Archive for the 'militarism' Category

21
Oct
10

“First they came, the invisible whites, and dealt death from afar”

Your tax dollars at work. This drone strike killed 0.4 jihadis!— and only 19.6 innocent people. (AP Photo/Hasbunallah Khan)

“First they came, the invisible whites, and dealt death from afar.”
—Joseph Conrad, An Outcast of the Islands

The murderous rocket attacks by remote-controlled drones being carried out on a nearly daily basis in Pakistan (and Afghanistan and Yemen and Somaila) should be cause for mass revulsion, shame, protests in the streets. But no. Try hard to find a candidate for office from either party criticizing them. Even the scary crazy Tea Party people are down with Obama on this one!

And, in a recent poll, only 3 percent even mention Afghanistan or “the war” (which war?)—at all— as one of America’s most important problems. So drone attacks are not exactly a red-button issue with the American voter. But … just imagine it happening to you, or to your family. Johann Hari puts it into perspective well with this simple little thought exercise:

Imagine if, an hour from now, a robot-plane swooped over your house and blasted it to pieces. The plane has no pilot. It is controlled with a joystick from 7,000 miles away, sent by the Pakistani military to kill you. It blows up all the houses in your street, and so barbecues your family and your neighbours until there is nothing left to bury but a few charred slops. Why? They refuse to comment. They don’t even admit the robot-planes belong to them. But they tell the Pakistani newspapers back home it is because one of you was planning to attack Pakistan. How do they know? Somebody told them. Who? You don’t know, and there are no appeals against the robot.

Now imagine it doesn’t end there: these attacks are happening every week somewhere in your country. They blow up funerals and family dinners and children. The number of robot-planes in the sky is increasing every week. You discover they are named “Predators”, or “Reapers” – after the Grim Reaper. No matter how much you plead, no matter how much you make it clear you are a peaceful civilian getting on with your life, it won’t stop. What do you do?

You, as a typical American, even a highly educated one, say well, that is crazy.  Sure, mistakes happen in war. Heh. The United States armed forces are the best trained and most moral soldiers in the world. You know it is a fact that we are taking Every Precaution to Minimize Collateral Damage.

Are we?

That doesn’t exactly jibe with a number mentioned by Hari here, or more accurately, a ratio. Although old news, it really jumped out at me. Fifty to one.  That is the ratio cited by David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus from 2006 to 2008, in a New York Times op-ed last year. According to Pakistani sources, wrote Kilcullen, the drone strikes kill “50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent–hardly ‘precision.'”

The Pentagon of course doesn’t agree with these numbers, but hmm, who to believe? (And remember Tommy Franks’ “We don’t do body counts”?) Maybe it’s 2 percent or ten or twenty percent “precision,” but any way you look at it, these drone attacks leave  a lot of bodies, and body parts, littering the ground. And you can’t blame Bush for this anymore. The drone attacks are very much the current administration’s baby.

Remember these?

Apparently, the president rarely mentions the drone attacks at all. Except on one occasion, when he cracked a joke about them. The Pakistan Daily reports on the White House Correspondents Dinner in May:

“[The] Jonas Brothers are here, they’re out there somewhere,” President Obama quipped as he looked out at the packed room. Then he furrowed his brow, pretending to send a stern message to the pop band. “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You’ll never see it coming.”

What a card. Nice one, President Peace Prize! He might have mentioned that statistically, the drones would not only have taken out Kevin, Joe and Nick, but 150 members of their family and entourage, and whoever else might have been in the neighborhood.

Kilcullen’s point, and Hari’s, is still to my mind a little obtuse. Hari again:

I detest jihadism. Their ideology is everything I oppose: their ideal society is my Hell. It is precisely because I want to really undermine them – rather than pose as macho – that I am against this robot-slaughter. It enlarges the threat. It drags us into a terrible feedback loop, where the US launches more drone attacks to deal with jihadism, which makes jihadism worse, which prompts more drone attacks, which makes jihadism worse – and on and on.

I would suggest these attacks are counterproductive only if you take at face value the idea that America’s mission in its wars is to wipe out this jihadism. (I would side with Robert Pape, who has demonstrated pretty well that “The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.”)

Chris Floyd, who brought Hari’s piece to my attention, thinks the creation of more terrorists is not an accidental byproduct. Seizing on the offhand remark by a “senior figure” in the CIA that the drone targeting can be pretty arbitrary, he wonders if maybe the randomness of the attacks is a feature, not a bug:

“Sometimes you’re dealing with tribal chiefs. Often they say an enemy of theirs is al-Qa’ida because they want to get rid of somebody, or they made crap up because they wanted to prove they were valuable so they could make money.”

