On Not Caring About Lives Sacrificed

Did you know that about the same number of people died because of the Vietnam War as have died because of the Iraq War? That death count is a bit over a million for each war.

The main difference is that a fair number of those Vietnam War deaths were US soldiers whereas only a tiny fraction of Iraq War deaths have been US soldiers. The other difference is that the Vietnam War included a mainstream media that did its job by regularly reporting those deaths, the very thing the present mainstream media fails to do.

As long as Americans aren’t dying and don’t have to be reminded about those who are dying, most Americans don’t care and often get irritable if anyone suggests they should care. The US government could kill millions more innocent people and it still wouldn’t break through the moral indifference and blissful ignorance of the American public.

That is the brilliance of the elite in ruling the American empire. They’ve figured out how to keep the imperial subjects unaware and docile, even in this age of mass media where so much info is available.

Endless Outrage

“Let me be clear: this by no means justifies the Isis-inspired attacks. But, until the leaders and opinion makers and talking heads in the U.S. and France and their allies, are willing to recognize the extent to which their own massive intervention in the Greater Middle East is also responsible for the terrible situation we find ourselves in today–then, this long, downward spiral to God knows where will only continue its bloody way.” –Barry Lando

“Atrocities breed atrocities. Or as Andrew Kopkind remarked in another context, the skies were dark in Orlando this past weekend with the chickens coming home to roost.” –John V. Walsh

The recent club shooting is one of those rare events that unites nearly all Americans.

Those on the political right can feel particular hate for the shooter because he was a Muslim of Middle Eastern descent who killed Americans, ignoring that he too was American and ignoring those he killed probably included minorities and surely many atheists as well. And those on the political have a similar response because the targets were gay, an official identity politics victim class. But if the shooter had been a white right-wing Christian who shot up a women’s health clinic or if it had been a poor struggling single black mother who shot up a convention of big biz lobbyists, many Americans would have had a more mixed reaction and the outrage would be less clear.

As always, the identity of the victimizer and the identity of the victims determines the responses heard from the general public, the mainstream media, and government officials. We live in a global world where victimizers and victims are dime a dozen, but most of the violence and death is ignored by most Americans and most Westerners. It depends on the value of those involved, and of course not all humans are seen as equal in value. At times like these, that is the thought that first comes to my mind. It was the same thought I had after 9/11, an event that had followed upon decades of terrorism worldwide, both of the state and non-state varieties.

The United States military actions, CIA covert activities, and government policies such as sanctions lead to the deaths of millions in my lifetime. Bin Laden even made it clear that the 9/11 attack was precisely about that fact, the nonchalant oppression and careless murder of poor brown people and non-Christians by Western powers. The US regularly invades countries, overthrows governments, assassinates leaders, collapses countries into chaos, and destabilizes entire regions; or else aids and abets those who do such morally depraved things.

Fifty innocent people dead is just another day’s work for a government like the United States. A single drone strike in an instant easily kills fifty innocent people. It happens all the time. The illegal and unconstitutional, immoral and unjustified Iraq War has already led to the death of probably at least a half million Iraqis and possibly over a million, most of those being civilians, many of whom were women and children, and surely way more than fifty gay people died in the process—not only that, it turned a stable secular society with a thriving economy and a strong middle class into a permanent war zone where Islamic extremists have taken over, creating yet one more stronghold for terrorists.

If you take the total death toll of the War On Terror, it is in the millions. Looking at one country alone, “total avoidable Afghan deaths since 2001 under ongoing war and occupation-imposed deprivation amount to around 3 million people, about 900,000 of whom are infants under five” and “Altogether, this suggests that the total Afghan death toll due to the direct and indirect impacts of US-led intervention since the early nineties until now could be as high 3-5 million.” More broadly: “According to the figures explored here, total deaths from Western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 1990s – from direct killings and the longer-term impact of war-imposed deprivation – likely constitute around 4 million (2 million in Iraq from 1991-2003, plus 2 million from the “war on terror”), and could be as high as 6-8 million people when accounting for higher avoidable death estimates in Afghanistan.”

That is a small sampling of the kinds of things the United States and its allies have done and continue to do in the Middle East along with many other areas of the world (e.g., Latin America). In some cases, it might be a severe undercount of deaths. That doesn’t even include the crippled, traumatized, orphaned, dislocated, etc. Much of the refugee crisis right now is the result of Western actions in non-Western countries.

Just imagine if some other country (or alliance of countries) over a period of decades invaded the United States multiple times, armed and trained paramilitary groups here, overthrew the government, propped up a dictator or left the country in chaos, sent drone or military strikes from across the national border, enforced economic sanctions, and on and on. Just imagine that these actions led to the harming and killing of millions of Americans, including hundreds of thousands innocents (women, children, and other civilians), maybe taking out a few gay clubs that were in the wrong place.

Yet we Americans have the arrogant audacity and willful ignorance to wonder why so many people hate America. Worse still, Americans go on voting into power the same kind of neocons that caused so much suffering and devastation for decades. And idiotic assholes on the political left will praise someone like Hillary Clinton for supposedly being a feminist and LGBT advocate and a voice for minorities, the very politician who has promoted policies around the world that have killed more innocent women, LGBTs, and minorities than all American right-wing hate groups combined. Who needs the evil hate-and-fear-mongering of the political right when we have the New Democrats to do the job for them.

