Matt Barganier at AntiWar reads an excerpt from the new book, American Deserter, and asks a question about moral obligations. He also touches on one of my own beaten-horse subjects: the sacrosanctity of The Troops™.
Still, he grants more than I would. He grants--with caveats, admittedly--a limited exceptionalism to scenes like abu Ghraib. He quotes a description of a raid from American Deserter in which it's made all but explicit that a group of innocent Iraqi women were gang-raped by American soldiers, but then he says:
Now let’s take the most grunt-sympathetic reading of this passage and allow for the following: People, especially young men, behave terribly under terrible stress. Soldiers don’t get to pick their assignments (not really true of those who volunteer in the middle of a war, but I’ll be generous). In fact, let’s go ahead and throw the alleged mass rape into the exception pile.Painfully, I think we must reject the premise here. Consider warfare from the beginning of recorded history, and rewrite one of Matt's sentences with some editing:
Though torture, rape, and murder are presumably not routine procedures for occupying forces in Iraq, these blind, tornadic raids on civilian homes are. Two hundred raids in eight months: you do the math. These are literally everyday, humdrum activities for the occupiers.
Torture, rape, and murder are routine procedures for occupying forces.I would ask Matt to search his mind and his conscience and to ask himself: Is there any reason other than the fact that they are American, that they're us, to believe that these are "presumably not routine" in Iraq?
What other purpose is there in sending the soldiers of an occupying army home-to-home in a conquered nation but to terrorize and brutalize the population? None. "These blind, tornadic raids" are by design and intent terroristic.
It seems to me that even among the most vocal, purposeful, and persistent critics of American imperialism, there remains an unkillable seed of exceptionalism. It's a salve to what remnants of our collective goodness--if such ever existed--persist. It allows us to say that, yes, the conquest of Iraq was wrong, criminal, negligent, brutal, unpardonable . . . but still, it was different, somehow, than any other conquest by any other people at any other time in the damned history of one people violating another. It's a last, desperate attempt to cling to some bit of rightness, to the myth of the noble intention. It's understandable, but it's wrong.
Here is a truth: American forces in Iraq beat, rape, steal, maim, and murder in Iraq. They practice collective punishment. They destroy and expropriate private property. They seek to break the local population. They seek domination through the same old, crude methods that occupiers have alwas sought it. These acts are endemic and essential to the principal acts of invasion and occupation.
America is an empire, ladies and gentlemen. Let's not pretend it means something other than what it means.