That’s right: Barack Obama is killing hundreds of innocent civilians in Pakistan on the basis of crap made up for money. Made-up crap. For money. That’s why a child who is just as precious as your child is to a parent who is just as real a person as you are was killed this week, by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party and the entire bipartisan foreign policy establishment of the United States of America: crap made up for money.

And of course, it’s not just tribal chiefs making up crap for blood money: the entire aforementioned bipartisan foreign policy establishment is now and has for years been making up crap ‘so they could make money’ — for themselves, for their corporate patrons, for their government agencies, for their defense and ‘security’ stockholdings, for the perpetuation of their bloated, belligerent, pig-ignorant domination of world affairs and American society — by killing innocent people all over the world.

I woke up this morning thinking I would be writing about the horrible fact that Americans in general, and Kentuckians in particular, are appallingly blase about the ongoing destruction and desecration of irreplaceable mountains and streams via the practice of Mountaintop Removal Mining. And how sad (really, that’s the only word) it is that there are no political candidates in this state willing to confront the coal industry over this. The parallels to the drone attacks are obvious and dispiriting. Only three percent of Americans are concerned about a metastasizing war entering its second decade. The most awful aspects of our American lives are a bipartisan effort.

29
Sep
10

“I can’t stand you. Now go vote for me!”

Well, all righty. It’s now clear that the proliferation of Hippie-punching comments from the White House is not just a series of off the cuff remarks, not just blowing off steam, but an actual Campaign Strategy.

Blame the whiners and those who cling to their quaint literal understanding of the word Change. For it is they who are at fault for the Democrats’ impending electoral doom.

There are any number of good pieces on Firedoglake on the topic.  Jane Hamsher offers the most perceptive take on the motivation behind the strategy, and points out how self-defeating it is.

I also liked Cenk  Uygur’s rant on Ratigan, but this from Bluetexan was perhaps the most succinct.

Just so we’re clear, here are a few examples of messages that don’t appeal to me at all.

Wake up!”

Get over it.”

Get in gear, man.”

Right back at’cha. Right back at’cha.

That’s not reality.”

You know who you are.”

Yes, I do.

And none of these phrases motivate me to want to vote, canvass, give money, phone bank, blog, you know, generally take time away from putting food on my family to pull the lever for Democrats in November.On the other hand, these would do the trick.

“We’ll fight to add the public option to the health care bill.”

“We’re getting out of Afghanistan.”

“We are pulling the remaining 50,000 troops out of Iraq.”

“We’re going to cut the approximately $1T annual defense budget in half and use the remainder to fund US infrastructure projects, including high speed rail.”

“We will roll back the Bush/Cheney executive power grabs.”

“We will repeal DADT.”

“We will fight for marriage equality.”

“We will reform the Senate and eliminate the filibuster.”

“We will make the Fed transparent.”

“We will legalize marijuana.”

Hope that helps.

On the other hand, these would do the trick.

01
Sep
10

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be “Blogosphere titans”

Jeffrey G, living large

Simon Owens’ Clash of the Blogosphere Titans sees Glenn Greenwald’s relentless (and entirely justified) criticism of Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg as a useful yardstick with which to measure “the effect of media criticism in a Web 2.0/3.0 age.”

The  journalistic catastrophes that made Goldberg’s name synonymous with spectacular wrongheadedness, a pair of long pieces about the Iraq threat for the New Yorker (the first one titled  “The Great Terror”), came back in 2002.

Times have changed. Today, Greenwald, a “blogger” (a term of utter contempt once, now losing its bite) has a featured column at Salon, a site that gets far  more online readership than the Atlantic, according to Owens, as  well as a New York Times bestseller to his credit. Owens says Greenwald  now possesses the clout to compel Goldberg to respond to criticism, especially as regards “The Point of No Return,” his attempt to replicate his scare/war-mongering success, this time with regard to Iran.

