as the Founders would say, whaddup. (Our iPad tried to correct that to “shaddup” as we typed. We fear our iPad’s growing sentience.) We can’t make informed decisions about our lives or our government without being, well, informed. A government that hides information from us moves us away from democracy and toward — what did the Greeks call it? Oh, right: Tyranny.

What brings all this to mind is an observation by Glenn Greenwald on the Iraq helicopter video:

Unlike those in the Muslim world, who are shown these realities quite frequently by their free press, we don’t usually see what is done by us. We stay blissfully insulated from it, so that in those rare instances when we’re graphically exposed to it, we can tell ourselves that it’s all very unusual and rare. That’s how we collectively dismissed the Abu Ghraib photos, and it’s why the Obama administration took such extraordinary steps to suppress all the rest of the torture photos: because further disclosure would have revealed that behavior to be standard and common, not at all unusual or extraordinary.

We don’t have to agree with Greenwald about Obama’s motives for keeping the torture photos secret. Instead, it’s enough to say that our government has no right to keep them secret. It has no right to keep the Apache video secret. It has no right to right to keep any war information secret, save what’s operationally necessary. If we’re going to embark on a war — especially an elective war — we need to understand the consequences of our decisions and actions. All of them. Now. Unfiltered.

Otherwise, not only are we living in that “video game” the WikiLeaks editor incorrectly ascribed to the soldiers involved, we’re undermining the whole point of participating in a democracy. And if we didn’t learn that in high school civics, we damn well should have.

Iraq slaughter not an aberration [Greenwald]
30 Comments

Since the PR disaster in Vietnam our employees in the military have done a very thorough job of keeping the uglier side of war out of the public consciousness. They have gone to extreme lengths to hide the suffering, the destruction, the blood, the shattered bodies, the anguished faces, even the flag-draped coffins of the dead American soldiers. We have thanked them for shielding us from the “unpleasantness”.

Americans HATE prolonged conflict. It doesn’t jibe with our microscopic attention spans that once expected that all problems could be solved in time for the late news. Now of course we have the miracle of the reset button that wipes away any and all difficulties. The rare views of the wars we do get tend to be the antiseptic, indeed video-game like segments worshiping at the altar of our high-tech shock-and-awe style weaponry (see the Military Channel). The actual people on both sides of the conflict are strictly filling the roles of shooters and targets.

It’s a testament to how thoroughly we have allowed ourselves to be sheltered from reality for this video to shock anyone because down deep we know this is everyday life somewhere in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Is it any wonder when the veterans come home so many can’t conform to our willful ignorance of what is really happening only a few hours flying time from Main Street USA?

@Dave H:
Exactly. Except the disconnect between what was happening on the battlefield and the home front began during Korea.

Of course this is strange because it runs counter the US Fundie Wingnut views of TV entertainment. You would think they would like to see (non US America) blood and guts on the TV every night as they reserve their ire towards naked people doing what naked people should be doing (playing volleyball, right?)

@ManchuCandidate: The people of US-America have a pathological lust toward blood and guts in its entertainment (as long as it’s just fake) and an aversion to titties, penii and sexytime. Blood and guts are patriotic as long as they serve a greater purpose of bringing the American (TM) way of life to everyone, and that the bloodletting is not real, but only fictional or an abstract concept.

In any case, Nojo, great post. Thank you for channeling the anger that I used to have on a daily basis until I became better medicated.

I’ve come to believe there is a very large segment of the populace that would have thought the folks in the video were just getting in the fucking way, and I hate that I’m that cynical now.

Actually we could carry this discussion back to the US Civil War. The photos of Matthew Brady and others illuminated the gruesome nature of that war in ways that had never been experienced and negatively affected the public opinion of the war. Spanish/American war of course was the ultimate exercise in jingoistic propaganda. Yellow journalism of yesteryear is our Fox News of today. Coverage of WW I & II were sanitized so that the home front would not lose their ardor to defend God and country. However Bush/Cheney thoroughly manipulated the war experience into a consumerist media extravaganza. If we had to daily access to the results of war and had to pay an extra tax to prosecute that war (an idea promulgated by conservative columnist Charley Reese which I think is spot on) they would probably be handled in a more efficient, professional and timely way.

It’s not just war, though this current adventure is the longest-running example. There’s a lot shielded from US ‘Merikens’ tender sensibilities. I was in Canada during Hurricane Katrina and the contrast between Canadian teevee and newspapers and US teevee coverage was striking. The CBC and the papers were showing the bloated dead bodies stacked like cords of wood in New Orleans, the US teevee coverage (what I saw) consisted of preening news reporters and footage of black people “looting” (i.e. getting water and food). I think (perhaps foolishly) that there would have been more outrage in the US about what happened in NOLA had we had seen what our neighbors to the north saw.

And terrific post, Nojo.

@all, great comments. Here in the land of the lotus eaters, there is a total disconnect between what has (apparently*) really happened and the way it is pitched to the public. We’ve got an opposition candidate under arrest for sedition, monks on one side on hunger strike for his release, on the other side wielding their limited possessions (umbrellas, mainly, and the Pen) to incite majority favor against the minority. The fog of war, with a hint of jasmine.

*Nobody knows, everybody speculates, and I’ve taken to classifying people as “hair on fire” types and the “laconic ne’er do wells”. I could swing a Louisville Slugger on the streets and not connect with objective facts on any given day.

@Nojo: if this is the quality of the iPad-enhanced Home Office, flame on! Great post.

