Casualty of Evidence

Heretik yesterday remembers the tragedy of Kent State in a highly personal way, and points also to Bushmerika as a place of information for those who weren’t here yet or too young to remember or who want memories refreshed or who don’t know the surrounding details.

Check the page out. There are photos. Faces.

The photos mean something. They have identity. They are the record of the moment. History is engraved in them.

Several weeks ago I began a posting on how with Afghanistan and Iraq, the practice of concealing from the public the faces of prisoners became common. A legion of the faceless destined for Guantanamo Bay or housed in Iraqi prisons, one of the excuses was protection of the identity of the individual.

This WWII poster by Ben Sahn (1942, NARA Still Picture Branch, NWDNS-44-PA-245)referenced Lidice, a Czech mining village obliterated by the Nazis in 1942 in retaliation for the shooting of a Nazi official by two Czechs. The men were killed during a 10 hour massacre and the women and children sent to concentration camps. But, in a sense, that is the small print, which it literally is on the poster. The bigger picture is the hood and the handcuffs. The hood imparts more than a simple concealment of identity. It rightly associates with it the obliteration of the individual.

I look at it and reminded of what such a hood meant to me in my youth. One thought of the firing squad. Execution. The story one usually read was that the hood was to make the execution somehow easier for the one to be executed, as if not having to face that bullet. Another version was that the hood eased the pains of execution for the executioner, not having to see the face, shooting a target rather than a human. This was communicated as act of sympathy for the executioner.

Pictures of death row prisoners being executed often showed the individual wearing a hood.

173 males are given as executed at Lidice. This is a small number compared to other atrocities, so it is an event that became symbolic of the atrocities.

The message of the WWII poster is that reprisal which takes the lives of innocent civilians is not acceptable.

On Feb 13 1991 an unknown number of Iraqi civilians, mostly women and children, were killed with an Allied attack on an air raid shelter. The bunker was said to be able to hold up to 155. Perhaps 700 were killed.

In Oct of 2004 a Johns Hopkins study reported that in excess of 100,000 Iraqi civilians had died.

Findings indicated 100,000 more Iraqis died than would have been expected to die, with 84% of the deaths caused by coalition forces, and 95% of the deaths due to air strikes and artillery. These figures do not include information from the city of Falluja. The researchers felt the totals would be distorted if the Falluja deaths were included in the total…

The report is indicating an estimated total of 100,000 deaths in Iraq, that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred, mostly women and children, but does not include the number of wounded Iraqi civilians.

The U.S. Department of Defense is listing 1,107 Americans as being killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom with 8,150 Americans wounded, a ratio of roughly 7:1. For every one soldier killed, another 7 are wounded. Note: The eight Americans killed, and nine wounded in Anbar province, on October 30, are not included in the above totals.

Using the same 7:1 ratio for civilians in Iraq could indicate a minimum of 700,000 wounded, mostly women and children.

Source: 100,000 Civilian Women And Children Killed In Iraq By Coalition Forces, at Scoop

Also to be considered are the deaths that occurred during the time of UN sanctions.

Next you will discover that there were UN sanctions on Iraq, at US urging, from August 1990 until May 2003, during which time Iraq could not import or export anything without our approval. For a period during 2001 the Bush administration even embargoed infant vaccines and medical equipment from being sent to Iraq.

UNICEF estimated that the sanctions against Iraq resulted in the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of 5. In May 1996 “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl asked Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador to the UN: “We have heard that half a million children have died [as a result of sanctions]. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”

Albright responded: “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”

Subsequent estimates have reduced the number of child deaths to between 227,000 and 350,000. The sanctions interfered with food and medical supplies, and were modified with an “oil-for-food” program. On September 30, 1998, the BBC reported that Denis Halliday, coordinator of the program, resigned in disgust (after 30 years as an UN employee). The sanctions, he said, were killing 4,000–5,000 children a month. Halliday said the sanctions were strengthening Saddam Hussein by damaging “the innocent people of the country.”

Paul Craig Roberts, A Country Destroyed

When I began this posting a month or so ago, maybe longer, I was thinking of the identity-removing features of hooding, of the nameless. I was thinking of Lidice and the message of the WWII poster being that reprisal which takes the lives of innocent civilians is not acceptable. I was thinking of how the WWII poster itself was a condemnation of hooding, that it condemned as heinous the severing of identity from the individual. That is what I was thinking of then.

