Worthy and Unworthy Victims From Vietnam and Iraq to Ferguson and New York

ZNet, December 30, 2014 One of the more chilling accomplishments of “mainstream” United States (US) media and politics culture is the way it paints the US “homeland” and its agents of imperial “force projection” as the real and worthy victims of global violence – not the vast swath of anonymous and unworthy victims that Uncle Sam has murdered and maimed across the planet.

Before sporting events across the US, millions are regularly expected to leap to honor US military veterans for “heroic sacrifice” on behalf of “freedom.”  Nothing is ever said about the many millions of people the US military and its proxies have slaughtered and mutilated around the world.

Vietnam All About US

Look at the so-called Vietnam War – a curious term for a one-sided imperial assault on a poor peasant nation and region by the greatest military power in history. It led to the premature deaths of 5 million people in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and the massive destruction of Southeast Asian ecosystems and infrastructure.  The US dead were a small portion of the Indochinese death toll.  The “Vietnam tragedy” included no military engagements on US soil.

These vast disparities of pain and damage do not remotely register in the dominant US political and media culture.  The official memory of “the Vietnam War” is about what a traumatic and tragic event it was for the United States.   The officially worthy victims are all United States-of Americans. According to a favorite right-wing myth, the victims included soldiers who were “spat upon” by ungrateful antiwar protestors upon return from Vietnam. The reigning narrative says nothing about what happened to the Indochinese, attacked in the most savage ways imaginable by the most fearsome global killing machine in history.

“In the Streets of Fallujah”

Similar moral blindness plagues the official US take on the US invasion of Iraq (“Operation Iraqi Freedom”). Listen to the following statement from the “antiwar” presidential candidate Barack Obama in a late 2006 speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, offered in support of his false claim that most US citizens backed the invasion:  “The American people have been extraordinarily resolved.  They have seen their sons and daughters killed or wounded in the streets of Fallujah.”

Obama made a remarkable, spine-chilling selection of locales to illustrate US sacrifice. In April and November of 2004, Fallujah, Iraq was the site of colossal U.S. war atrocities, crimes including the indiscriminate murder of civilians, the targeting of ambulances and hospitals, and the practical leveling of an entire city by the US Marines. By one account:

“The U.S. launched two bursts of ferocious assault on the city, in April and November of 2004… [using] devastating firepower from a distance which minimizes U.S. casualties. In April….military commanders claimed to have precisely targeted…insurgent forces, yet the local hospitals reported that many or most of the casualties were civilians, often women, children, and the elderly…[reflecting an] intention to kill civilians generally…. In November…aerial assault destroyed the only hospital in insurgent territory to ensure that this time no one would be able to document civilian casualties. US forces then went through the city, virtually destroying it. Afterwards, Fallujah looked like the city of Grozny in Chechnya after Putin’s Russian troops had razed it to the ground” (Michael Mann, Incoherent Empire New York, 2005, emphasis added).

The use by US forces of radioactive ordnance (depleted uranium) helped create an epidemic of infant mortality, birth defects, leukemia, and cancer in Fallujah.

The Iraq death count from the “Battles of Fallujah” ran well into the thousands.  By contrast, roughly 60 US military personnel perished. During the first “battle,” alone, a handful of US Marines “Scout Snipers” averaged 31 “kills” apiece.

“Trying to Put Iraq Back Together”

Less than two years after he hailed the US “heroes” who died “in the streets of Fallujah,” Obama told voters that “It’s time [for the US] to stop spending billions of dollars a week trying to put Iraq back together and start spending the money putting America back together.”  Yes, that’s what the US was doing during Washington’s monumentally criminal and brazenly imperial occupation pf Mesopotamia: “trying to put Iraq back together.”  Oh sacrifice!

Fallujah was just one episode in a broader incursion that killed at least 1 million Iraqi civilians and left Iraq “a disaster zone on a catastrophic scale hard to match in recent memory” (Tom Engelhardt). “The American occupation,” distinguished journalist Nir Rosen noted in late 2007, “has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century.”

“A Price Worth Paying”

The US habit of seeing itself as victim can become surreal. In 1996, US Secretary of State Madeline Albright told CBS News’ Leslie Stahl on national television that the death of half a million Iraqi children due to U.S.-imposed economic sanctions was a “price…worth paying.”  But what “price” did Albright and other US policymakers pay, exactly? Wearing the thorny crown of knowing they had liquidated 500,000 innocent children in pursuit of some perverted notion of the greater good? As Albright explained three years later, “the United States is good…We try to do our best everywhere,” policing a chaotic world that needs our superior vision and firm hand. Yes, it takes moral strength to snuff out the lives of a medium-sized city’s worth of juveniles in the advance of a better world!

Individual sociopaths are notorious for trying to make others, often including their own victims, feel sorry for them. Sociopathic institutional complexes like the US military Empire exhibit the same behavior on a grander and more deadly scale.

