1.an apology, as in defense or justification of a belief, idea, etc.
2. Literature. a work written as an explanation or justification of one’s motives, convictions, or acts.
On the front page, the New York Times published what can only be called an apologia for the soldiers‘ behavior in the now infamous Apache helicopter shooting video released by Wikileaks.
The video shows the shooting of Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and several civilians when his cameras were mistaken for weapons. It also shows an incredibly callous attitude on the part of the soldiers.
According the BBC, the video has already been viewed over 4 million times and the Army is now investigating WikiLeaks, but is not going to reopen an investigation of the soldiers who did the shooting since they have already been found innocent of any wrongdoing.
According to WikiLeaks and their defenders in the independent media, the intelligence agencies of the US government have dramatically increased their harassment of the organization since they announced the video’s immindent release a couple of weeks ago.
So what exactly does the video show that got intelligence agencies to threaten independent journalists and the Times to write an apologia? The video itself is worth watching:
As you can see, it shows a scene that is probably typical for war. The soldiers say things, according to the Times, like
Look at those dead bastards,” one said. “Nice,” another responded.
After the helicopter guns down a group of men, the video shows a van stopping to pick up one of the wounded. The soldiers in the helicopter suspect it to be hostile and, after getting clearance from base, fire again. Two children in the van are wounded, and one of the soldiers remarks, “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”
If we are to believe the experts in the Times, such an attitude is necessary in war since
Military training is fundamentally an exercise in overcoming a fear of killing another human, said Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of the book “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society,” who is a former Army Ranger.
And according to the Times reporter, Benedict Carey,
(A)t a more primal level, fighters in a war zone must think of themselves as predators first — not bait. That frame of mind affects not only how a person thinks, but what he sees and hears, especially in the presence of imminent danger, or the perception of a threat.
I have no intention of weighing in on the video itself or what soldiers were or were not doing in it. But I must weigh in on the utter and complete lack of journalistic integrity at the Times. What is the Times thinking writing an apologia like that for? The video might show a civilian massacre. It certainly does not show anyone with a gun.
I am sure being a soldier is very difficult work. The impossible mix of being both a killer and a hero busy saving “nation” and “democracy” and “freedom” is obviously one that we ordinary humans, neither heroes nor murderers, cannot fathom. But the role of a news agency is not to defend US foreign policy and therefore insist that
The viewer sees a wider tragedy unfolding, in hindsight, from the safety of a desk; the soldiers are reacting in real time, on high alert, exposed. In recent studies, researchers have shown that such distance tempts people to script how they would act in the same place, and overestimate the force of their own professed moral principles.
Actually, the social psychological evidence is not new. Fifty years ago a series of experiments showed that most people lose all moral grounding when put in conditions where hurting another human being is seen as the “right” thing to do. For instance, in 1961, in response to the Eichmann trial, Yale social psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted his now infamous experiments on ordinary people who were instructed to administer electric shocks on strangers. And they mostly willingly did it, without any hostility or anger toward the strangers. Simply because an authority figure- like a boss or a commanding officer- told them to. Milgram’s conclusion was that:
Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority
But Milgram’s point was that we therefore have to be hypervigilant as a society to not create immoral tasks for our citizenry. And that is the issue. The war in Iraq is immoral. The invasion was based on “false intelligence” or more likely, out and out manipulation of the public and the press by the Bush-Cheney regime. The job of journalists and citizens now is not to judge the video and the soldiers in it, but nor is it the job or journalists and citizens to apologize for it by saying “anyone could have acted this way in that situation.”
Our job is to ask why this situation is still going on. Why is a war that we know was not a response to a threat, but to a desire for regime change and access to oil, is still going on? Why are any US soldiers are still there, let alone 200,000US soldiers at a cost of nearly a TRILLION dollars?
Instead of apologizing for the Apache massacre and instead of demonizing the soldiers who were put into the Apache by our leaders and with our tax dollars, let’s use the horror of the video to motivate us to once again demand an end to an illegal and immoral war.