Goldberg declined Owens’ invitation to discuss his disputes with Greenwald; Greenwald did not. Responding to the suggestion that his singular focus on Goldberg might be perceived as an “obsessive feud,” Greenwald tells Owens that Goldberg’s stature demands close scrutiny:

“[T]here are two things that distinguish this case. One is the consequentiality of it and the centrality [Goldberg] played. It wasn’t like he was just kind of wrong about something, he was one of the leading people validating the war. The thing that happened in the Iraq War is that obviously the right got behind it because the people on the right — the leaders on the right — were clearly behind it. But in order to make it a majoritarian movement, they had to get centrists and liberals behind it. So they needed liberal validators … There’s probably nobody that you can compare in influence to getting Democrats and liberals to support the war than Jeffrey Goldberg. It wasn’t just that he was for the war, he was using his status as a reporter to feed lies. I mean he didn’t just write one New Yorker piece but a second one too, and he was all over the television with this stuff saying that Saddam had a very active nuclear program and most importantly that Saddam had an enthusiastic alliance with al-Qaeda.”

The second distinguishing characteristic of Goldberg, Greenwald argued, is that he’s one of the few mainstream reporters who hasn’t issued a mea culpa on the facts he got wrong. Greenwald pointed out that though Judith Miller paid a career price for her Iraq reporting at the New York Times, Goldberg — who Greenwald considers equally culpable — continues to gain prominence despite doubling down on his past reporting. In fact, Goldberg recently used his blog to argue that there truly was a strong connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda.

It’s true that Goldberg has responded to Greenwald multiple times over the Iran piece,  both on his blog and as a guest on NPR, but these responses have been perfunctory at best, mendacious at worst:

“It’s almost like his responses are three or four years behind. When I first started writing about criticizing media figures — establishment media figures — that was very much the reaction. It was a very lame sort of not-really-attentive response, just dismissive or plain mockery. Like, ‘I don’t have to respond because in my world he’s nobody and I’m somebody so the most I’m going to do is be derisive about this.’ That’s a journalist/blogger cliché from 2005, and most journalists know they can no longer get away with it. He’s living in a world where he thinks it doesn’t affect his reputation. Among his friends it doesn’t. I’m sure he calls [TIME writer] Joe Klein or whoever else I’ve criticized and he’s like ‘he’s an asshole and a prick, don’t worry about that.’ But I guarantee you that there are a lot more people reading the stuff I write than the stuff he writes, in terms of sheer number. And the level of impact that that kind of level of critique has is infinitely greater than it was three years ago. So I’m sure he tells himself and convinces himself that it doesn’t actually matter but it does. And it’s hurting his credibility.

True, but my more cynical take is that Goldberg’s credibility is not the point. Or at least  it isn’t anymore. In fact, his willingness to use his credentials as a correspondent for the New Yorker (liberal! fastidiously fact-checky!) to stretch the case for war with Iraq, at the cost of his journalistic reputation in the “reality-based community,” was what got him to the pinnacle of the blogging profession.

This sort of failing upwards is not a new thing, especially given Goldberg’s journalistic focus.

If you make a case for a militaristic solution to a perceived problem, and possess even a middling capacity for persuasion, and if you make that case boldly  and loudly enough, you are well on your way a successful career in punditry in America.

Why should Goldberg apologize? Reckless accusations that lead to war, in the face of contrary facts and likely catastrophic consequences, are a feature, not a bug.

23
Apr
10

Seven Democrats, Four Republicans

all quiet on the western front

"I believe it will be a quick war, that there will be few losses."

I know. 2002 was a really long time ago. But you’d think more than eleven members of Congress would remember that sanctions against Iraq, based on now- (and then-) laughably false accusations, only made it easier for the war instigators to take the next step, to attack the country that was the object of the sanctions.

But no.

Unless you live in the districts represented by seven Democrats–Reps. Baird (WA), Moore (WI), Baldwin (WI), Blumenauer (OR), Kucinich (OH), Waters (CA), McDermott (WA)–or four Republicans–Flake (AZ), Jones (NC), Paul (TX), Duncan (TN)– your congressperson voted for a bill that will pave the way for more severe sanctions on Iran, a country that has not attacked another country in oh, say, two or three centuries, but which  has been accused, repeatedly, and in dozens of different ways, of possessing imaginary nuclear weapons.

It has been accused of this by the U.S.A., a country that possesses, ah, ballpark figure here, 9,960 intact warheads, and has tested them in just slightly irresponsible ways, on hapless Pacific islanders and its own citizens alike. Also, we, uh, used them against a civilian population, not once but twice, without warning, and detonating them at an altitude that insured maximum death and destruction.

So we know how awful nuclear weapons are! Trust us.

But no matter. Iran (“a festering sore,” according to noted trash-talker Harry Reid) is doing something sneaky, and we will do anything to stop them from doing … sneaky things, even if we can’t really say exactly what they are. In the past decade or so, we’ve spent a trillion dollars on a war that started in a manner suspiciously similar to the one we’re ready to get underway. And, as Ron Paul pointed out yesterday, a sanctions regime was an integral part of the buildup to that war.

