Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Terrorizing the Hajis

Next time you see the slogan "SUPPORT OUR TROOPS," ask yourself: "for what?" Lest you think their role in Iraq is to bring freedom and democracy to the poor, deluded Arabs, you should read "The Other War" by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian in the July 30th issue of The Nation (which fortunately is available online if you click here).

The sad fact is that the occupation of Iraq is brutalizing our young men and women in uniform. They will return home hardened to the suffering of others, particularly those with whom they cannot identify. To the soldiers, the Iraqis are called collectively "hajis" the same way the Vietnamese were referred to as "gooks." One of the more than 50 soldiers interviewed by Hedges and Al-Arian described the mentality of her squad leader: "We have to kill them over here so I don't have to kill them back in Colorado. He just seemed to view every Iraqi as a potential terrorist." Another remembered thinking, after a particularly nasty one-sided salvo of gunfire in which innocents were killed: "I just brought terror to someone under the American flag." A lieutenant who came back home after eight months, told the authors: "I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, 'A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi... You know, so what?'... [Only when we got home] in... meeting other veterans, it seems like the guilt really takes place, takes root, then."

Hedges is the author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, a moving account of his two decades as a foreign correspondent, which wrestles with the roots of violence in the human psyche; Al-Arian is a freelance journalist based in New York. Their cover story in The Nation looks at our soldiers' memories of everyday experiences in the war zone without focusing on particular atrocities. Their stories reveal a pattern of abuse of and callousness toward the civilian population, a thousand My Lais and Abu Ghraibs over the last four years. Excuses offered include the young age of the U.S. soldiers and the fear generated by an insurgency indistinguishable from the general population. The results are innocent dead families, pets and livestock at the hands of trigger-happy "peace keepers." What a travesty!

According to the authors:
Many of these veterans returned home deeply disturbed by the disparity between the reality of the war and the way it is portrayed by the US government and American media. The war the vets described is a dark and even depraved enterprise, one that bears a powerful resemblance to other misguided and brutal colonial wars and occupations, from the French occupation of Algeria to the American war in Vietnam and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
After four months in Baghdad and Mosul, one soldier reported: "I felt like there was this enormous reduction in my compassion for people. The only thing that wound up mattering is myself and the guys that I was with, and everybody else be damned." Another said that his fellow GIs "supported that whole concept that if they don't speak English and they have darker skin, they're not as human as us, so we can do what we want." The wanton murder of civiliians at checkpoints and during the myriad midnight house checks (most of which turned up nothing) was horrifying to many of the veterans who now must deal with psychic trauma at home. "It just gets frustrating," one soldier told the authors. "The only thing that wound up mattering is myself and the guys that I was with. And everybody else be dammed."

When will the American people wake up and realize what is happening in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan and Palestine? Having lived through the horror of Vietnam, I can see history once again repeating itself. But in the 1960s and 1970s at least an angry generation took to the streets and demanded the heads of those responsible. Why are the students silent today, the protest movement all but defunct? Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield and the rest of the thugs should be tried for war crimes. Being a soldier today is a disgrace. Those who do not go AWOL or resign are complicit in these crimes. SUPPORT OUR TROOPS to quit! Nothing less is sufficient.

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