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Bad Ground Karma Buried Beneath Baker Hamilton


The U.S. news last week was dominated by the release of the “elite” Iraq Study Group (Baker-Hamilton) Report.  With all the outwardly polite, grave, and elevated discussion surrounding the ISG’s limited and conservative recommendations, it was all too easy to forget what a senseless, dehumanizing, and murderous operation the occupation of Iraq is on the ground.
Listen to the following bit of on-the-ground coverage and troop dialogue from Karma (a town in Iraq ), published on page 23 of last Thursday’s New York Times:
“ ‘ You heard about Jones?’ Lance Corporal [Donterry] Woods asked, referring to Lance Cpl. Christopher L. Jones, 19, another mortarman with a rifle. He was inside Post 3.  ‘ He got his first K.I.A.’ ”
“A few days earlier, Lance Corporal Jones fired at insurgents in a car. He hit one in the head. ‘Yeah, he was so happy,’ Lance Corporal [James] Ullery said.”
“ ‘ Jones is always looking everywhere,’  Lance Corporal Woods said. ‘I like Jones.’ ”
“The conversation shifted to the death of Sergeant Hussein, an Iraqi they had also liked. ‘He was in Saddam’s special forces before the war,’ Lance Corporal Ullery said. ‘He fired at our tanks. Then he joined the new Iraqi Army. He was tough.’ ”
“ ‘ Yeah, he was the snipers’ favorite target,’ Lance Corporal Woods said.
“‘ He killed a lot of insurgents. A lot.’”
“‘He loved his country, man, he loved it. According to his religion, he’s probably with a million virgins right now. And he’s probably making them virgins do dismounted patrols.’ ”
The young soldiers quoted in the buried Times article are with the Second Battalion, Eighth Marines.  If they are like countless other American troops serving in Iraq , they have been brainwashed to believe that they are in Iraq to “avenge 9/11” and/or “prevent future 9/11s.”  They have been systematically conditioned to want to “kill, kill, and kill” Arab resistance fighters and civilians.  They have been encouraged to adopt and indulge racist perspectives on targeted “hajis” and “rag-heads.”  They have been subjected to “peer pressure” to murder Iraqis on a daily basis. 
If they are fortunate enough to make it back to the U.S. , they will carry enormous psychological and spiritual wounds related to their commanded involvement in a monumentally illegal and unjust oil invasion ordered by an American ruling-class that sits in privileged safety and comfort while GI and Iraqi blood flows into the sands and streets of Mesopotamia . A good place to begin to understand some of those wounds and (if you are an American) your responsibility for them (my opinion) is to watch the recent powerful film documentary “The Ground Truth.”
Later in the article we learn that three of Woods’ “friends in the battalion” were killed two nights before. “Another was in a coma.  A fifth was shot the previous week.”
Beyond the insidious yet seemingly normal, even mundane celebration of murder – “he was so happy” to ”get his first K.I.A.” (kind of like a Wisconsin farm boy bagging his first deer)! – the thing that is most disconcerting in the dialogue quoted above is the value the troops’ comments put on killing as an end – perhaps the end – in itself. 
But this is the cold, homicidal reality of war that nobody likes to discuss.  Young Jones (just 19), like countless soldiers before him, was pleased to have finally gone through the essential rite of passage: he has killed for real (this isn’t Playstation or a training exercise), with a bullet into the head of a formerly living human being.  Sergeant Hussein, a former Saddam loyalist, is honored for his killing capacity as such, previously directed at the supposedly “liberating” American invaders.
This sort of homicidal mentality is deliberately cultivated and inculcated (for it is not inherent and it violates core human principles) by military authorities and trainers and video game manufacturers.  It is reinforced by the inherently maddening situation on the ground, site for the occupation of a nation where “most of the people don’t want us here” (as GIs regularly report).  Is it perhaps part of why most Iraqis (according to a recent survey by the University of Maryland ‘s Program on International Policy Attitudes) support attacks on U.S. troops?
Bush and other War Masters can talk all they want about lofty though thoroughly disingenuous (at the “elite” level) goals like “spreading freedom” and “fighting terrorism.”  The truth on the ground – the ground truth – is the pursuit of “K.I.A.”s and the soldiers’ at once instinctual and desperate hope that he (or she) will kill rather than be killed in a distant, mysterious Hell called Iraq .  The ISG recommendations and the elite discussion surrounding them are like Bush’s speeches to the troops who carry out the masters’ criminal orders: distant and meaningless abstractions from an unreal land of seemingly safe shopping malls and quiet towns.
The ground truth is about bullets and mortars and missiles and explosions that shatter skulls, splatter brains, pierce spines, collapse chests, shatter pelvises, liquefy corneas, disfigure faces, turn living human beings into pallid corpses, and crush souls.  
War is Hell that is visited primarily on non-elites by privileged criminals who deserve a material fate that matches their own spiritual death:
You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
You sit back and watch
While the death counts gets higher
You hide in your mansions
While young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And gets buried in the mud…
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good?
Will it bring you forgiveness?
Do you think that it could?
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul
Bob Dylan, “Masters of War,” 1962

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