unspeakable evil

“They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that”

“Problems with killer drones” is the tepid headline of a summary article at AtlanticWire, collecting responses to Jane Mayer’s typically thorough investigation into Obama’s “weapon of choice”–deadly rocket attacks launched by Predator drones. (The link is to an abstract. Unfortunately, the entire article is behind the New Yorker’s firewall.)

The liberal response, represented by Lisa Schrich at HuffingtonPost, points out that ten civilians die for every militant killed in a drone strike and that they “undermine both Pakistani and Afghan state sovereignty and legitimacy, stir political unrest, and challenge alliances.”

Which is fine, as far as it goes, but she might go even further: it’s murder without any sort of due process. When did America decide it could kill anyone on the planet, without a peep of opposition from its media outlets or political class?

Actually, you can put a date on it. September 11, 2001. Before that, as Mayer relates, our government criticized Israel’s targeted killings of Palestinian militants. Martin Indyk, then ambassador to Israel, actually said, in June of that year, “the United States government is very clearly on record against targeted assassinations…. They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that.”

But September 11 Changed All That. And blowing suspected militants, and anyone in the neighborhood, to smithereens from two miles up in the sky became an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Think about that. Never mind that there are many more misses than hits, or that a “kill” with ten additional corpses is cause for high fives all around, or that the most celebrated kill of recent times, of Baitalluh Meshud, the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, only came after fifteen failed strikes, killing up to 321 additional people. “We”–our government–have no right to do anything like that. Right? Right? Even if we “take out” the target with the precision that so often claimed but never demonstrated, there’s no due process, no evidence whatsoever that the target is guilty of the crimes, or dark thoughts (the same thing in recent times) we accuse him of. In a terrific essay last month, Tom Englehardt made the case that to the rest of the world, we have become the Martians of HG Wells’ fiction, who, with “intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic,” destroy human bodies and lives and communities without a second thought.

We go about our comfortable lives and rarely have cause to think about the women, children, and noncombatants who live in daily fear of being vaporized, torn apart, crushed or poisoned by the high-tech weaponry of a nation half a world away. This suits the politicians and the generals just fine, for whom it is almost literally a video game. Few American lives are at risk, the victims are invisible, both parties can appear to be taking a stand against terror, and the money to the military machine keeps flowing.

I think the last word should go to Harry Lime of The Third Man, who defends his death-dealing black marketeering (an operation that seems almost quaint today) while high in a Ferris Wheel overlooking Vienna with the words: “Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?”

A “slow-motion apocalypse in progress”

Photographer Chris Jordan has photographed the stomach contents of albatross chicks on Midway Atoll, “one of the world’s most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent.”

The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.

To document this phenomenon as faithfully as possible, not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way.

In his artist’s statement for another exhibit, Jordan writes that his work shows evidence of “a slow-motion apocalypse in progress.”

The pervasiveness of our consumerism holds a seductive kind of mob mentality. Collectively we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but we each are anonymous and no one is in charge or accountable for the consequences. I fear that in this process we are doing irreparable harm to our planet and to our individual spirits.

As an American consumer myself, I am in no position to finger wag; but I do know that when we reflect on a difficult question in the absence of an answer, our attention can turn inward, and in that space may exist the possibility of some evolution of thought or action. So my hope is that these photographs can serve as portals to a kind of cultural self-inquiry. It may not be the most comfortable terrain, but I have heard it said that in risking self-awareness, at least we know that we are awake.

Grave of the Fireflies

September 21, 1945… that was the night I died.

Just watched this powerful, gorgeous film again last night (you can find complete versions online at surfthechannnel.com).

Animation or no, it’s one of my favorite films of all time. The ineffable beauty of childhood innocence and the brother/sister bond comes up against the unspeakable evil of the firebombing of a nation, already defeated, whose buildings were mostly made of paper and wood. Not to mention the indifference of an adult population with its own survival issues.

What imagination: the visual pairing of dying fireflies with scenes of incendiary devices trailing gently down from the American planes. What acid observation: the doctor tells the boy Seita that Setsuko, his deathly ill younger sister, needs food, not medicine, and turns his back.

(FWIW I just read that in its theatrical premier in Japan, it played on a double bill with another Studio Ghibli masterpiece, My Neighbor Totoro. That seemed weird to me at first glance, but on reflection makes perfect sense).

more about “Grave of the Fireflies Japanese Trailer“, posted with vodpod</d

Iran “breaking the rules all* nations must follow”

* not really. but doesn’t it sound even-handed?

