Israel’s slaughter of over 1900 Palestinians in Gaza, by far and away most of whom were civilians, got me thinking about Western civilization. Mahatma Gandhi is often cited as responding to a question about Western civilization saying he thought it would be a good idea. However, recent research suggests Gandhi likely didn’t make this quip.
Regarding Western civilization though, there are many impressive accomplishments such as the Renaissance, wonderful arts, tremendous scientific discoveries and medical advances, and the great ideas of liberty and human rights. However, these advances are countered by events such as the Spanish Inquisition, slavery, Western colonial conquest and butchery in Africa, Asia and the Americas, US genocide of the American Indians, the Belgian robbery of and murderous campaign in the Congo Free State, WWI with its almost 14 million deaths, and the Jim Crow racism in the US.
Even if we only examine events since 1940, the Nazi Holocaust killed over 11 million people, including about 6 million Jews. WWII resulted in over 60 million deaths. War crimes such as the fire bombing of cities were followed by the unconscionable US use of atomic bombs against Japan on August 6th and August 9th, 1945.
The use of nuclear weapons eventually led to the mad policy of mutual assured destruction between the US and the USSR that threatened the entire world with destruction. That insane policy is still in play today, now between the US and Russia.
Israel’s month-long military barrage of Gaza known as "Protective Edge" included numerous attacks on civilian-populated sites, including on homes, hospitals, mosques, markets and United Nation (UN) schools-turned-shelters. To date, Israel’s assault has killed at least 1,300 Palestinian civilians, including over 400 children, and injured more than 10,000. An estimated half a million people have been displaced. Upwards of 10,000 homes have been destroyed and countless others partially damaged. Strikes on some of the abovementioned sites have prompted international calls for officials of Israel’s government to be investigated for possible war crimes in Gaza.
Referring to the deadly July 30 attack on a UN school, the human rights organization Amnesty International argued that "If the strike on this school was the result of Israeli artillery fire it would constitute an indiscriminate attack and a likely war crime." On August 7, citing "mounting evidence" that Israel engaged in “apparently deliberate attacks against hospitals and health professionals in Gaza" which "left six medics dead" and injured many more, Amnesty International called for an "immediate investigation." The organization also published “disturbing testimonies from doctors, nurses, and ambulance personnel” which detailed "harrowing" lifesaving efforts of medical personnel faced with an "utterly impossible situation" of working "with bombs and bullets killing or injuring their colleagues." Military attacks of this sort, according to Amnesty International, "are absolutely prohibited by international law and would amount to war crimes" and "only add to the already compelling argument that the situation should be referred to the International Criminal Court."
After over a decade of war, President Obama sent 200 troops to Iraq this summer to act as aids to the Iraqi government in their ongoing battle with ISIS. The President’s actions, of course, completely contradict the vow he made to the American people to end the War in Iraq back in 2008, but that’s no matter now. The President is dead set on spending more taxpayer dollars and sending more American troops into an endless battle that, so far, has proven fruitless.
Yet, the futility of the mission does not preclude individual actors from acting bravely. Since taking office, President Obama has rewarded eleven Medals of Honor – twice as much as his predecessor. In the media, the American public is subject to a barrage of tales and images describing the glory of war and heroism under fire. America’s "brave men and women in uniform" are constantly heralded in ads, parades, sporting events, and on yellow ribbon bumper stickers urging fellow Americans to "Support The Troops." This hero worship has even gone so far as to use wounded soldiers as a political ploy, as President Obama did in showcasing army ranger Cory Remsburg during his State of the Union address this year. Sgt. First Class Remsburg was hit with an improvised explosive device on his tenth deployment into battle. Nobody doubts that Sgt. Remsburg is a real American hero, but should he had to become one in the first place?
There is an untold secret in our nation’s proud military. Stated bluntly, the majority of America’s armed forces are not heroes and don’t want that title themselves. In fact, I spoke with three military men and heard this theme emerge repeatedly. When asked, in his opinion, what the biggest misconception civilians have about the military, one of the three – Senior Airman Micheal Worton – claimed that being in the military is more like being a "guy in movie ‘Office Space,’ but you’re wearing camo instead of a suit." Many Americans fail to realize that the majority of service member work normal jobs like administration, accounting, and engineering without seeing combat.
It has been one year since the August 14, 2013 Rab’a Square massacre in Egypt, when the Egyptian police and army opened fire on demonstrators opposed to the military’s July 3 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. Using tanks, bulldozers, ground forces, helicopters and snipers, police and army personnel mercilessly attacked the makeshift protest encampment, where demonstrators, including women and children, had been camped out for over 45 days. The result was the worst mass killing in Egypt’s modern history.
The government’s systematic effort to obscure what took place, beginning with sealing off the square the next day, has made it difficult to come up with an accurate death toll. But a just-released Human Rights Watch report, based on a meticulous yearlong investigation, found that at least 817 and likely well over 1,000 people were killed in Rab’a Square on August 14.
The report contains horrific firsthand accounts. One protester recalled carrying the dead, piles of them. "We found limbs that were totally crushed. There were dead people with no arms, obviously a tank ran over them. Imagine you are carrying piles of bodies, it is something you can’t imagine. Even the bodies that you are carrying, you carry an arm of a person, alongside the leg of another person."
John Rizzo, the CIA’s former Acting Counsel General, is feeling the heat for his role in blessing what President Barack Obama has now admitted was “torture” during the Bush/Cheney administration. Rizzo went on friendly Fox News to charge that the (still withheld) Senate Intelligence Committee investigation report on torture reflects a “Star Chamber proceeding” and accused some lawmakers of “craven backtracking,” claiming that they had been briefed on the interrogation program years ago.
Rizzo also revealed that he and other former CIA officials implicated in the torture scandal have found an ally of sorts in current CIA Director John Brennan, who was a senior aide to CIA Director George Tenet when the torture practices were implemented and who is now leading the rear-guard defense against the Senate report.
“He’s been with us ‘formers’ during this period. He has been the honest broker,” Rizzo told Fox News. “He has done the best he can. He is in an extraordinarily difficult position.”
Rizzo’s audacity in defending torture should have prompted some kind of reaction like the one that finally called Sen. Joe McCarthy to account: “Have they no sense of decency, at long last? Have they left no sense of decency?” But Rizzo, like other defenders of the “war on terror” torture policies, have yet to face any meaningful accountability. Rather, some like Rizzo remain respectable figures.