Tuesday, May 30, 2006

My Lai Redux

Haditha Massacre

I really, honestly hope it isn't what it looks like. I hope this character assessment is more accurate and that something else happened here, but I'm losing that hope rapidly.

But what this conflict showcases for the United States is something it doesn't want to face up to. The US doesn't want to acknowledge that it's lost the moral authority to intervene in the world's problems anymore and worse, it doesn't want to acknowledge that the blame is squarely with the policy makers and I'll tell you why: Those guys that committed the massacre are children. If not biologically, then ethically and emotionally.

They are not psychologically equipped or prepared to face what they do day in and day out and as a result, they are becoming trigger-happy. They live in a world where their enemy looks completely innocuous before they explode or pull a gun. They, in turn, become murderous as a survival mechanism.

Couple this with the tension of wartime activities and the reality of what happens when people have guns in their hands, and this is what you get.

No one in the Capital or in the Joint Chiefs seem to think that psychological attention needs to be paid to the people we send out there to make sure they can make good decisions and that they aren't damaged to uselessness by what they experience. They don't prepare them and they don't de-condition them. We apparently learned little from Vietnam.

While the immediate fault still and always lies with the killers, nearly equal blame can be laid at the feet of those who treat them like fucking hammers. They are not, and never will be, tools. Rather, they shouldn't be, but they are.

No one on the Hill cares about them. Despite sharing culpability, this will be coined an isolated incident and swept under the rug as quickly as possible.

Killing in the Name of...

Wanna be freaked out? Read this. Then come back here.

I play video games religously. I love them. I believe in video games - even violent ones - as a legitimate form of entertainment. I don't believe that video games make people violent and I don't believe that video games are inherently corrupting or brain-dead.

In point of fact, I assert that video games are like anything else. Used as a form of entertainment, they are no better or worse than any other sort of entertainment.

Even before games developed the level of verisimilitude they have now, people opposed them for being violent and simulationist. The Army even has a shooter they use to indoctrinate or evoke interest, depending on your political and social stance, lending credence to the ideas that video games can be used to train and/or indoctrinate.

Lt. Col. David Gross wrote an engaging book called On Killing that dealt in some part with what it takes to produce killers. While I disagree with a number of his assertions, the data he provides is stunning. I recommend it.

So when I found this article (sent to me by a friend), I tried to step back and look at it simply as a video game. But as I sifted the details and read the statements by the creators, it all got much darker.

When you read interviews with mainstream video game designers and publishers, they expound on the story, the characters, the options and the fantasy. They discuss their creations in ways not unlike authors or directors with stories to tell. Even when the production is laden with meaning, they first and foremost want to entertain.

It's fairly clear that this is little more than hate-propaganda wrapped inside a video game. Certainly some will say that all video games including violence peddle an agenda of one sort or other, but this is an order of magnitude more...dangerous. The express purpose of this game is indoctrination. The offensive content and gameplay (murdering anyone who disagrees with your God-given mandate) are designed to reinforce dogmatic intolerance and through the endorsement of the clergy plant the seed of violence as acceptable and desirable.

Certainly I'm treading dangerously close to the idiots who make decisions about how I should parent and what forms of entertainment are acceptable. I recognize this. There is, I believe, a stark difference.

This game and others like it, as peddled by the Aryan Nations supporters and their ilk (search on White Law and Ethnic Cleansing), spread a very real message of hate and intolerance. Most games have enemies like mercenaries, fascist state security, monsters and animals and when they include moral grey areas they do just that, showing you that the decision you make in the context of the game is a difficult one or at least one that is driven by motivations that can be seen as good or bad. Most games do not make absolutist moral statements concerning the belief systems of others and most games certainly do not pretend to be anything more than entertainment.

I suppose we should be glad we can see these people for the violent misanthropes they apparently are. I, for one, am disturbed by the implications of the game's potential success.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Bush's long reign of violence is set to continue, if the markers are accurate.

Once I would have dismissed claims of the United States invading Iran as fanciful stupidity. What would we stand to gain in relation to what we stand to lose in that arena? Conspiracy theorists have always talked about our orchestration of the invasions of other countries, sometimes with justification or proof but most often only with conjecture and that's how these claims would have been taken 5 years ago, or even 3 years ago.

