It is by the most amazing and fortuitous of coincidences that, on the very morning I decided to write about the killing of civilians--now, in Lebanon; recently in Iraq and Afghanistan; less recently in countless other countries--during air strikes, Tom Engelhardt posts a piece on the topic of air power, the military's faith in air power as a strategic weapon, and the horrific cost in human life.
Like many others, I have always hated the term "collateral damage." This bit of doublespeak, which made its debut during the Vietnam war, omits any reference to the human beings who are killed during an air strike. It is a bloodless phrase for a bloody reality, something we are all too used to when it comes to governments and armies.
But "collateral damage" as a descriptor implies that loss of civilian life is accidental, unintentional, the unfortunate result of the bombing of a militarily significant target. The US military's constant hyping of "surgical" strikes, "precision" bombing, "smart bombs," and the like have given rise to the idea that bombing can be carried out so precisely that there is little loss of innocent life ("innocent" meaning, you know, people in wedding parties, families in apartment buildings, that sort of thing). It's not as if they target civilians--that would be barbaric. No, any loss of civilian life is regrettable, but purely accidental--one of those horrible things that happen in war.
What complete and utter bullshit.
As Engelhardt's summary of the history of bombing shows, massive bombing raids have been used almost from the beginning as an instrument of terror designed to break the will of the terrorized populace:
Nonetheless, we have largely achieved non-barbaric status in an
interesting way -- by removing the most essential aspect of the
American (and, right now, Israeli) way of war from the category of the
barbaric. I'm talking, of course, about air power, about raining
destruction down on the earth from the skies, and about the belief --
so common, so long-lasting, so deep-seated -- that bombing others,
including civilian populations, is a "strategic" thing to do; that air
power can, in relatively swift measure, break the "will" not just of
the enemy, but of that enemy's society; and that such a way of war is
the royal path to victory.
This set of beliefs was common to air-power advocates even before
modern air war had been tested, and repeated unsuccessful attempts to
put these convictions into practice have never really shaken -- not for
long anyway – what is essentially a war-making religion. The result has
been the development of the most barbaric style of warfare imaginable,
one that has seldom succeeded in breaking any societal will, though it has destroyed innumerable bodies, lives, stretches of countryside, villages, towns, and cities.
Have you ever experienced a military plane passing low in the sky over your home? I have. The sound is threatening, frightening. Once the Blue Angels did an air show at Selfridge Air National Guard Base near our former home. They flew low and in formation, and the sound was deafening and terrifying. The house shook, windows rattled, and even though I knew what the planes were, my physical response was the response to danger: my pulse raced, adrenaline surged, and blank fear gripped me.
I think of that every time I read of these bombing raids. I think about what it would be like to know that the planes were not merely flying overhead, but were dropping bombs. I think about trying to comfort a child during such a raid. I think about having nowhere to go, no place of safety.
In Lebanon now the Israelis are targeting civilians from the skies.
Now, with the fervent backing of the Bush administration, another
country is being "remade" from the air -- in this case, Lebanon. With
the highest-tech American precision-guided and bunker-busting bombs,
the Israelis have been launching air strike after strike, thousands of
them, in that country. They have hit an international airport, the
nation's largest milk factories; a major food factory; aid convoys; Red Cross ambulances; a UN observer post; a power plant; apartment complexes; villages because they house or support the enemy; branches of banks because they might facilitate Hezbollah finances; the telecommunications system because of the messages that might pass along it; highways because they might transport weapons to the enemy; bridges because they might be crossed by those transporting weapons; a lighthouse
in Beirut harbor for reasons unknown; trucks because they might be
transporting those weapons (though they might also be transporting
vegetables); families who just happen to be jammed into cars or minivans fleeing at the urging of the attackers who have turned at least 20% of all Lebanese (and probably many more) into refugees, while creating a "landscape of death" (in the phrase of the superb Washington Post
reporter Anthony Shadid) in the southern part of the country. In this
process, civilian casualties have mounted steadily -- assumedly far
beyond the figure of just over 400 now regularly being cited in our
press, because Lebanon has no way to search the rubble of its bombed
buildings for the dead; nor, right now, the time and ability to do an
accurate count of those who died more or less in the open.
This isn't "collateral damage." Offensive and misleading as that term is, even so it doesn't apply. Israeli Minister of Justice Haim Ramon has said that the Israelis are entitled to kill all Lebanese who remain in the south of Lebanon:
All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah,” Mr Ramon said.
Considering that the Israelis have bombed or shelled vehicles carrying families attempting to leave the area, this would seem a rather disingenuous claim. To inform a population that they must leave, and then to bomb the highway and the vehicles leaving, is barbaric beyond belief.
