Published: September 7, 2011
The United Nations has a conflict of interest as a party to the military conflict, and acknowledged in a July 2009 UN human rights report footnote that "there is a significant possibility that the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is underreporting civilian casualties." In August, even the mainstream media derided a claim by the White House counterterrorism adviser that there hasn't been a single "collateral," or innocent, death during an entire year of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, a period in which 600 people were killed, all of them alleged "militants."
As a specific explanation for the blindness, the Los Angeles Times reported on April 9 that "Special Forces account for a disproportionate share of civilian casualties caused by western troops, military officials and human rights groups say, though there are no precise figures because many of their missions are deemed secret."
Sticker shock of war
Among the most bizarre symptoms of the blindness is the tendency of most deficit hawks to become big spenders on Iraq and Afghanistan, at least until lately. The direct costs of the war, which is to say those unfunded costs in each year's budget, now come to $1.23 trillion, or $444.6 billion for Afghanistan and $791.4 billion for Iraq, according to the National Priorities Project.
But that's another sleight of hand, when one considers the so-called indirect costs like long-term veterans' care. Leading economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes recently testified to Congress that their previous estimate of $4 to $6 trillion in ultimate costs was conservative. Nancy Youssef, of McClatchy Newspapers in Washington, D.C., in my opinion the best war reporter of the decade, wrote recently that "it's almost impossible to pin down just what the United States spends on war." The president himself expressed "sticker shock," according to Woodward's book, when presented cost projections during his internal review of 2009.
The Long War casts a shadow not only over our economy and future budgets, but our unborn children's future as well. This is no accident, but the result of deliberate lies, obfuscations and scandalous accounting techniques. We are victims of an information warfare strategy waged deliberately by the Pentagon.
As Gen. Stanley McChrystal said much too candidly in February 2010, "This is not a physical war of how many people you kill or how much ground you capture, how many bridges you blow up. This is all in the minds of the participants." David Kilcullen, once the top counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, defines "international information operations as part of counterinsurgency."
In his 2010 book Counterinsurgency Kilcullen wrote that Petraeus' goal is to achieve a "unity of perception management measures targeting the increasingly influential spectators' gallery of the international community."
This new "war of perceptions," relying on naked media manipulation such as the treatment of media commentators as "message amplifiers" but also high-technology information warfare, only highlights the vast importance of the ongoing WikiLeaks whistle-blowing campaign against the global secrecy establishment.
Consider just what we have learned about Iraq and Afghanistan because of WikiLeaks: tens of thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq never before disclosed; instructions to U.S. troops not to investigate torture when conducted by U.S. allies; the existence of Task Force 373, carrying out night raids in Afghanistan; the CIA's secret army of 3,000 mercenaries; private parties by DynCorp featuring trafficked boys as entertainment; and an Afghan vice president carrying $52 million in a suitcase. The efforts of the White House to prosecute Julian Assange and persecute Pfc. Bradley Manning in military prison should be of deep concern to anyone believing in the public's right to know.
The news that this is not a physical war but mainly one of perceptions will not be received well among American military families or Afghan children, which is why a responsible citizen must rebel first and foremost against The Official Story. That simple act of resistance necessarily leads to study as part of critical practice, which is as essential to the recovery of a democratic self and democratic society.
Read, for example, this early martial line of Rudyard Kipling, the English poet of the white man's burden: "When you're left wounded on Afghanistan's plains and the women come out to cut up what remains / just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains / And go to your God like a soldier." Years later, after Kipling's beloved son was killed in World War I and his remains were never recovered, the poet wrote: "If any question why we died / Tell them because our fathers lied."
A hope for peace
An important part of the story of the peace movement, and the hope for peace itself, is the process by which hawks come to see their own mistakes. A brilliant history — and autobiography — in this regard is Dan Ellsberg's Secrets, about his evolution from defense hawk to historic whistleblower during the Vietnam War. Ellsberg writes movingly about how he was influenced on his journey by contact with young men on their way to prison for draft resistance.
The military occupation of our minds will continue until many more Americans become familiar with the strategies and doctrines in play during the Long War. Not enough Americans in the peace movement are literate about counterinsurgency, counterterrorism and the debates about "the clash of civilizations" — i.e., the West versus the Muslim world.
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