I don’t agree with everything Paul says, but I don’t see a word of this that I can disagree with. Can you?

I rise in opposition to this motion to instruct House conferees on HR 2194, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act, and I rise in strong opposition again to the underlying bill and to its Senate version as well. I object to this entire push for war on Iran, however it is disguised. Listening to the debate on the Floor on this motion and the underlying bill it feels as if we are back in 2002 all over again: the same falsehoods and distortions used to push the United States into a disastrous and unnecessary one-trillion-dollar war on Iraq are being trotted out again to lead us to what will likely be an even more disastrous and costly war on Iran. The parallels are astonishing.

We hear war advocates today on the Floor scare-mongering about reports that in one year Iran will have missiles that can hit the United States. Where have we heard this bombast before? Anyone remember the claims that Iraqi drones were going to fly over the United States and attack us? These “drones” ended up being pure propaganda – the UN chief weapons inspector concluded in 2004 that there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein had ever developed unpiloted drones for use on enemy targets. Of course by then the propagandists had gotten their war so the truth did not matter much.

We hear war advocates on the floor today arguing that we cannot afford to sit around and wait for Iran to detonate a nuclear weapon. Where have we heard this before? Anyone remember then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s oft-repeated quip about Iraq, that we cannot wait for the smoking gun to appear as a mushroom cloud?

We need to see all this for what it is: Propaganda to speed us to war against Iran for the benefit of special interests.

Where have we seen this before?

Let us remember a few important things. Iran, a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has never been found in violation of that treaty. Iran is not capable of enriching uranium to the necessary level to manufacture nuclear weapons. According to the entire US Intelligence Community, Iran is not currently working on a nuclear weapons program. These are facts, and to point them out does not make one a supporter or fan of the Iranian regime. Those pushing war on Iran will ignore or distort these facts to serve their agenda, though, so it is important and necessary to point them out.

Some of my well-intentioned colleagues may be tempted to vote for sanctions on Iran because they view this as a way to avoid war on Iran. I will ask them whether the sanctions on Iraq satisfied those pushing for war at that time. Or whether the application of ever-stronger sanctions in fact helped war advocates make their case for war on Iraq: as each round of new sanctions failed to “work” – to change the regime – war became the only remaining regime-change option.

This legislation, whether the House or Senate version, will lead us to war on Iran. The sanctions in this bill, and the blockade of Iran necessary to fully enforce them, are in themselves acts of war according to international law. A vote for sanctions on Iran is a vote for war against Iran. I urge my colleagues in the strongest terms to turn back from this unnecessary and counterproductive march to war.

Here I should say, “Contact your Congressman.” But geez. 403-11. Kind of an uphill struggle.

Of course, this war has been on the way since Shock and Awe days (remember: “Anyone can go to Baghdad; Real men go to Tehran”?)

What’s holding up actually attacking? Is there some sanity hiding behind the bellicose talk? Do  the gung-ho Congressfolk and military wizards of our broke-ass country realize the lunacy of opening another front in their crazy Long War (my hope)? Or (my fear) are they just waiting for a better provocation? “All you gotta do is pick up a weapon.”

26
Feb
10

Gates: Europe’s peacefulness threatens world peace

antiwar poster

Poster seen on the streets of Harlem, February 2010

Juan Cole takes Defense Secretary Gates to task for criticizing Europe’s “general anti-war sentiment.”

An AFP story earlier this week quoted Gates as saying:

The demilitarization of Europe — where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it — has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st.

Cole rightly sees this as being a little rich coming from a country in the process of beggaring itself on war expenditures.

[A]s far as I can tell, Europe is the world’s largest economy and got there without any recent substantial wars except those the US dragged it into. Moreover, the fastest-growing economy for the past nearly 30 years has been China, which spends a fraction on their military of what the US spends on its, and, aside from a skirmish with Vietnam in the early 1980s, has been at peace. Apparently massive war expenditures are unrelated to economic growth or prosperity.

In contrast, the US has been at war for 19 of the last 47 years (not counting US-backed insurgencies such as 1980s Afghanistan, on which we spent billions) but has not grown faster than the other two economically. Moreover, the increasingly unwieldy US national debt, deriving from the US government spending more than it took in in recent decades, would not exist if the US military budget had been the same as that of the European Union since 1980. The US overspent on its military because Washington mistakenly thought the Soviet economy was twice as big as it actually was, and vastly over-estimated Soviet military capabilities. The bloated military budgets continue now, apparently because of a couple thousand al-Qaeda operatives hiding out in caves in the Hadhramawt and Waziristan.