The Israelis tell themselves, and the world, that they are not targeting civilians, that Hezbollah hides itself among civilians and is therefore morally culpable for those civilians' deaths. But the idea that Hezbollah uses civilians as human shields is a myth:
My own reporting and that of other journalists reveals that in fact
Hezbollah fighters -- as opposed to the much more numerous Hezbollah
political members, and the vastly more numerous Hezbollah sympathizers
-- avoid civilians. Much smarter and better trained than the PLO and
Hamas fighters, they know that if they mingle with civilians, they will
sooner or later be betrayed by collaborators -- as so many Palestinian
militants have been.
Israel speaks of breaking the will of the enemy. But as Tom Engelhardt points out:
And yet, of course, the "will" of the enemy is not broken and, among
Israel's leaders and its citizens, frustration mounts; so threats of more and worse are made and worse weapons are brought
into play; and wider targeting fields are opened up; and what might
faintly pass for "precision bombing" is increasingly abandoned for the
equivalent of "area bombing." And the full support system -- which is
simply society -- for the movement in question becomes the "will" that
must be broken; and in this process, what we call "collateral damage"
is moved, by the essential barbaric logic of air power, front and
center, directly into the crosshairs.
According to a recent poll, 87 per cent of the Lebanese people support Hezbollah's actions. That doesn't sound to me like a broken will.
The wars of the twentieth century made civilian populations fair game for both sides of numerous conflicts. The twenty-first century continues this monstrous practice. The United States has cared not at all about the tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of civilian lives lost in the debacle that is Iraq, nor about those killed in Afghanistan. The United States continues its support of Israel despite Israel's admission that it equates civilians in the south of Lebanon with terrorists.
One-third of the victims of Israel's actions have been children.
I am ashamed to be an American. I am ashamed that I am the citizen of a country whose leaders--of both political parties--wholeheartedly embrace the barbarism and brutality of Israel. The Lebanese did nothing to deserve such treatment (if indeed any people can be said to "deserve" such murderous practices).
The United States has indeed lost its way when the mounting toll of civilian deaths provokes no outcry, no outrage; when all it can do is continue the madness of supporting Israel, no matter its vicious impulses. When I see the loss of American honor and American ideals, I despair. We are now a nation that justifies torture, tears its own constitution to shreds, rationalizes the wholesale slaughter of civilians, and makes excuses for a nation seemingly bent on something close to genocide.
He's 22 pounds of feline affection. Our friend reluctantly had to give him up due to an irresolvable conflict with the family dog. We're already very fond of Blixa. Now if I could just convince my other two cats of his sterling character ...
The war crimes being committed by Israel in Lebanon continue, as churches, hospitals, aid convoys, residential areas, bridges, and other infrastructure are ruthlessly bombed.
I have not written on this topic for several reasons, not the least of which is that countless pieces could be written, each with a different focus. Where to begin? I feel fear and despair as I watch U.S. warhawks urge attacks on Syria and Iran. I wonder what will happen next: the WWIII (or IV, or whatever the neocons are calling it) Gingrich seems so happy about? a terrorist attack against U.S. and Israeli interests, as Iran's Hizbollah has threatened? al-Qaeda getting back onto the stage?
And I wonder whether Israel is trying to force the hand of the US, to urge us into attacking Iran. Surely the Israelis understand our Likudnik warhawks better than anyone. They had to know that their actions would spur calls for a wider war.
In the end, I decided to link to some voices from the besieged country of Lebanon itself. Here in America we don't hear much from that country. Our reporters are in Israel. Our political leaders and the administration constantly repeat Israeli propaganda. What do those suffering from Israel's overkill have to say?
First I saw this letter from Rasha on Juan Cole's blog. A bit of Googling brought me to Electronic Intifada, a rich source for articles, commentary, diaries, and news about the siege of Lebanon. No, of course it isn't unbiased. But adults with reasonable critical thinking skills know this. I think it's important to get more than one side of a story.
I urge anyone reading this to check out some of these sites. Rasha, in particular, is articulate and vivid in her evocation of life in Lebanon at this time, but each site has something to contribute to our knowledge of the situation there. I can't emphasize enough how important I think it is to hear voices that do more than echo the US administration line or the Israeli narrative.
If you find a site I haven't mentioned--and I know my list isn't comprehensive--please bring it to my attention and I'll link to it.
A few posts ago, I complained about a groundhog (or woodchuck, your choice of nomeclature) digging under the rabbit fence and into our garden. I did a little research on the web and found that groundhogs are "easy to trap," that the live trap should be placed near the groundhog's burrow, and that broccoli is said to be particularly alluring to said groundhog.