It has been a couple of weeks since the Pentagon released photos of “The Return of the Fallen” in response to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by Professor Ralph Begleiter of the University of Delaware, and a lawsuit. The Pentagon officially refers to them as “images of the memorial and arrival ceremonies for deceased military personnel arriving from overseas.”

A lot has been written on the photos.

Begleiter and Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, note that in consequence of the dispute the Pentagon seems to have ceased maintaining a photo record at all now, the released images that contain date information all appearing to have been taken prior to June 2004. And indeed military officials tell Begleiter and the news photos that since the FOIA request in April 2004, photos have ceased to be taken.

The images are censored. The Pentagon calls it “redaction”, as in making ready by editing etc. for publication. Faces and insignia are blacked out.

The intentional unknown soldier carried by intentional unknown soldiers.

The intentional unknown soldier carried by intentional unknown soldiers.

The conveyor belt of unknown soldiers.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was intended as a communal expression of grief and respect. It admits an essential human need to account for all Fallen.

The identities of the soldiers in the caskets are known to the Pentagon. Still, the photos are antithetical the humanity expressed in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It may sound harsh, but not a one of those flag-draped boxes honors a fallen individual. Identity has been stripped. Context is removed. Humanity is eviscerated. Emotion is banned. Knowledge is banned. All that remains are symbols of Nationalism.

The “War on Terrorism”, or whatever one wants to call it, demands nothing less than dehumanization with the advancement of the National Machine. It admits no error. Evidence is as much a casualty as individuals. Accountability and reason is shuffled off to be the responsibility of future historians who will have to sort and weigh the scripted facts against the casualty of evidence.

Deceased are property of the State ID’d with a flag, the only ID necessary in the language of Nationalism, and quietly communicated home to be interred and forgotten.

Confronting again the photos of Kent State, these many years distant, one is forced to be reacquainted with the grief and rage of the time, the story behind each and every photo.

The photos of those stripped of humanity, identifiable then as only a part of the machine, seek to allow only the rote response scripted by the machine. If grief or anger are experienced, they belong not to the particular but to National Identity.

The rage of the WWII poster understood this. The image of the victim, stripped of humanity, was used to insist, “This murder of the individual is not acceptable!” Yes, it was propaganda. And the US denied its own propaganda with its own slaying of thousands and thousands of innocent civilians. But there is still truth in that image, in that poster. The hooded individual struggling under a dark and distant sky, shackled, bricked-in, confined.

Faceless, nameless.

“Images of the memorial and arrival ceremonies for deceased military personnel arriving from overseas.”

The shadow of this brand of cynical vagueness which demands no substantiation, are stories which can never be substantiated as they are entirely fabricated. They walk hand-in-hand with such policy makers.

The theater of war, politics and national policy, in which the media is made a player, permits no witness, is a state-approved, national entertainment.

11 Replies to “Casualty of Evidence”

  1. The faceless enemy was also used in the terrible John Wayne movie the Green Berets, in which all of the South Vietnamese characters were mush shorter than the American ones and the North Vietnamese were faceless rabble in every scene. Don’t take my word for it, watch some of it and you’ll see.

  2. Cien Años de Soledad was published in 1967. In the novel, García Márquez depicts a fictional massacre by a malignant government, after which the government hides the bodies and denies that the whole thing had ever happened.

    In1968, the Mexican government, in real life, not fiction, brutally and deliberately massacred an unknown number of students, probably upwards of three hundred, right before the Mexico City Olympics, and hid the bodies, and denied that it had ever happened. Their mistake was to have allowed cameramen and news eyewitnesses to escape.

    I think the Bush administration thinks, probably correctly, that the Vietnam War was lost because of visual images. It’s ironic that they have been moving heaven and earth to hide the numbers of civilian dead, and to hide the coffins of our soldiers, and in general doing all they can to control the news and suppress undesirable images–but through their own actions created the gripping and monstrous images of Abu Ghraib, the product of their White House marching orders to dehumanize the enemy.

    Your post was really eloquent and powerful.

  3. Thanks, Tild. The trackback’s working status seems sporadic and I don’t know why. The top image you have up at your blog I’d not seen before. Amazing. And obviously by a professional photographer. How did it ever meet the outside world?

    Steve. I haven’t seen Green Beret in years. Can I stand to watch a John Wayne movie? If I can stand to watch Tom Delay, I suppose so. (I forced myself finally to watch his NRA speech, or most of it.) Boy, do I remember when the Green Beret movie came out. After all these years I can still remember the song.

