News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: War Crimes: Words, Concepts, Death

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

War Crimes: Words, Concepts, Death

One of the truly terrible things about the modern age is the fact that words quickly lose their meaning. THey jingle and jangle around the news media for a few hours or days and by the time you hear them again they just come to mean "blah-blah-blah."

You'd think, though, that some words and concepts should never lose their meaning. They should always remain "real" and fresh with meaning like the reality they supposedly embody or reflect. These include words like love, hate, fear, joy.

In the modern world, after the Holocaust, after the Gulags, after Cambodia, after Rwanda--you'd like to believe that such a concept as "war crime" would be one of those sacrosanct, holy words only to be used sparingly and with much fear and trembling, as the Good Book calls it.

But perhaps that fact that there have been so many historical instances where war crime odes apply has made it so useless, so empty and desolate of meaning is the reason why it just slides off the TV or computer screen with such ease.

"I mean, how much monstrosity and suffering done in the name of whomever can a person take, right? What am I supposed to do about; in fact, I can't do anything about it, so that's what I'll do--nothing."
So, when someone comes out and says someone else, in this case a leader of our country, is guilty of war crimes, it probably does not register much on the communal psyche ( assuming for the moment that such a thing actually exists). Indeed, these words are flung around so much these days by wack-jobs that perhaps the first response is to assume that the messenger of the news is another one of those.

But let's look at the statement by Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (ret.), who just accused VP Cheney of having created an environment in which war crimes were committed. And since he is the leader, the one responsible for enabling this environment, he himself is responsible of war crimes.

Under Mr Cheney's protection, "the Secretary of Defence moved out to do what they wanted to do in the first place". Asked whether the Vice-President was guilty of a war crime, Col Wilkerson said it was "an interesting question". It was certainly a domestic crime "to advocate terror", and "I would suspect it is ­ for whatever it's worth, an international crime as well".
A serious, devastating statement by a man who has spent most of his life serving his country, following orders and asking few questions--even to the point of death, should he be asked to do so.

This former aide-de-camp of Gen. Colin Powell (ret.), the former Bush Secretary of State, has not questioned his own superiors and their motives for executing this war. Remember, this is a man who is a "lifer," military jargon for someone who has spent the majority of their life in the armed services. He was trained as a teenager to follow the orders of his superiors, to never question the wisdom or reason for their decisions.

This is a man who spent the last few years atthe highest levels of government--he was an insider's insider--in on the planning, execution, and follow-up on the war in Iraq. And he never asked any questions, but dutifully went about performing his job.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, a few months ago he caused a stir in the citadels of power. He publicly announced that the White House had been hijacked by a cabal. The cabal included VP Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. He had farther than even his old boss, Gen. Powell, would never had gone. Powell has always maintained the military code of never publicly criticizing the commnader-in-chief.

But here you have Powell's right-hand man doing exactly that. Was he voicing wrods Powell thought and felt? Was Wilkerson, perhaps, giving vent to years of frustration at seeing his former boss' ideas and criticisms about the war ridiculed and dismissed in the official meetings held by the Bush elites? Perhaps... perhaps not. Powell has never publicly said anything to contradict his commander.
So you've spent most of your adult life doing what you believed was right. You're accustomed to the give-and-take, rough and tumble world where you have to fight for what you believe in. Nothing's taken for granted, since if it is, people might die. There's a give and take between rigid, mechanistic following of routine and the encouragement to improvise and be creative. That's what Wilkerson learned to do and to love in the Army.

Then he followed his leader, or was asked to follow his leader, to the State department. He was aksed to act as front-man for one of the great generals and military ment of our time. This was not the world of orders and routines and rigidly defined regulations. Instead, it was the world of informed consent and debate and democratic principle.

How disillusioned this former military man then was, when he watched the person HIS commander-in-chief, the man he had voted for and believed in, surrorunded by know-nothing toadies and lock-step drones. yet, this was a new world and he followed--never questioning, like that poem, "into valley of death rode the 600."

He remembers:
Until recently, Col Wilkerson said, he had tended to accept the White House explanation that ­ along with the intelligence services of Britain, Germany and other countries ­ the CIA and other US agencies had simply been fooled over Iraq's presumed weapons threat. "You begin to wonder, was this intelligence spun? Was it politicised? Was it cherry-picked? I am beginning to have my concerns," Col Wilkerson said.
Like coming down from a high or being on a drunk, the realization begins to hit home that he was lied to, deceived, manipulated. Something a man who has always prided himself for his self-reliance finds hard to stomach.

The realization takes months and turns into years. And when he finally realizes the extent of the decpetion, like the man of honor he is, he realizes that he cannot sit back and remain silent. He must speak out. He must let others see the danger he has seen--the danger to all that he was ready to fight and die for. The danger that his government had been hijacked by men whose hypocrisies begin to verge not simply on treason but on the worst that one can say about another human being: "crimes against humanity."


Iain said...

We were talking about this in creative writing. One of our guest speakers told us that it doesn't matter what you call it, it matters that it happened, referring to genocide in Rwanda.

the cynic librarian said...

yeah but how would you know it happened if you couldn't call it anything. what if I just called it orange juice?