Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Gimme Shelter

afghanistan girl
The phrase ‘fog of war’ has a double meaning. Ostensibly, it refers to the confusion that reigns among combatants on the ground in the heat of battle. Errors are made, lives lost or advantages squandered as a result of commanders miscalculating the strengths and weaknesses of their own position relative to that of the enemy.

But the expression can also refer to the manner in which events in war sometimes escape scrutiny from the outside world: whether through rising plumes of dust and smoke, a lack of proximity to the battlefield, the lethargy or obsequiousness of the media or the indifference of the general public. Just about all of the factors listed above contrived to allow two atrocities by the U.S. army, one in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan, slip by almost unreported until an enormous quantity of new evidence was published by the Wikileaks website this week.

The first, which you’ve surely heard about by now, took place in Baghdad in 2007, when twelve Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters employees, were shot dead by troops firing from an Apache helicopter.

The second, and to my mind much more shocking, incident took place in a village in the Paktia Province of Afghanistan in February of this year. I’m not going to offer a pithy synopsis. Read Glenn Greenwald’s piece – it’s fucking shocking. (Thanks to Davin O’Dwyer, incidentally, for bringing it to my notice!)

In both instances, what might (charitably) be termed ‘mistakes’ by individual American forces were followed up by massive official cover-ups. As Greenwald points out, countless official lies have already been exposed in these wars: from Jessica Lynch’s heroic firefight in the early days of the Iraq war, to Pat Tillman’s supposed death by Al Qada guns in Afghanistan.

Why, then, does the Pentagon continue to peddle in them? Presumably because, most of the time, they get away with it. Indeed, if the history of America’s involvement in Vietnam is anything to go by, it may well prove that it is in the latter years of these conflicts, when the public’s attention has drifted elsewhere, that the worst outrages will later be fond to have occurred.

The Vietnam analogy might seem a facile one. But when ordinary Iraqi civilians, in their own country, going about their own daily lives, can become “anti-Iraqi forces” at no more than the say-so of a trigger-happy helicopter pilot and obliterated accordingly – is the analogy really so far-fetched?

April 8th, 2010.

17 Responses to “Gimme Shelter”

  1. harry Says:

    If America ever knew why the hell it got involved in either of those countries in the first place they have long since lost sight of it now. Time to get out Obama. Long overdue in fact.

  2. alan Says:

    Salon link doesn’t work

  3. Lisa Says:

    Have you read “When Men Win Glory” by Jon Krakauer?

  4. Eoin Says:

    @ alan – Salon link works for me. Anyone else having a problem with it?

    @ Lisa – I haven’t, but I read a pretty extensive piece about Tillman and the cover-up of his death in Vanity Fair a couple of years ago.

  5. Davin Says:

    I think the indifference of the general public might separately be termed the Fog of Frivolity – check out this link, showing both CNN and Al Jazeera’s home pages last Monday. As long as Tiger Woods keeps fucking around and Apple keep releasing new gizmos, the Pentagon will be sheltered from scrutiny


  6. Eoin Says:

    Ah, poor auld Tiger is getting blamed for everything these day. The wife will be waiting for him when he gets home from the Masters. “What’s this I hear about about war crimes in the Afghanistan going unreported!?” (whacks him with golf club…)

  7. Davin Says:

    Ha, well, taking enjoyment out of someone else’s shame is much easier than contemplating your own, I guess, which is what this video and the Afghanistan revelation would force any moderately thoughtful American to do.

  8. Eoin Says:

    There are interesting parallels between the military and the Catholic church, aren’t there? Since the misdeeds of an underling have the potential to damage the organisation as a whole, the hierarchy has a strong interest in covering up any wrongdoing. This in turn gives the underlings essentially carte blanche to do whatever the fuck they like without any serious fear of repercussion…

  9. Conal Says:

    Same seems to apply to the financial products departments of those peshky banks.

  10. harry Says:

    Meanwhile the mob, who have no good name to protect, will whack a guy if he embarrasses them.

  11. Eoin Says:

    @ Harry – well, we could all learn a lot from the Mafia. Those gun-toting hoodlums!

  12. Waldo Says:

    Why is the US always held to a much higher standard than other parties to this conflict who target and kill civilians as a matter of course?

  13. Eoin Says:

    Because the U.S. purports to lead the free world. It’s the same reason we hold politicians to higher standards than regular crooks. Incidentally, there’s lots more on the Afghan story here.

  14. demure lemur Says:

    That Greenwald piece is harrowing. So much for Obama’s just war.

  15. Eoin Says:

    @ demure – your threesome article had a similarly profound effect on me!

  16. demure lemur Says:

    Oh Good.

  17. Clicking Along The Ledge | Tripping Along The Ledge Says:

    […] #5 Gimme Shelter (April 8th) This piece was written in reaction to the release of Wikileaks’ Collateral Murder video. […]

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