So this General Assembly will be all about rattling sabres at Iran for not-yet-existing nuclear weapons, and for  “breaking the rules all nations must follow.” Well, not ALL nations.

There is one county in the middle east that has a lot of  (up to 400) thermonuclear devices, and a large middle finger extended to anyone who wants to say anything about it.

VIENNA (Reuters) – Arab states in the U.N. nuclear assembly on Friday won narrow approval of a resolution urging Israel to put all its atomic sites under U.N. inspection and join the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Jewish state deplored the measure for singling it out while many of its Islamic neighbors remained hostile to its existence, and said it would not cooperate with it.

The non-binding resolution, which passed for the first time in 18 years of attempts thanks to more developing nation votes, voiced concern about “Israeli nuclear capabilities” and urged the International Atomic Energy Agency to tackle the issue.

Israel is one of only three countries worldwide along with India and Pakistan outside the nuclear NPT and is widely assumed to have the Middle East’s only atomic arsenal, though it has never confirmed or denied it.

I love this: “Mr. Obama said that the Iranian nuclear program ‘represents a direct challenge to the basic foundation of the nonproliferation regime.”’ Guess what? The U.S. has obligations under the NPT. The “Second Pillar: Disarmament.” How’s that goin’? How much disarming have WE done?

All war, all the time

Borges wrote:

I believe if there were any doubt as to the authenticity of the Koran, this absence of camels would be sufficient to prove it is an Arabian work. It was written by Mohammed, and Mohammed, as an Arab, had no reason to know that camels were especially Arabian; for him they were a part of reality, he had no reason to emphasize them….

And so it is with 21st century America and war. Nobody really talks about it much, and if they do, they don’t go all “This is FUCKING NUTS!” or “We’re murdering innocent people on a daily basis in the most awful way–blowing them to bits with bombs and rockets and crushing them under the rubble of their own homes–no matter who’s in the goddamn White House.”

Well, not many other than me.

But there is Tom Englehardt. This essay is an absolute must-read.

An excerpt:

What do you make of a world in which the U.S. has robot assassins in the skies over its war zones, 24/7, and the “pilots” who control them from thousands of miles away are ready on a moment’s notice to launch missiles — “Hellfire” missiles at that — into Pashtun peasant villages in the wild, mountainous borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan? What does it mean when American pilots can be at war “in” Afghanistan, 9 to 5, by remote control, while their bodies remain at a base outside Las Vegas and then can head home past a sign that warns them to drive carefully because this is “the most dangerous part of your day”?

What does it mean when, for our security and future safety, the Pentagon funds the wildest ideas imaginable for developing high-tech weapons systems, many of which sound as if they came straight out of the pages of sci-fi novels? Take, for example, Boeing’s advanced coordinated system of hand-held drones, robots, sensors, and other battlefield surveillance equipment slated for seven Army brigades within the next two years at a cost of $2 billion and for the full Army by 2025; or the Next Generation Bomber, an advanced “platform” slated for 2018; or a truly futuristic bomber, “a suborbital semi-spacecraft able to move at hypersonic speed along the edge of the atmosphere,” for 2035? What does it mean about our world when those people in our government peering deepest into a blue-skies future are planning ways to send armed “platforms” up into those skies and kill more than a quarter century from now?

And do you ever wonder about this: If such weaponry is being endlessly developed for our safety and security, and that of our children and grandchildren, why is it that one of our most successful businesses involves the sale of the same weaponry to other countries?

Tomdispatch is always an essential site, but this particular essay has to be read in full.

Europe’s Picture of Dorian Gray

George Monbiot in the Guardian:

When the great tsunami of 2004 struck the Somali coast, it dumped and smashed open thousands of barrels on the beaches and in villages up to 10km inland. According to the United Nations, they contained clinical waste from western hospitals, heavy metals, other chemical junk and nuclear waste. People started suffering from unusual skin infections, bleeding at the mouth, acute respiratory infections and abdominal haemorrhages. The barrels had been dumped in the sea, a UN spokesman said, for one obvious reason: it cost European companies around $2.50 a tonne to dispose of the waste this way, while dealing with them properly would have cost “something like $1,000 a tonne.” On the seabed off Somalia lies Europe’s picture of Dorian Gray: the skeleton in the closet of the languid new world we have made.

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