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The Politics of Collateral Damage


It was reported by the Associated Press that “the U.S. will be reluctant to use force as long as one of its citizens remains hostage.”  This is referring to the “pirate” hostage situation near the Horn of Africa.

Anyone that follows the routine bombings in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq knows the U.S. is not so reluctant to use force when those who could be killed in the process are not “one of its citizens.”  We are also not reluctant to supply and condone the use of force of our allies, Israel in particular, so long as the victims are not one of our citizens.  Of course, exceptions prove the rule and those exceptions are Americans, like Rachel Corrie, who might go to occupied Palestine to do something about the US-financed aggression.

But the AP report of what “analysts” say is instructive to the politicization of the use of force: restraint for us, trigger happy for them.  We hold a much higher regard for our lives than others based on illusions (i.e. geographical borders).

What does this say about us?  What kind of indictment is being openly levied against the general population of the U.S. when it can pretty much be admitted that if we accepted one American citizen as “collateral damage” then there would be a much bigger domestic outcry then if we allow millions of others to suffer and die as “collateral damage”?

Everyone knows that if Americans were subject to the daily horrors as millions of our victims the globe over then we would not have the government we have today.  In Iraq alone, if we had endured what the Iraqis have been enduring neither Bush nor Obama would be free.  They would have either received the death penalty, life in prison or deported to Abu Ghraib.  Can anyone imagine how we would respond if a quarter of our population was ethnically cleansed; if the equivalent of more than ten million Americans were killed; if access to electricity, clean water or steady jobs was virtually unheard of?  It would be The People saying, “Let them [The Leaders] eat cake… from a decapitated head.”

Why the Somali pirates did what they did is still unknown.  Maybe they are thugs, maybe they are desperate to survive, or maybe they are vigilantes seeking justice.  Regardless, there are two primary lessons we can draw from this:

  1. The U.S. is allowed to use force in the process of being thugs, desperate or vigilantes.  We routinely use violence for illegal purposes, admit that we use violence to protect access to key resources and have no problem announcing to the world that we intend to use force for revenge purposes (i.e. post-9/11 or Bush’s comment that Saddam tried to kill his father).
  2. The U.S. is deeply bigoted and holds different standards for itself than others.  If the collateral damage” is “one of us” then we will show restraint.  But, if the “collateral damage” is “one of them” (whoever they are) then watch out for UAV’s operated by the CIA or USAF.  The MQ-1 Predator’s are lethal.

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