Before the United States stepped into Iraq for the second Gulf War, I was sure of my convictions that the United States - no matter who was at the helm - would never violate the sovereignty of another nation without provocation. I always pointed at Gulf I where the invasion was prompted by Iraq's own invasion of Kuwait, an ally of ours. That was a war of liberation and it was fought for a good cause if any war can be. We stopped when the international community said to stop and we did what we could to curtail future military adventures by the Warlord of Baghdad.

After the towers fell, we rode into Afghanistan to take the fight to those most directly responsible. While debatable, the trail of evidence here seems solid and the expedition mostly successful.

All was still fine in my head. We hadn't overstepped propriety with regard to sovereignty or thumbed our nose at our allies and while we were rapidly losing our much-vaunted freedoms, our problems were internal.

That all changed when Bush's rhetoric became action and the military rolled into Iraq, not stopping until Baghdad - one of the most ancient and fantastic cities in the world - had fallen. Justification for the war, tenuous at best before it had launched, evaporated and turned into a manhunt for a dictator who had already been emasculated.

Suddenly, all pretense of America's greatness came crashing down. Certainly we are still unmatched on the battlefield (or is it merely that we fight only those we know we can beat?) but where we once enjoyed the sanctity of our beliefs in democracy and justice there stood instead a hegemonic and dictatorial aggressor piloted by a sub-literate ape with a conqueror fetish.

It is clear now that George Bush Jr. desires little more than to pave his way to history in the blood of hyperbolic enemies. Like his father, he speaks in terms of good and evil, right and wrong, but unlike his father he has no grasp on the realities of the world.

Indeed, his own father uttered this oft-overlooked phrase:

"To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day hero ... assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an un-winnable urban guerilla war. It could only plunge that part of the world into even greater instability."

It is a comment he has ignored with the tenacity of a teenager set on defying his father just to prove his independence. He has steadfastly ignored his failing public approval, educated criticisms, international censure, and his father's advice to set out on escapades that risk not his life, but the lives of others for his own self-aggrandizement.

To characterize any of the moves he's made since the invasion of Afghanistan as anything but selfish and personal is ridiculous in the extreme. He personalized the invasion of Iraq while also couching it in terms of non-existent terrorism and at the same time, set the stage for future developments when he made his infantile 'Axis of Evil' comments. Comments that included, not accidentally, Iran.

Prior to all this craziness in the Middle East, my only exposure to Iran had been the hostage crisis during Carter's tenure while I was a child, and a girl I knew in high school who was an Iranian immigrant. I looked at Iran a lot like Russia at the time and I only wondered why they hated America so much. I harbored no ill-will than I can recall. The girl was another story entirely. She was pretty, smart, friendly and really American. Yet, she was also proudly Iranian and did a lot to educate me.

When I separated from the Air Force, I met a man who had spent his teenage years in Iran with his father who moved there for work. He did even more to show me the budding progressive liberal movements that existed there, and during the 90s I watched the country fairly often to see what was happening.

So for me, Iran has never been an evil nation, rather one that needs ideological and political support, not condemnation or criminalization, actions that only serve to lend them ammunition for rhetoric, justification for conservatism.

Part of being an adult is recognizing that others are going to disagree with you and finding ways to cope that don't involve a fist. You quickly learn that violence is a path rewarded only with more violence and that to resort to it means you have become incapable of operating or competing in the arenas of discourse and debate.

In terms of nations, fists become armies. Like fists, armies don't change minds or hearts. Like fists, armies encourage more of the same. In the end all we are left with is pain and blood.

An invasion of Iran will certainly make the primate in office feel quite masculine. After all, he is rapidly becoming one of the most successful conquerors of the modern world and there's little to hold him back with his one re-election under his belt. He can retire from office and say to himself, "I have secured the United States from foreign aggression and protected the people of this great nation. I have driven back the terrorists and defended the freedoms of America and the free world. I have conquered where my father failed. I am a great hero to this nation."

In every case he will be wrong and the rest of us will pay the price of his arrogance for years to come.

Check out what Iranian Americans are doing to prevent war with Iran: Iranian-Americans and a War on Iran.