I would go further, and say Europe is spending way more than it should on soldiers and guns and bombers and rockets. The U.S. military budget is officially over $700 billion, but in reality it’s closer to a trillion and a half dollars. The Europe Union spends $289 billion on  its toys. In contrast, China’s 2009 military budget was $122 billion.  Economic growth comparison?

US economic growth 2009: 0.2%
European Union economic growth 2009: -4%
China economic growth 2009: 8.7 %

Hmm. I wonder if one thing has to do with another here.

And I  also wonder what the endgame will look like. In my darker moments, I worry that the day is not far off when the U.S. will no longer be able to print or borrow money (the same thing, in our case). At that point, what will stop our government from using its military might against its creditors?

27
Jan
10

“relapses into barbarism”

Another precision operation

Glenn Greenwald notices that now the Obama Administration doesn’t distinguish between U.S. citizens and non-citizens when it comes to targeting them for assassination. From the Post (italics are Greenwald’s):

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said. . . .

The Obama administration has adopted the same stance. If a U.S. citizen joins al-Qaeda, “it doesn’t really change anything from the standpoint of whether we can target them,” a senior administration official said. “They are then part of the enemy.”

I almost always agree with Greenwald but I don’t quite share the outrage over the U.S. citizen part.

I mean, really, once the President declares he has the right to order someone killed, without anything resembling due process, in a country with which we may or may not be “at war”, the citizenship of that poor misfortunate bastard (or the equally misfortunate bastards who happen to be in the vicinity when the Hellfire missiles come screaming down) seems like a quibble.

The issue is that the President and some anonymous spooks can, as a matter of everyday routine business, get together and say “Today, we are going to smoke some guy in Yemen,  who may be what we call a terrorist, and anyone standing near him. And if we miss him this time, we will keep trying to kill him WITH ROCKETS until we do.” Also, if you’re a major drug lord, but NOT one of OUR major drug lords, you’re on the list, too. Got that?

According to Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article last October there are ten–ten!–collateral damage kills for every successful murder of an intended target, and that’s taking the Government’s word that the target was indeed worth targeting. (Imagine a SWAT team blowing away ten women and children in a gunfight with a suspected terrorist, and then high-fives all around because they got the guy. Actually, not that hard to imagine….)

This has not always been OK. You can go back to Ronald Reagan, that high-minded man of peace, or even further to Abraham Lincoln. Targeted assassinations, extrajudicial murders, have always been forbidden (at least officially).

A 1981 Executive Order signed by Ronald Reagan provides: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”  Before the Geneva Conventions were first enacted, Abraham Lincoln — in the middle of the Civil War — directed Francis Lieber to articulate rules of conduct for war, and those were then incorporated into General Order 100, signed by Lincoln in April, 1863.  Here is part of what it provided, in Section IX, entitled “Assassinations”:

The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individual belonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hostile government, an outlaw, who may be slain without trial by any captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows such intentional outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage. The sternest retaliation should follow the murder committed in consequence of such proclamation, made by whatever authority. Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism.

These days, such relapses into barbarism aren’t hidden from the public eye. They’re bragged about.  In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush said,  “Many [suspected terrorists] have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way, they are no longer a problem to the United States.” He gave that weird chortle, and there was thunderous applause. Obama has not only continued targeted assassinations, he has expanded them, via a surge in missiles fired from those newfangled drones, and quainter methods such as dragging schoolchildren hardened terrorists from their beds, tying their hands, and shooting them.

He’ll probably have the decency not to chortle about that in his State of the Union address tonight, though.

26
Jan
10

“No one was cheered and nothing was discussed”

Scott Horton’s The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle should by rights have shamed the nation into demanding 1. an investigation all the way up the command chain,  and 2. that Obama keep his promise to close Guantanamo.  But it didn’t, of course, because this is the age we live in.

Here is a brief summary, from the Guardian, of what Horton’s investigation turned up:

US government officials may have conspired to conceal evidence that three Guantánamo Bay inmates could have been murdered during interrogations, according to a six-month investigation by American journalists.

All three may have been suffocated during questioning on the same evening and their deaths passed off as suicides by hanging, the joint investigation for Harper’s Magazine and NBC News has concluded.

The magazine also suggests the cover-up may explain why the US government is reluctant to allow the release of Shaker Aamer, the last former British resident held at Guantánamo, as he is said to have alleged that he was part-suffocated while being tortured on the same evening.

