Viewing the enemy as we are

Regarding Hiroaki Sato’s April 29 article, “Photos of carnage would check war sentiment“: This is very true. So many “armchair warrior” Americans seem to revel in war sentiment. Case in point: the iconic photo of a badly burned Vietnamese girl running naked down a highway after her village was hit by a napalm bomb. Some say that photo was the turning point in the Vietnam War; it filled America’s streets with antiwar demonstrators.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations have been guilty of strict self-censorship when it comes to images of the wounded and dying in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan, especially if the victims of such violence were innocent civilians, aka “collateral damage.” Ah, the semantics of violence. Gotta love the Pentagon for that. When the innocent are accidentally killed by an errant computerized drone strike, they are thereafter referred to as “collateral damage.” The euphemism is more for the sake of the computer “pilot” responsible for the carnage than for the victims’ wailing relatives.

Could the Boston bombings increase our sympathy for Iraqi, Syrian, Pakistani and Afghan war victims? Uh, no. The first rule of war is to dehumanize the enemy, and in places like Iraq, where the entire population seemed opposed to the U.S. invasion back in 2003, all Iraqis are suspect for their hatred of the infidel invader.

American Muslims are in for a rough ride. How rough only time will tell. But they might want to consult aging Japanese Americans about just how bad things might get. Martin Luther King also knew a thing or two about violence in American society. He feared that America was on a roll when it intervened in Vietnam. There was little empathy for any Vietnamese civilian killed in America’s massive carpet bombing raids over North or South Vietnam. Nor is there apparent empathy for those Vietnamese today who suffer health-related problems from exposure to Agent Orange.

It was during the American Civil War that such war-related self-censorship really took hold. President Abraham Lincoln controlled newspapers in the North and ordered that no images or photographs be published depicting blood-drenched slaughter on battlefields. He rightfully feared that if the public learned of such massive carnage, they would turn against the war. He also didn’t want to discourage young men from volunteering to fight in his Union Army. We Americans love war, we hate carnage. Self-censorship allows us to have our cake and eat it too.

Yes, the wave of selective empathy for the victims of the Boston Bombings is very touching. How outrageous the audacity, cunning and cowardice of the two individuals who planted the deadly bombs. By contrast, there is presumably nothing cowardly about a drone strike against suspected “terrorist” targets in Afghanistan or Pakistan. It is done in the name of freedom and a Christian God. If innocents are sometimes killed during such remote drone attacks, it can be attributed to the fog of war or God’s will. And for the drone operators thousands of miles away, it’s much like the video games they played in childhood, wiping out legions of space invaders.

It was disturbing to read the cynical remark that Sato attributed to his wife: “Law enforcement, when given the chance, goes hog-wild.” The thousands of police officers and federal agents tracking down the suspected bombers in the a citywide manhunt in Boston were applying the very same battle tactic of overwhelming force used in Iraq. For a few days, Boston became Fallujah without the terrible destruction and carnage.

As an American citizen, I find it alarming that so many people were cheering law enforcement officials after their successful “hunt” was over. Will such police tactics become the norm in years to come in urban settings around America? We are hearing the term “lockdown” being used more often in our cities and towns. Are our civilian populations becoming suspect prison “inmates”?

I rarely watch American news anymore; it’s all too often about violence. However, I do think that the bloodied bodies of the children and teachers killed during the horrid, nightmarish massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December should have been shown over the mass media. It would have galvanized the public into supporting stronger gun-control laws. Then again, I’m probably being naive.

Police departments in the U.S. are now being offered drone or surveillance technology from the Pentagon, along with various types of battlefield weaponry. Is America going to war with itself?

robert mckinney
otaru, hokkaido

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.