If you want to be fully pissed off, right there is a good reason for righteous anger. And if you want to fight evil in the world, make sure sociopaths like that never get elected again. But if you get emotionally worked up every time fifty innocent people get killed for reasons of oppression and prejudice, you’d be in an endless state of outrage and much of it would be directed at the United States government.

Revolutions: American and French, Part 2

I’ve been reading many books and listening to some lectures on the revolutionary era. It is fair to say that these sources are educating me in a way my schooling didn’t prepare me for. I’m constantly amazed how, like most Americans, I’ve been so ignorant throughout my life. Not just ignorant, but ignorant of how ignorant I was.

I really had no clue about the French Revolution, that is for sure. Anything you think you know about the French Revolution is probably wrong or severely limited. As always, context is freaking everything.

I wrote a bit about what I had learned a while back, but I have since learned so much more.

One interesting fact is the part the Basque played during the revolutionary era. The Basque region is located in the border region of Spain and France. The Basque are a separate people from the Celts and they have lived in that region for a very long time. The Irish descend from the Basque which is interesting as the English used their policies toward the Irish as a blueprint for their later colonizing efforts. The Basque and the Irish are both a proud people that had long struggles against imperialism.

The Basque were a highly respected people since for most of their history they remained unconquered. Neither the Romans nor the Moors could put them down, partly because they had a good defensible location in the mountains. This is what formed their republican tradition which inspired John Adams thinking about republicanism in America. (As a side note, many Basque immigrated to the Americas and later on helped shape the cowboy culture of open range cattle ranching; so they were the original cowboys.)

The Basque supported the French Revolution early on, like most people (like most Americans and most British). It was only later on that they experienced oppression as well and lost their independence (and only later that the French Revolution got a bad reputation during the era of anti-revolutionary backlash).

The early years of the French Revolution were more about political reform than the revolution we know from the Reign of Terror (the revolution began in 1789 and the use of the guillotine didn’t begin until 1793). Even so, keep in mind that more people died in the American Revolution than died in the French Reign of Terror. Also, keep in mind that more people suffered oppression and died because of the results of the American failure to abolish slavery than did with the entire French Revolution.

Originally, the revolutionaries were pushing for a constitutional monarchy and that would have worked out just fine except King Louis XVI didn’t want to have his power constrained, as neither did King Charles I when facing the English Civil War, and so likewise regicide followed. The revolutionaries also weren’t trying to get rid of the aristocracy, take their land or take their wealth. They simply wanted the aristocracy to be treated like everyone else with no special privileges. Also, the revolutionaries had no desire to get rid of the church. The clergy were among the strongest supporters of the early revolution.

This early period of reform lasted for several years.

So, what went wrong? I’m not sure if anything went wrong exactly. Revolutions are always a gamble. There was nothing that guaranteed the American Revolution wouldn’t have had  a similar fate. Revolutions happen because all other recourses have failed, and that was even more true for the French than for the Americans.

The French people were truly desperate in a way Americans at that time couldn’t have imagined. They were living in a severely oppressive society and the people were starving. Americans before the Revolution were among the most free people in the world. It was because Americans were so used to being free that they felt affronted by having that freedom even slightly lessened. The French, on the other hand, were dealing with problems that literally were life and death for many of them. The French government wasn’t a far off institution as was the British government. It was an everpresent reality. American colonists knew no equivalent to the Bastille.

Also, consider how much more the French revolutionaries had going against them.

Besides the constant threat of starvation, they had more enemies than allies. The French are the only reason American revolutionaries won their war. Thousands of French citizens fought and died in the American Revolution. There is no equal number of American citizens who returned the favor by fighting and dying in the French Revolution. Nor did the French Revolutionaries have a major empire on its side as the American revolutionaries had with France. Instead, the French were facing enemies from without as they were facing enemies from within. Many of the European Empires sought to attack France during its moment of weakness and so the French were forced to fight wars as a nation even as they were attempting to rebuild their nation.

It was a nearly impossible situation for a revolution. It is a miracle that it didn’t turn out worse.

Early Americans had it easy in comparison. If the American Revolution had been similar to the French Revolution, American revolutionaries would not only had to fight the British government on its own territory but simultaneously fight the Native Americans and the Spanish Empire while being abandoned by the French Empire. On top of that, American revolutionaries would have had to deal with a larger population that was facing starvation as well.

How well would the American Revolution have turned out under those conditions? Probably not so well.

When a clueless asshole like Edmund Burke complained about the French Revolution, what would he have preferred? Should the French just accepted their fate by starving to death and allowing themselves to be continually killed and imprisoned by an oppressive government? The British Empire later on killed more Irish than the number of people killed in the Reign of Terror. As an Irishman and defender of the British Empire, what answer would Burke have for that? Would he have suggested the Irish to have just taken it and not to have fought back? Of course not.

Context is everything. And to understand the context one needs to know the facts.