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Apr. 8 2010 - 8:47 am | 345 views | 2 recommendations | 6 comments

Apache apologia

An AH-64 Apache helicopter takes part in a mis...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Apologia.  Definiton:

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.

And

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.


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  1. collapse expand

    “What is the Times thinking writing an apologia like that for?”

    Answer: They need to spread propaganda about how Our Honorable Soldiers are fundamentally different from Evil Muslim Terrorists, a difference hidden by their monstrous deeds.

  2. collapse expand

    Before unloading on the Times, you might want to read what was actually in the the Pentagon report that never made it to Wikileaks. In fact, it appears that Wikileaks had a very carefully edited piece of footage that left out key details concerning who the combatants were and which shots were NOT made against the combatants due to the clear presence of civilians.

    See http://www.mudvillegazette.com/033539.html

    Furthermore, while we all agree that this war was not the best thing our country has ever done, once the trigger was pulled, we are morally obligated to make things right. You can’t decide half way through that this was a stupid idea and withdraw. That would leave a simmering hotbed of hatred and instability which is almost certain to flare up against us in the future.

    You need to remember that this is not Vietnam. There are several stripes of religious fundamentalists who all seek a piece of the pie. This is not communism versus capitalism. This would degenerate in to a fundamentalist civil war were we to pull out unilaterally.

    I fault the Bush administration for not doing their damned homework before invading. The post invasion handling of the local governments in Iraq was abysmally ignorant and misguided. But we’re learning from our mistakes. Things are improving.

    Pulling out now would waste most of that effort. President Obama has the unenviable task of cleaning up this mess from the previous administration. I think he’s doing a pretty reasonable job, given what he has to work with.

    And next time you get some footage from some source other than the pentagon, you might want to read what they have to say before immediately dismissing them as a cover-up.

    • collapse expand

      Your claim that WikiLeaks “had a very carefully edited piece of footage” is simply false:

      From the very beginning, WikiLeaks released the full, 38-minute, unedited version of that incident — and did so right on the site they created for release of the edited video. In fact, the first video is marked “Short version,” and the second video — posted directly under it — is marked “Full version,” and just for those who still didn’t pick up on the meaning, they explained:
      “WikiLeaks has released both the original 38 minutes video and a shorter version with an initial analysis. Subtitles have been added to both versions from the radio transmissions.”

      Interesting that the Pentagon has conveniently misplaced their copy of the video footage. So until the Pentagon finds & releases their copy, we have to rely on some other source. (And, btw, the Pentagon confirmed the authenticity of the Wikileaks footage.)

      Newly-released video of eyewitness accounts of the incident, recorded the following day by a real journalist (i.e., not embedded), confirms the absurdity of the military’s claims about the incident:

      there is no reason at all to believe or to conclude that any of the people in that picture are armed insurgents. I mean, you can see two men with Kalashnikovs, but this is 2007 in Baghdad. This is the height of the civil war, when dozens of bodies a day were being picked up from the street, when sectarian militias filled the Iraqi security forces, the police and the army. Every neighborhood in Baghdad organized its own protection force. And it was legal at the time for every household to own a Kalashnikov in Iraq, and every household I ever went to did. So the presence of two men, dangling at their sides Kalashnikovs, in a crowd of civilians who have no weapons at all, I mean, is absolutely no—I mean, it’s—the whole thing is ridiculous.

      But of course our troops never slaughter innocent civilians and then cover it up.

      Nope, never:

      [Jason] Washburn [a corporal in the US Marines who served three tours in Iraq] testified on a panel that discussed the rules of engagement (ROE) in Iraq, and how lax they were, to the point of being virtually nonexistent.
      “During the course of my three tours, the rules of engagement changed a lot,” Washburn’s testimony continued, “The higher the threat the more viciously we were permitted and expected to respond. Something else we were encouraged to do, almost with a wink and nudge, was to carry ‘drop weapons’, or by my third tour, ‘drop shovels’. We would carry these weapons or shovels with us because if we accidentally shot a civilian, we could just toss the weapon on the body, and make them look like an insurgent.”

      Jason Wayne Lemue is a Marine who served three tours in Iraq: “By my third tour, we were told to just shoot people, and the officers would take care of us.”

      As a wise man once said:

      Powerful states, like the United States, do not generally try to kill particular civilians. Rather, they carry out murderous actions that they and their educated classes know will slaughter many civilians, but without specific intent to kill particular ones. … It is more similar to walking down a street knowing that we might kill ants, but without intent to do so, because they rank so low that it just doesn’t matter.
      There is no good term for this form of moral depravity, arguably worse than deliberate slaughter, and all too familiar.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      An additional point, from Jonathan Schwarz:

      even if everyone but the journalist and children were armed insurgents, no one else on earth cares. That’s because, when another country invades yours, you’re allowed to fight back. And if you invade another country and start slaughtering people, you don’t somehow make yourself the good guy by proving that they were trying to fight back.

      As James Fallows noted:

      As you watch, imagine the reaction in the US if the people on the ground had been Americans and the people on the machine guns had been Iraqi, Russian, Chinese, or any other nationality. As with Abu Ghraib, and again assuming this is what it seems to be, the temptation will be to blame the operations-level people who were, in this case, chuckling as they mowed people down. That’s not where the real responsibility lies.

      More importantly, as should be obvious to anyone for whom U.S. national security is a priority, these crimes only sustain and strengthen militant anti-American sentiment. Our security and freedoms are thus being compromised – not defended – by our ongoing missions of mass murder in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, etc.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    I like the Japanese or the Roman take on “apologia” over the ancient Greek one: “I made a mistake. It was my fault and I accept full responsibility. Here is my life in payment.” It beats the Christian one: “I made a mistake. Please understand. Please forgive me. OK, could you pass the potatoes, now?” How did our society lose its sense of shame?

  4. collapse expand

    Our children, spouses and siblings are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are triple horrors here: that it happens, that our children, siblings and spouses are doing it, and that we watch in numbness. This has never been a peaceful nation state, indeed the Europeans took war with them everywhere they went, including here in the Western hemisphere.
    I can’t imagine that anyone, after witnessing what has been done in our names for over two centuries, could even thing of trusting the Pentagon. I would rather trust strangers with masks for the “objective” truth.
    We are numb to the suffering of others, like a sociopath who has NO compassion for others, cannot – CANNOT – feel bad for what s/he inflicts on others. This is American exceptionalism, both the historical justification of genocide, slavery and terrorism, and the current lack of will to change it. Violence has shaped us, and numb to its horror, we continue to believe murder and torture are what we have to do to protect ourselves. Those in power do this with full knowledge of how wrong it is; don’t forgive them, scream for their prosecution and conviction. Vote them down over and over and over again until someone with human values gets elected. It is not okay to murder and torture OTHERS. It never will be, it never has been. Don’t let them do it in your name.

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    I'm an academic who does not believe in abstract knowledge. Like Marx, I think the point isn't just to describe the world, but to change it. Unlike Marx I don't have Engels sending me my monthly rent. So I have a day job teaching sociology at Middlebury College. In my real life, I'm a fighter (taekwondo) and a writer

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