Tuesday, August 1, 2006

What Bombs Do

Tom Engelhardt delivers an excellent piece of war journalism on the topic of aviation-based warfare; its history, mechanics, and most of all, its devastating effects. He calls it the new barbarism; and after reading his work, you may agree.

Bombs—whether they're strapped to people, driven in trucks, or dropped from airplanes—do things to bodies that most of us cannot begin to imagine. But if you'd like to get a remote idea, check out this review of the traumatic injuries encountered by EMTs in Oklahoma City and other sites of explosion-related human catastrophe. Mind you, it's not for the weak of heart or stomach, so I'll summarize it in less graphic detail than the article offers.

I can recall as a kid, watching the film adaptation of Nevil Shute's On the Beach with my old man. I asked him what we would do if an "A-bomb" (as I called them then) fell near us. He said, "Brian, if one of those things is sent here, I hope to God it falls right on top of our heads."

My father was a WWII vet, a paratrooper who had been trapped in the Bulge; he knew some stuff about war that I hope I or my child will never have to learn. What he meant by that remark was that the luckiest victim of a bombing or an explosion is the person standing right next to the bomber or underneath the terminal path of the missile or bomb. The rest are likely to suffer agony beyond human endurance—sometimes for weeks, months, or even years—until death or healing slowly arrive.

These are details that are unpleasant to think of—so unpleasant, in fact, that our mass media refuses to dwell on them. We pick up the paper each day and read statistics: x-numbers of dead children, y-more wounded in the latest attack on either Lebanon or Israel. To scratch the surface further than the recitation of the casualty mathematics would be upsetting to viewers and readers. And it might carry a cost in lost advertising revenue or depressed Neilsen stats. If you think that isn't what truly drives the American mass media, then you'd better take a wake-up pill. I can recommend one in book form: Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media?

Every hour that Bush and his handlers have sat around with their fingers up their collective ass, refusing to talk to Syria because they're not nice people like them, or refusing to use American leverage and diplomacy to put a stop to this madness; another Israeli or Lebanese child has suffered the kind of searing torture detailed by the writers mentioned above.

But that's how the Bushies are handling this, as noted by the Progress Report today:

During a press conference Friday, President Bush proudly declared that American foreign policy no longer seeks to "manage calm," and that the violence in the Middle East was evidence of a more effective foreign policy. He repeated this line during Saturday's radio address: "For decades, American policy sought to achieve peace in the Middle East by promoting stability in the Middle East, yet these policies gave us neither," Bush said, clearly implying that long-term peace is best achieved through instability.

Once again, you have to give marks to the Bushies for a certain uniqueness of perspective: they inveterately attempt to make chicken shit out of chicken salad.

But the fact is, sad to tell, that it isn't unique at all. Just check out what Alterman heard at synagogue over the weekend, in much the same vein as Bush's radio address. Here's an excerpt:

I found myself oddly depressed after dropping by synagogue on Saturday morning when a woman stood to ask the rabbi what she could say to her teenage daughter, who was watching the carnage on TV and could not understand how the mass killing of innocents could be justified. The Rabbi answered with nothing but bluster and bul**hit. Refusing to even engage the question, he trolled for applause from the congregation with chauvinistic argument that because the world had treated the Jews so badly for so many years, Israel should not be criticized no matter what it did. He even used the word "disproportionate" to refer to Palestinian attacks on Jews, when everyone knows that Israel has killed many, many more Palestinians than vice-versa since the conflict began. [*] It was the same old lugubrious interpretation of Jewish history that connects Pope Pius with Adolf Hitler with Hezbollah.

To learn more about what's really happening in the Mideast, click the graphic above and bookmark Juan Cole's outstanding blog. Then get online and on the phone and demand that our government start doing its job, which would, of course, involve somewhat more than playing Brahms for a rapt audience.

I will allow Mr. Engelhardt to conclude today's discussion:

As air wars go, the one in Lebanon may seem strikingly directed against the civilian infrastructure and against society; in that, however, it is historically anything but unique. It might even be said that war from the air, since first launched in Europe's colonies early in the last century, has always been essentially directed against civilians. As in World War II, air power -- no matter its stated targets -- almost invariably turns out to be worst for civilians and, in the end, to be aimed at society itself. In that way, its damage is anything but "collateral," never truly "surgical," and never in its overall effect "precise." Even when it doesn't start that way, the frustration of not working as planned, of not breaking the "will," invariably leads, as with the Israelis, to ever wider, ever fiercer versions of the same, which, if allowed to proceed to their logical conclusion, will bring down not society's will, but society itself.

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