So we baited a trap with broccoli and placed it near the rock pile where we've often seen a groundhog or two frolicking.
For a day or two, nada. Then on Tuesday night -- success!
And we drove him (or her) off to an undisclosed location.
Alas, the next day Jim discovered new evidence of digging under the garden fence! So we'll be baiting our trap again and hoping to catch another of the critters.
I had no idea that the glaciers were melting at such speed, or that the ice of the Arctic and of Antarctica is melting and shearing off at a rate beyond that which scientists foresaw. Although I've long been convinced that global warming is not only real but attributable to human-generated environmental pressures, I was stunned by the close fit of carbon dioxide emissions and rising global temperatures.
If you think this sounds boring, let me clue you in: it's anything but. We were mesmerized. One of the things that really caught my attention was that hundreds of global-warming articles that appeared in peer-reviewed journals were analyzed, and ZERO demonstrated any doubt of the human-made global warming problem. But of those articles that appeared in mass media, 53% cast doubt on the proposition that human activity worldwide has spiked the earth's average temperature.
That sounds like a disinformation campaign to me. Gore speaks to this, and points out that similar tactics were used with other "inconvenient truths," such as the cancer-causing effect of cigarettes (his family grew tobacco, and his sister died of lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking).
And sad? I'll tell you from sad. Sad is looking at passionate, compassionate, driven, committed, intelligent, ethical, moral Al Gore and thinking of what might have been if the Supreme Court had not ruled in such an unprecedented (and non-precedent-establishing, by its own admonishment) and illegal way.
As for the glaciers, here's one example of a shrinking glacier. It's pretty shocking. To see other "then and now" photos of disappearing glaciers, go here.
This is a compelling movie, one that you need to see--and that you need to encourage others to see. We have a very small window of opportunity to save this planet. The urgency of this issue is clear, but the movie does more: it declares that all of us can solve the problems of global warming, if only we have the political will. And that's what Al Gore hopes his movie will do: convince enough people so that a tipping point comes about that will force politicians to admit the very inconvenient truth of global warming--and do something about it.
As the season moves along, oxeye daisies are replaced by black-eyed susans here in the fields, and daisy fleabane is springing up--sometimes, as you'll see, in unusual places. Daylilies have their brief time in the sun, their familiar orange blooming along ditches or cropping up in yards.
These photos were taken by Jim, who takes many of the photos I post here but to whom I often forget to give credit.
Below: daisy, blackeyed susan
Daisy fleabane can be found along roadsides and in fields--but rarely in newspaper boxes!
Yes, it's been a good long while since I've put up a new post. It's summertime! And real life beckons.
So what have I been up to? Lots of social engagements (overnight guests, a couples baby shower, birthday parties, Fourth of July party, etc.), working in the garden, drying herbs, and just enjoying the season.
Before I get into the photos, let me just say that Springsteen's latest offering, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, has been on our CD player pretty frequently. It's American folk music like you've never heard it before, the roots of the genre, including classics like "John Henry" and spirituals like "Oh, Mary Don't You Weep," done by a great band, with Springsteen just amazing (well, except for the title song, alas). We're not the only one who loves the music; see the Rude Pundit's review of the live show:
But almost no one was there to hear "Born to Run." No, what they were
there to do was to join Springsteen in a big damn singalong of the
American folk songs from Springsteen's recent album, along with a
couple of massively reconfigured songs from his back catalog. Moving
between Dixieland jazz, Tejano music, blues, and old time rock and
roll, Springsteen was the ringleader, the focal point of the energy.
And that energy was about creating community and instilling a notion of
joy in a shared musical heritage.
You need to do yourself a favor and get this CD/DVD. It will lift your spirits in a dark time.
Okay, so I've been sitting around talking to James, who's had some time off, or just plain daydreaming, here on the front porch . . .
or gazing out on this view
from here on the balcony.
Then, too, there are other distractions, such as this
Of course, we've seen the grandkids recently, too (click on the kids' photos to enlarge):
Each had a birthday last month.
But it hasn't been all fun and games. Jim and I have both spent a lot of time battling weeds in the garden. And not just weeds--the upper garden, shown here, has been invaded a couple of times by a groundhog. Wouldn't you know it--you put up rabbit fencing, and then the groundhogs start burrowing under it.
Add to that the herb garden and the lower garden, and we're talking a lot of weeding, as well as thinning of plants (had a lovely mess of beet greens the other night).
Now Jim is putting in some underground drains to carry water away from the house. This is prior to putting down pavers in the area beneath the balcony and, eventually, laying a stone patio to the east of the house.
So as you can see, blogging has had to take a back seat to the duties and pleasures of life. But I'll be checking in here from time to time, so drop in!