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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Montel Williams, Heath Ledger and 1.2 million dead Iraqis walk into a bar...

Montel Williams was interviewed on Fox about Heath Ledger's death and he threw a fit because the media was fawning over Heath while ignoring the deaths in Iraq. But which deaths did he mean?
Montel Williams: "How many people have died in Iraq since January one? "

Fox Host: "It's about 20"

Montel Williams: "No its not about, it is 28"
But, in fact, if Montel, a former Naval Intelligence officer, had bothered to check he'd know that actually according to "Combined figures obtained from the defence, interior and health ministries 541 people were killed in Iraq last month". Montel gets it wrong because he's only counting Americans. To him Iraqis don't count. Imagine that! Americans killed in Iraq count more than Iraqis killed in Iraq, many of whom have been killed by Americans in Iraq! Bizarre!

But why is this? Montel has swallowed this "support the troops" crap which divorces the actions and mission of the soldiers from our support for them. Our support stops being conditional and becomes the patriotic price of admission to the public debate on the war. It depoliticizes the debate and makes it harder for us to understand what's really going on in Iraq. Thus, it matters not that US war dead have been killed trying to impose on Iraq the imperialist vision of a small global elite based mostly in Washington, New York and London. But isn't that a big difference? For instance, if you're killed breaking into someone's house, are you a victim to be honored? Likewise, if you kill someone randomly in a mall, that's murder, but if you kill them as they force their way into your bedroom with a gun, that's self-defense.

Indeed, echoing Montel's misguided sentiments, a recent article posted on Reddit.com cleverly retitled an AP piece "Five Heath Ledgers Die In Iraq" in an apparent attempt to draw attention to US war deaths, which are indeed continuing to mount every day. Like Montel, it seems safe to presume that the author of said alternate title thought the dead soldiers to be more worthy of mention than dead Heath Ledger. But, really, when you think about it, perhaps Heath Ledger might actually be more worthy of our praise than those five more or less willing tools of foreign occupation. After all, rather than joining the Aussie military and heading out to do his patriotic duty in Iraq, Heath Ledger was out protesting the war in Iraq in 2002, well before the invasion.

In an interview just before the war, Heath Ledger slammed the war and his own country's then-Prime Minister, John Howard:
"I think John 'Coward' should just grow up," he said while watching the war on Iraq unfold on television.

"He's so subservient to this guy (US President George Bush) and they're sending 250,000 troops over there, why should we send our 2000, it makes no difference.

"We've got nothing to do with it, we've got to grow up and be independent.

"All of a sudden we're an aggressor, we're part of this, we're supporting this aggression, and it's ridiculous, we shouldn't be."

Ledger said it was strange to be publicising a movie in the midst of war breaking out.

"It's surreal for me to be sitting here, talking to you and giving an interview while they're dropping 3000 bombs on Bagdad," he said.

"It's really hard to sit here and be happy about a movie opening, 'cause it just makes you realise the insignificance of this, it means nothing in comparison.

"The one thing I do have is the opportunity to be heard and it's something that the average person can't stand up and say 'Hey, we shouldn't be doing this.'

"It's just my opinion, but I think it's the right one. I don't think war is the answer to anything.

"It's a very, very sad day."
But the US media will hear nothing of that sort of criticism, even as the war drags on and Americans increasingly turn against it. Discussion on the war is carefully managed, sometimes leading to quite ridiculous results.

Two weeks ago the New York Times ran an article on the rising trend of US soldiers returning home and committing murders. Screwed up from combat and forgetting that US law only condones the killing of civilians when it's done under the US flag overseas, sometimes US troops return home and start killing random civilians and less-random loved ones. The Times put the total at 121 US soldiers/murderers.