A Five Year Old v. Hulk Hogan

Oppressors’ weakness for seeing themselves as the real victims is evident in domestic “homeland” policing as well. Five weeks after he killed the 18-year old unarmed Black man Mike Brown with a flurry of bullets last August, the white Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson spoke to a St. Louis County Grand Jury on what happened after he rolled up on Brown behind the wheel of a well-equipped police cruiser. When he first tried to interdict Brown, Wilson said, he “felt like a five-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan” – this despite the fact that Wilson was armed and six foot four inches tall, compared to Brown’s unarmed six foot-three. Brown struck Wilson as “like a demon,” a “bigger and stronger” attacker who might have killed him with a punch. Wilson was the real victim, traumatized by fear and later struck by “remorse” over the shooting.

“Open Season on Us”

Recently many in the New York Police Department union have claimed victimhood amidst mass protests over police killings of unarmed Black men (including the NYPD chokehold murder of Eric Garner) and after the hideous double murder of two NYPD officers – Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu – by a lone psychotic.  An e-mail widely circulated around the NYPD after the killings called for officers to avoid normal law enforcement actions “unless absolutely necessary …These are precautions,” the e-mail explained, “that were taken in the 1970s when police officers were ambushed and executed on a regular basis. We have, for the first time in a number of years, become a ‘wartime’ Police Department…We will act accordingly.”

“It’s f–king open season on us right now,” one of New York City’s finest told The New York Post.

But, as Ed Krayewski notes on Reason.com, “If the words ‘wartime’ and ‘open season’ are used after two cops are killed in more than 3 years, what word[s] should black people in New York City use? Eric Garner and Akai Gurley are not the only two killed by the NYPD this year, just the most prominent cases.”

By one estimate, a Black American is killed by a (usually) white police officer, security guard, or self-appointed vigilante (almost always by a police officer) once every 28 hours.  By contrast, 40 cops lost their lives by gunfire and just 27 police officers were killed with criminal intent in all 2013 – a year that saw the smallest amount of police deaths in the US since World War II. (There was, if anyone cares, no campaign of regular ambushes and executions waged against the NYPD during the 1970s.)

As with the right-wing narrative about Vietnam veterans, the police and their supporters have included ungrateful “homeland” protestors among those who have victimized the virtuous gendarmes. The NYPD union, many police, and right-wing politicos like former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former New York Governor George Pataki have tied the killings of Ramos and Liu to the supposedly anti-police and pro-crime protests and the alleged anti-police and pro-crime liberalism of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Obama administration.

Seeking to pacify this anger on the “law and order” right, Andrew Cuomo, New York’s Democratic governor, used his speaking time at last Saturday’s Ramos and Liu funeral to say that he’d seen “people hurling insults” directly in the face of police officers during recent protests over the epidemic of police killing civilians and the repeated exoneration of killer cops “With the beating law enforcement has taken all over the country,” a retired NYPD officer, the funeral was “a way for everyone to show respect.”

The massive Ramos and Liu funeral was the greatest outpouring of support for the nation’s ever more militarized urban police forces since after the Boston metropolitan lockdown and manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers Dzhokhart and Tamerlan Tsarnaev in April of 2013.

A Rare Occurrence v. an Almost Daily Event

In his effort to mollify the police, de Blasio called for civil rights activists to “put aside protests, put aside all of the things we will talk about in due time.” It was a remarkable statement, richly emblematic of mainstream US media-politics culture’s double-standard distinction between worthy and unworthy victims in domestic police-state violence. “After all,” the Montreal writer Andrew Gavin Marshall notes, “hundreds of unarmed black Americans are murdered by police every year, and now, people have had enough, taking to the streets to protest. Yet, when two cops are killed, the mayor calls for the protests to end out of… ‘respect’ for the police. Clearly, murdered black Americans are not given the same type of respect…That should speak volumes.”

The Ramos and Liu killings have created a strong sense of vindication for those who tell us to respect the police because of the “dangerous jobs” they heroically took “to protect us.” In reality, as Marshall notes, policing doesn’t even crack the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ list of the ten most dangerous jobs in the country. Garbage collectors, farmers, and fisherman experience greater occupational hazards.  According to the Washington Post last October, “policing has been getting safer for 20 years…You’re more likely to be murdered simply by living in about half of the largest cities in America than you are while working as a police officer.”

Last Saturday, a charity foundation executive went on CNN to announce that his charitable organization was raising $800,000 for the Liu and Ramos families.  Large contributions have gone to the murdered officers’ families from wealthy elites like Giuliani and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.  Nothing remotely close has been set up for the families of Akai Gurley and Eric Garner or for other survivors of the many hundreds of fatal police shootings that occur in the US each year.

As one Internet correspondent from Brooklyn told me: “Murder of cops by a psychopath is a rare occurrence; murder of a black man (usually a man) by a cop happens almost every day. There shouldn’t just be a fund for ‘Garner and Gurley,’ there should be a foundation for all the victims with an endowment!”

But, as police officers and agents of state power, Liu and Ramos are – like dead and injured US soldiers – officially worthy victims. Like the anonymous civilians killed by our “heroes” in Vietnam and Iraq, Black and poor civilians like Gardner and Gurley are not.  It’s as simple as that.

Paul Street is the author of numerous books, including Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007) and The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, October 2014).

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By | 2015-01-05T11:51:18+00:00 December 31st, 2014|Articles|