    Heretik, as I mentioned to you, I’m still contemplating your Kent State posting.

    Jim, I didn’t know that about the Mexico City Olympics. I will look it up. I remember the Mexico City Olympics. I don’t recollect anything about this. I could be wrong but I do think, in particular, “Life” magazine, its coffee table presence and its bold images, had to have had an effect on American sentiment toward the Vietnam War. I have wondered though if that could be reduplicated now. I honestly don’t know??

  4. The Iraq war has, from its beginning, seemed surreal to most Americans, like some reality television show “Survivor: Iraq”. It’s hard for the American people to view any of the actors as real human beings, hard for them to realize that these are not generic archetypes that at the end of the day rise from their shallow graves for champagn and canapes at the shooting trailer but, instead, are actual human beings dying horrible deaths in misery and pain. The censorship of photos from Iraq simply reinforces that air of unreality. Oh sure, the talking heads might wring their hands from time to time, but without pictures, it is just so much blather to the average American sheeple.

    It is curious, this media censorship in America. It does not happen in other countries. Views of the BBC get to see the full horror of war, viewers of German and French television get to see the full horror of war, but Americans, apparently, are too weak, too simple, to be able to cope with such pictures displayed on their television screens. Instead, we get blather. Blather and lies and rah-rah boosterism. All involved are painted in simple stereotypes. The Brave Soldier. The Wicked Terrorist. The Evil Dictator. There are no people in this black and white world drilled into America’s brains every day, day in, day out. There are no people. Only archetypes, robotically going through their motions, not anything of concern to ordinary people who after all only wish to go about their daily lives of masticating and defecating and fornicating and accumulating shiny baubles of no import.

    It is a national sickness, this divorce from reality. It is Orwellian, this attempt to re-write history as it happens, this attempt that in large part is successful where it counts, in the hearts and minds of the American public. But I’m not sure what to do about it. Because there is a dirty little secret that I’ll let you in on here: The American people WANT to believe this. For to accept reality would require taking action, and taking action might involve risk. No, no, far better to close your eyes and pretend, pretend that your life is meaningful, pretend that accumulating shiny little buables will make you happy, masticate, fornicate, defecate, hide the truth from your eyes, for the truth is cold and harsh and lies are so warm and soothing…

    – Badtux the Bleak Penguin

  5. Badtux, thanks for the comment. Sadly, I think you’re referring to the more empathetic American.

    Not only are there those that simply close their eyes to the reality, there are those for whom the reality does not matter, or is even soothing, in the spirit that whatever they perceive as a threat should be exterminated. “WMDs” they were told repeatedly, and even when it is proven otherwise they will persist in the thinking that they must have been there, that extremist liberals who hate America are trying to make America look bad, and Iraq, being a nagging question mark, must either become America or go (ie. become Christian and the streets preferably lined with reassuring malls and fast food chains). I think they have possibly no regret at all for the loss of life, the catastrophic and continuing upheaval of everyday existence, and the tragedy of children growing up amidst this destruction. “Democracy,” they are told, is being brought to Iraq, and to them if the price would be virtual genocide then it is worth it. This may sound dismal but I do believe that, even if unconsciously, this is what some Americans would have if it makes them feel secure. What bloody reality on the television screen would uncomfortably do may be to force them to realize this truth, that no amount of horror can dismay them. Indeed, more blood = fewer Iraqis = less threat.

    Ultimately, as far as they are concerned, it is not America which is responsible, it is instead their god slaying the Iraqis for them, crushing the Iraqis for willful resistance to what they perceive as his eternal truth.

  6. Well, I know that there are Americans like that. But not all Americans — or even the majority — are like that. Most folks are basically decent, they’re just willfully ignorant. Willfully ignorant in the same way that the majority of Germans were willfully ignorant about what was happening to all those jews that were being rounded up. Sgt. Schultz of the old TV show “Hogan’s Heros” (“I see no-THINK! I hear no-THINK!”) is their role model. They literally refuse to see anything they don’t want to see unless they have their noses rubbed in it.

    – Badtux the Not-a-good-German Penguin

  7. What a nice site, been surfing on it for the whole night and day and i neva got bored for a single minute. Keep up your good work and all of the best in everything you do! 🙂

  8. Thanks so much for this sight! It helped me on a school paper over patriotic symbols of America, I choose to do mine over the Arlignton Cemetary and The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. I was also very heart felt, my dad is a marine, who is safely home, but reminds me of the ones who are not.

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