And you never heard such a sympathetic treatment of a cold-blooded killer in your life! Throughout the piece, the victims of the various murder sprees are stripped of both identity and humanity, referred to as "gang member[s]" or left entirely unidentified. In fact, in one case a soldier's participation in the murder of an Iraqi civilian is then used as an excuse for his later murder of two American civilians after returning home. All three victims being poor and likely people of color (if we are to take the Times' application of the code word "gang member" for what it likely really means), they are unworthy of equal status with their murderer in the eyes of both the reporter or the newspaper. And even when the victim is treated sympathetically (when it's a relative, for instance), we are reminded constantly of the poor, broken-minded status of the pathetic killer.
Clearly, committing homicide is an extreme manifestation of dysfunction for returning veterans, many of whom struggle in quieter ways, with crumbling marriages, mounting debt, deepening alcohol dependence or more-minor tangles with the law.

But these killings provide a kind of echo sounding for the profound depths to which some veterans have fallen, whether at the bottom of a downward spiral or in a sudden burst of violence.
Try finding that kind of sympathetic reporting about an Iraqi insurgent killing a US soldier in the Times. Or of a "gang member" killing another American. Never, of course, will you see it. This despite the fact that it should hardly surprise anyone when soldiers who kill abroad tend to become violent at home. Perhaps the arbitrary geographical lines we use to separate murderer from war hero are a bit harder to navigate on the ground than newspaper publishers in New York would like to believe. Things are always clearer from the head-spinning heights of the ivory tower.

But, of course, now we know that over a million Iraqis have died as a result of the US invasion of Iraq (and that doesn't count the half million kids alone killed by US sanctions in the 90's and another 100,000 Iraqis killed in the first Gulf War!). Think about that: before the invasion Iraq had somewhere around 27 million people, so if that proportion of deaths were to happen here, it would mean nearly 15 million dead Americans. Do you think Montel or the Times would ignore that? You know Montel falls asleep every night counting every one of those dead troops and probably the folks killed on 9/11, too.

In fact, contrary to Montel's nationalistic whining about alleged American ignorance of US deaths in Iraq, a poll taken last year asked Americans to estimate the number of US dead, which they did quite accurately, missing the actual figure at the time by only about a hundred (the total was then 3100). That's pretty close given the rate of casualties. But, when it came to Iraqi dead in the war, they consistently underestimated it by many factors compared to even the US government's low ball figures!

Notice how, even though Montel's position is easily refuted -- just watch any local news for the regular roll call of local fallen so-called "heroes" (apparently all it take to be a hero is to be killed in an imperialist war) -- his statements are encouraged, because they reinforce the jingoistic atmosphere and rally people behind the flag by focusing on our so-called collective losses (even though the gains from the Iraq war will not be shared collectively, either with regular Americans or with the Iraqis). This even though they are couched as criticism of the media, which they are generally loath to consider. That's because it's actually criticism that subverts criticism. It's disinformation that aids the imperialists' war in Iraq.

But this is not an indictment of Fox News, per se. What it really reflects is the shared common ground between conservatism and liberalism. Constantly portrayed to the American public as antagonistic philosophies, they are in fact the twin bastards of capitalism and empire, and as a result neither is equipped with the analytical tools necessary to come to grips with the heart of the issue: imperialism. Unable to name the source of the problem, those who adhere to these two bankrupt philosophies can only pour out more sappy, empty justifications for war and its willing executioners in the field.

Talking heads argue aggressively about victory and whether it's possible while the true question -- what victory really means (US hegemony) and whether that is indeed desirable -- is left completely off the table. It cannot be articulated within the current context. Meanwhile, millions continue to die and the American people, trapped between these two bloodthirsty kissing cousins, remain unable to see a way past the war and, therefore, unable to come to terms with their own complicity and the true aims of the elite when it comes to Iraq. Without breaking from this nationalistic worldview and the cross-class alliance it creates, the reality that for there to be a just outcome to the war in Iraq, the US elite and its war machine must be defeated there, will continue to elude the American people and the great tragedy in Iraq will continue to unfold, until the oil runs out.

And then woe be unto any remaining nations still sitting on our oil.

Watch the video for yourself. Pathetic nationalism in full display:

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