The Difference Between Deaths Here and 'Over There'

Ted Rall

Maui Time | November 12, 2009
American lives are worth a lot. So when Americans get killed, it's a big story. There are lots of editorials. Congressmen call for investigations. We want to find out what happened, why it happened, and how to make sure it never happens again.

The lives of foreigners, on the other hand, are pretty much worthless. Even when they die because Americans killed them, news accounts marking their deaths are short, sweet, and short-lived. Congressional investigations? No way. To the contrary! If anyone is inconsiderate enough to mention the killings of people overseas in a public forum, they get shouted down or simply ignored.

The massacre of 13 soldiers at an Army post in Texas earlier this week places this dichotomy in sharp relief.

The FBI is already helping Army investigators. In addition, Senator Joe Lieberman has announced that his Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will launch a full investigation into "every angle" of the shooting, including the motives of the suspect and whether or not government eavesdroppers could have prevented it by notifying Army officials of his contacts with a radical Muslim cleric. Over in the House, Representative Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat, has summoned national intelligence director Dennis Blair to answer questions about Fort Hood before the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

But wait -- there's more. "Other committees may also launch investigations into how the Army missed warning signs about the accused," reports Politico.

All sorts of hands are being wrung.

Major Hasan, an army psychiatrist, ministered to victims of post-traumatic stress syndrome who told him terrible stories about combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Should someone have helped him cope too?

Ordered to deploy to the war zone, he asked not to go -- and was refused. Should the Army be more flexible?

Is it reasonable to ask a religious Muslim to deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq, wars where he would be asked to kill his coreligionists?

Then there are the phone taps. "U.S. military officials said intelligence agencies intercepted communications between Hasan and Anwar al-Awlaki, a former imam at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, a Washington suburb," reported CNN. "Al-Awlaki, who left the United States in 2002 and is believed to be living in Yemen, was the subject of several federal investigations dating back to the late 1990s, but was never charged." As jihadis do at the start of an attack, Hasan reportedly cried "Allahu Akbar" before opening fire. Shouldn't someone have noticed that the nice shrink with the dopey smile had become a radical Islamist?

The shock, grief and soul-searching are all reasonable reactions to a brutal and tragic event. But it's not hard to imagine how it looks to the outside world. While the media and public obsess over the deaths of 13 fellow Americans, they ignore the deaths of hundreds of thousands of foreigners.

The American military has killed roughly two million people in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. Those attacks were illegal -- no declaration of war, no UN mandate -- and are largely recognized as such by the American public. Many of the victims were killed with chemical and radioactive weapons, and some while under torture. In other words, these are crimes -- some of the biggest mass murders in human history.

So where are the Congressional investigations? Don't we want to find out what happened, how it happened, and make sure it never happens again? Apparently not.

President Obama has chosen to "move forward" instead. No one -- not George W. Bush, nor his advisers, nor the military officers who carried out his illegal orders, is being held accountable.

There are no angry editorials. The illegal wars, instead of being brought to an end, are being ramped up. The crimes -- yes, including the torture -- continues. But it's OK -- as long as it doesn't happen here in the United States. It's OK to rain death on Pakistanis using drone planes ... gotta spare those precious American lives!

Mass murder is shocking when the victims are Americans; it's doubly shocking when it happens in America.

Thirteen soldiers die in Texas and it's all we talk about. Two million die in Afghanistan and Iraq and we don't notice and we don't even want to hear about it. Only 12 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 can find Afghanistan on a map.

The punk band T.S.O.L. wrote the soundtrack to this attitude a quarter-century ago: "We live in the American zone/Free of fear in our American home/Swimming pool and digital phone."

Still wondering why they hate us?

Ted Rall is the author, with Pablo G. Callejo, of the new graphic memoir "The Year of Loving Dangerously." He is also the author of the 2002 graphic travelogue "To Afghanistan and Back."

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