“The cover-up is amazing in its audacity, and it is continuing into the Obama administration,” said Scott Horton, the contributing editor for Harper’s who conducted the investigation.

When the three men – Salah Ahmed al-Salami, 37, a Yemeni, and two Saudis, Talal al-Zahrani, 22, and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, 30 – died in June 2006, the camp’s commander declared that they had committed suicide and that this had been “an act of asymmetrical warfare”, rather than one of desperation.

According to an official inquiry by the US navy, whose report was heavily censored before release, each man was found in his cell, hanging from bedsheets, with their hands bound and rags stuffed down their throats.

However, Horton spoke to four camp guards who alleged that when the bodies were taken to the camp’s medical clinic they had definitely not come from their cell block, which they were guarding, and appeared to have been transfered from a “black site”, known as Camp No, within Guantánamo, operated by either the CIA or a Pentagon intelligence agency.

The men said that the following day, a senior officer assembled the guards and told them that the three men had committed suicide by stuffing rags down their throats, that the media would report that they had hanged themselves, and ordered that they must not seek to contradict those reports.

Harper’s says that when the bodies of the three men were repatriated, pathologists who conducted postmortem examinations found that each man’s larynx, hyoid bone and thyroid cartilage – which could have helped determine cause of death – had been removed and retained by US authorities.

Horton has a follow-up to his investigative piece in Harper’s, one in which he muses on the frightening relevance of  W.H. Auden’s “The Sword of Achilles” to the dark period in our history we appear to have entered:

Auden’s poem is a work of beauty and power. It has prophetic vision, but that vision is a nightmare. It is born from the horrors of World War II. The barbed wire of concentration camps and death camps brings the Homeric epoch up to date. Auden is not portraying the tragedies of the last war as such. He is warning of a world to come in which totalitarian societies dominate and the worth and dignity of the individual human being are lost. He warns those who stand by, decent though they may seemingly be, and say nothing–perhaps because political calculus or the chimera of national glory have blinded them to the greater moral imperatives against homicide, torture and the dissemination of lies in the cause of war. Auden’s admonitions here are not necessarily those of a pacifist, though he unmistakably chides Homer for his glorification of a warrior culture. Is this, he seems to ask, where the Homeric vision of the warrior-hero has led our species?

But in the shield of Achilles, described in book 18 of the Iliad, we see Homer hammer a different tableau. Two cities are depicted on this shield. In one there is happiness, marriage, art and material plenty. The city is bound by the Rule of Law and disputes are resolved in the courts. “The other city was beleaguered by two armies, which were shown in their glittering equipment.” It is filled with strife, panic and death, and every disagreement is settled by violence, with victory going to the strongest, not the most righteous. All this potential lies in humankind, Homer tells us. Neither can be entirely stilled. But as Auden warns us, we must be ever watchful in which direction our society moves, whether it follows the dark path or the brilliant promise of the shield’s golden side.

A society that tortures and kills those placed entirely in its power and passes this fact by as a matter of indifference truly is plunging into the dark side of the world which these two poets describe–one at the dawn of man’s recorded history, the other in the crucible of modernity. On the day of these deaths in 2006, the American commander in Guantánamo violated the Homeric rules of decorum by taunting the dead and afflicting their families. The deceased prisoners “have no regard for human life,” he said. But in the end we must ask to whom those words more appropriately attach–the prisoners or those who have orchestrated the tragedy at Guantánamo? Another saying of the Achaean epoch applies to this tragedy. Long associated with the story of the Minotaur on Crete, it was recalled near the end of the nineteenth century by a philosophy professor at the University of Basel who waded deeply into the history of the era. “He who does battle with monsters,” he wrote, “needs to watch out lest he in the process become a monster himself.”

Needless to say, Americans are not holding parades for the brave camp guards who risked all to come forward. Nor are we taking to the street to protest the deaths of three nobodies on Guantanamo—”they were small/And could not hope for help and no help came.” As for the Obama Administration, no help there either:

Sergeant Joe Hickman, one of those who ended his silence about the cover-up, said he did so because of the new Administration’s commitment to right the previous one’s wrongs on civil liberties and detention policy. But Justice Department officials held one or two meetings with Hickman and his colleagues and then closed the investigation without prosecution, with a DoJ official saying to Hickman that his conclusions “appeared” to be unsupported.

I strongly recommend you read the entire exposé here, and Horton’s meditation on Auden here. And then tell me what there is to be done.