War, Woe, and Wikileaks

“The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” – Chris Hedges

When Christopher Hedges resigned from the New York Times as its Middle East Bureau chief, he had covered conflicts in Central America, the Balkans, and the Middle East. After twenty years of war correspondence, Hedges discovered that war was more than just the clinical and deodorized military conflict it was presented as on television. For those involved in the heat of battles, war was a force that provided meaning, comradeship, and purpose. It obliterated the trivialities of life, so common in a post-industrial society filled with media-gossip and meaningless distractions. War produced the most powerful sense of comradeship (not friendship) within people, erasing the alienation and isolation endemic in civilian life.  So after he resigned from the New York Times for speaking out too loudly against the Iraq War in 2003, Hedges knew that he did not miss war. He missed what war brought.

On April 5th, 2010, the international watchdog organization, Wikileaks, published a highly classified video filmed from an Apache helicopter in Iraq during the chaotic year of 2007. It depicted the murder of twelve Iraqi citizens, virtually unarmed, and posing no danger to the firing squad perched on the Apache helicopter. Among the dead were two Reuters journalists, who carried cameras that, according to the soldiers, resembled RPGs. Also dead were several Iraqis who came to assist the wounded journalists. The release of this video, after several years of stalling, triggered an explosive reaction from citizenries across the world. The nonchalance and ecstasy displayed by the soldiers during the thirty-eight minutes video proved to be so shocking, that some believed these soldiers were surely going to be reprimanded. They felt that such an incident represented an aberration, a seldom mutation within the warrior ethos, and a rare escape from the uniform nobility of Obama’s imperial legions. It was so different from the Hollywood versions of war that has become so ingrained in the masses’ psyche.

Instead, the U.S. Central Command’s report of their probe into the matter found the soldiers innocent of all charges. The investigation found that the soldiers operated within the parameters of their training, and were doing everything by the books. Upon first approximation, this verdict may seem shocking and unjust. But here we have to return to what Hedges described as part of the warrior experience: the obliteration of taboo when armed with a single purpose, exempting one from the confining rigidity of law and morality. What combat and war induces within the warrior is much like love, a single-minded apprehension of reality that lays waste to all triviality. And the fact is, what the Wikileaks video depicted was not an aberration. The only rare thing about the incident is the fact that it ended up in the hands of Wikileaks, allowing us to see it. Who knows how many incidents just like this has not been released in video.

The video is not primarily a condemnation of the soldiers who committed the killings. Its value lies in the fact that it is able to reveal to the lay person the dark elixir of war. It is war that builds for the its victims and its perpetrators an alternative reality free from the corners of human decency. Organizations like Wikileaks remain the last vestiges that allows the ordinary citizen to be aware of what his or her country is committing, often in their name. It allows for a rare introspection into the individual’s perception of what war is, away from the Hollywood depictions in movies such as Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, or even Platoon. Videos like the one released by Wikileaks reveals the disparity between reality and the propagandistic myth pushed by the corporate media. And as Hedges would describe it, ever since the Crimean War, the national press’s coverage of war has always had the primary purpose of sustaining morale for the war effort.

This is what we do. Mass murder is the reason why there are over a million dead in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not even Barack Obama can change that. It is easy to view the video, and then talk about it as though it is an irregularity. No, it is the exact opposite. Wikileaks should be protected for its ability to allow citizens to view war for what it is, and not what it’s presented as, on a silver platter, by the FOX News and CNNs. The more we allow ourselves to believe in the glory of war shown by the corporate media and popular culture, the more delusional we will become as a society. Ultimately, our society will exhibit such callousness as to become what the great 20th century Irish poet described in his “Meditations in Time of Civil War”:

“We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare.”


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