Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"What a repulsive, brutal, sickening, hideous thing [war] is." Oliver Wendell Holmes

Photo from blueinmo. Thanks Blue.

When the Bush administration took control of our country, they made the decision that no laws would govern their conduct, no rules guide them, no scrutiny subject their actions to review, no citizens' rights would be respected, no international concerns taken into consideration. They believed themselves to be elite humans with such foresight and superior intellect that they even had the right to kill hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe over a million human beings, and that whole "Thou Shalt Not Kill" rule -- that one didn't apply either. They believed themselves a Master Race, answerable to no one -- not even their version of God. Of course George W. Bush claims that God told him to kill all these people, destroy homes and communities and lives, loot the treasury, trample rights, destroy hope. He belongs in a lunatic asylum. And the rest of his gang belongs in prison.

Among our most cherished rights inside the U.S. are the freedoms of speech and press. We may say as we choose. We can publish it too. Some say that freedom of speech and press are the most important rights of all. After all, that's the First Amendment. We're #1. This heightened protection for freedom of speech isn't just to spread the joy of language or literacy. It was recognized by the founders of our country as the most important individual and social right because it can stop tyrants and madmen from destroying our country. Let the people know what is really going on. Have a vigorous press that dogs the politicians' every move and then tells the people the truth. Let the citizens speak openly to their neighbors, criticize their government, organize to oppose it when it violates the rights of the people. All of this is part of our freedom of speech.

Instead of simply cancelling the first amendment to the constitution, setting themselves up for a court challenge, the Bush administration came up with a series of sneaky rules to undermine those rights. One thing they've done is to classify everything as a secret -- no public right to know.

When they began the war in Iraq, the Bush administration did not want a pesky press telling the public the truth. So they openly threatened the press with a bizzarre unconstitutional policy originally adopted by the Pentagon which prohibited anyone from taking or publishing photos of coffins carrying the U.S. war dead back to this country. It's almost as if by making it illegal to show the photo of the coffin, they erased the dead. Out of sight out of mind. I wonder if the families of the dead have forgotten, erased the memories of their family members, as if they never existed, or as if they didn't really matter. And they most certainly did not matter to the Bush regime which sent young bodies to war without protective gear, instead taking the money that should have been used to protect our people and giving it to Cheney's business, Halliburton, to perform such vital services as bringing pizzas to the U.S. Embassy.

It was originally the Pentagon that banned taking or displaying photos of the U.S. Dead. They claimed they were "protecting" the families. But their real purpose was more likely to prevent the public from seeing the brutality of war, of our young people who were being slaughtered. The Republicans believed that the country had risen up against the Vietnam War in part because the media brought it into peoples' homes every night on the evening news, with live film showing young Americans dying, suffering, losing limbs in the jungles of some far-away country. So the government figured if they kept the American public ignorant, they could get away with whatever they wanted.

There has long been an effort by governments to prevent the public from seeing photographs of war -- photographs of dead people. Before photography, of course, artists were commissioned by the kings who were waging the wars to go to the battlefield, make sketches, then paint (usually fabricated, fictititious and entirely silly) portraits of some noble young subject of the king dying in glory. These paintings were used both to justify the reason for war, and to convince the nation that to die for the King is a noble cause. These noble young warriors at the moment of their death were often shown with an angel or two descending from above to take them on the express lane to heaven.

Governments need to keep the public ignorant about what it really means to slaughter the people of another nation (or tribe, or kingdom, or race, or religion). If people knew the truth, then we would have a Department of Peace (thanks Dennis Kucinich) and an international commitment to go anywhere, do anything, even meet with people without precondition (gasp!), in an effort to avoid war. Talk to any veteran of war, and they always say the same thing: You have no idea what it's really like, the horror. Of course war is also very lucrative, and that's the main reason these people love war, and want to keep the public from seeing the real cost of war -- the dead people.

"Slowly, over the misty fields of Gettysburg--as all reluctant to expose their ghastly horrors to the light--came the sunless morn, after the retreat by [General Robert. E.] Lee's broken army. Through the shadowy vapors, it was, indeed, a "harvest of death" that was presented; hundreds and thousands of torn Union and rebel soldiers--although many of the former were already interred--strewed the now quiet fighting ground, soaked by the rain, which for two days had drenched the country with its
fitful showers."

(Photographic Sketch Book of the War. Alexander Gardner wrote these words to describe the now-famous photo above, taken by Timothy H. Sullivan, and commonly referred to as "Harvest of Death." This was a picture taken of the dead in the U.S. Civil War after the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1 - July 3, 1863).

The publication of these civil war photos of the dead stirred the same arguments and controversy we hear today. American poet Oliver Wendell Holmes thought the photos should be published, writing in the Atlanta Monthly magazine:

"Let him who wishes to know what war is look at this series of illustrations. These wrecks of manhood thrown together in careless heaps or ranged in ghastly rows for burial were alive but yesterday...
Many people would not look through this series. Many, having seen it and dreamed of its horrors, would lock it up .. that it might not thrill or revolt those whose souls sickens at such sights. It was so nearly like visiting the battlefield ... that all the emotions excited by the actual sight .. came back to us. (It) gives us .... some conception of what a repulsive, brutal, sickening, hideous thing it is, this dashing together of two frantic mobs to which we give the name of armies...."

The evidence is overwhelming that the Bush administration lied to the public to come up with bizarre and terrifying stories to justify starting the war against Iraq. And that this war has been used, our military has been used, as protection for the western oil companies to go into Iraq and steal its oil. The war itself is an international war crime -- a crime against the entire world, against all humanity. The U.S. has previously agreed to be bound by basic rules and laws that are designed to prevent one nation from starting wars of aggression to steal the land and resources of other nations. The U.S., as an official policy, has also kidnapped, tortured, and murdered people, which acts are also international war crimes.

We need to set up independent prosecutors, have public hearings, prosecute and throw into prison every person who in any way directed, collaborated, covered up, ratified, participated in knowingly starting this war based on lies, and in the kidnapping, torture and murder of people. Yes, I do mean all the big boys.

We say that the U.S. is a nation of laws: the benefits and burdens of the law apply equally to everyone, to the king and the peasant, to the millionaire and the pauper. If we do not enforce our laws against the rich and powerful, those who have disgraced us, those who have looted our country, those who have tortured, those who have committed international war crimes, then we are no longer a nation of laws. We are just another pathetic police state where the rich and powerful can get away with anything -- even murder.

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