@rptrcub:
I never really get that either. It’s like the popularity of Torture Porn like SAW movies or anything by Eli Roth. Yet, someone shows pics of the real thing and suddenly, they can’t deal with it?

@SanFranLefty:
When I stayed outside LA for two weeks of work relating training so long ago, it was tough enough just to get ballscores that didn’t involve the LA Dodgers let alone news about anything outside of Hollywood.

Living in that bubble would distort the perspectives.

Obama Administration claims it’s A-OK to just assassinate US citizens now.

I suppose it’s not surprising that the NYT doesn’t bother to ask anyone whether it’s a good idea to give anonymous government functionaries the authority to order murders on demand.

Look, come see the oppression inherent in the system, this is what I have been going on about. What happened in the video has happened 400,000 times in Iraq, since we started there.

Just to keep things in proper perspective: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18Sua_QTDs0

You were the sunshine, baby, whenever you smiled
But I call you Stormy today
All of a sudden that ole rain’s fallin’ down
And my world is cloudy and gray
You’ve gone away
Oh Stormy, oh Stormy
Bring back that sunny day

Yesterday’s love was like a warm summer breeze
But, like the weather ya changed
Now things are dreary, baby
And it’s windy and cold
And I stand alone in the rain
Callin’ your name
Oh Stormy, oh Stormy
Bring back that sunny day

@Signal to Noise: You’re Ghandi compared to most anyone. I think this kind of stuff happens on an hourly basis in Iraq and Afghanistan, just for the entertainment of the troops who, though grinding poverty at home and a culture of genocidal militarism in the armed services abroad, have been turned into psychopathic killing machines who are addicted to the thrill of random, wanton homicide – like their masters.

@FlyingChainSaw: I wouldn’t be surprised. I hate that my shock and horror reservoirs regarding things done in war zones have been tapped out entirely. There’s a reason many soldiers who come back and are trying to be good human beings don’t want to talk about the specifics of what they saw a whole lot.

@FlyingChainSaw: Another inconvenient truth we refuse to face is that all of these people don’t just disappear when they finally leave the military. Many of the surviving troops who have become hard-core killers get hired by legalized private armies like Blackwater and turned loose on us all.

@SanFranLefty: One of my friends who commanded a desk while in Eye-Rak with the JAG corps makes a point of using pictures of himself in digital cam with his M16 by the side of a truck “on a convoy” for various purposes, including his unsuccessful run for DA in 08. BTW, Katrina is regarding as one of the significant recent events that led to a spike in gun sales, including the AK and its variants, and a change in gun culture from hunting/target shooting/recreation to a focus on home defense and societal breakdown.

Also, just finished an article by a guy who served in the Spetsnaz (USSR special forces) in Afghanistan. His take: “we did what we wanted, the mooj did what they could and we left on our own terms and timetable. ” He does not see is as an ass kicking of a superpower by guys in robes and garden rakes.

@Signal to Noise: Oh, yeah, and that doesn’t count the guy with traumatic brain injury who is walking around in a fog with no idea why they’ve just forgotten where they are – or what they were doing there, or that nice lady who keeps showing up and saying she’s his wife. . .

@iPrick: “Bush/Cheney thoroughly manipulated the war experience into a consumerist media extravaganza.” They learned from Goebbels. I didn’t understand their mockery of “Baghdad Bob” who was doing the same thing, just not quite as well.

@Dave H:

Or they just go on to lead horribly broken lives. I knew a veteran of the first gulf war, who was a) deeply closeted from the experience and living a double life, and b)horribly scarred from his work in triage. The last I heard of him was in 1997, when, after abandoning his wife and child, he was starting a downward spiral of meth use and circuit parties.

Young kid, pretty cute, with a good heart. Whenever I hear these war stories, I think about him.

@FlyingChainSaw: the one who’s having trouble getting the right classification for his PTSD and dealing with the VA, right?

I know someone dropped a Gang of Four line a couple threads back, but it feels every day like “Guerrilla war struggle is the new entertainment” becomes even more accurate.

Some random thoughts….

 An infantilized populace is easier to manipulate and less dangerous to those in power. Infants have a hard time distinguishing between the real and the imaginary.

 The Pentagon has been investing in the development of “virtual reality” systems for decades. The advances we see in film and video-game computer generated graphics represent commercial uses for the technology. The Pentagon has other uses.

 All wars are ultimately struggles for control of resources and wealth, traditionally between groups of people defined by nationality or some other socio-geo-political commonality. “National security interests” is routinely cited as a reason for unleashing the expensive U.S. military machine.

 More that half of the top one hundred economies of the world are now controlled by multinational corporations. This represents significant power that is not constrained by any of the socio-geo-political limitations of an elected government.

@Dave H: Yes, especially when the youngsters read the paper and see 20% unemployment back home and in wars overseas they can pull in $200,000 for killing randomly, the only job skill they have and can list on a resume.

@Signal to Noise: If they are even trying to make a claim. Brain injury professionals (a weird one as it falls between disciplines) are still fighting with the VA to give non-apparent brain injury a name and treatment regime.

@ChainSaw: Thirty years ago one of my profs used Pentagon money to write a digital image editing program (think proto-Photoshop).
The revelation about the top 100 economies comes from the following study, done ten years ago. http://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/221/47211.html

Trufax, Nojo. From your iPad to Hopey’s ears.

@Signal to Noise:
All this talk of blood and iron
It’s the cause of all my shaking

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