Beyond Stalemate now available in paperback!

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My first book has just been published, which is all very exciting. For a mere 79.00 € you can get a paperback copy of Beyond Stalemate. Alternatively, for those who have not just recently won a major lottery while simultaneously operating under diminished mental capacities (perhaps due to inebriation, concussion and/or accidental overdose on unexpectedly heady cough medicine) there is the slightly more modestly priced option of downloading the pdf version which costs approximately zero Euros (I’m not sure what that converts to in $US, but it can’t be too much more).

Be warned, this book uses footnotes. Indeed in the first part of chapter one the footnotes virtually take over the page as I give a straightforward account in the body text, but give details of historiographical debates and other matters of context in the footnotes. Please do consider the inclusion of these footnotes as an act of resistance and rebellion. The approved contemporary style would not have them incorporated within the body text, nor even rendered as endnotes, but rather the bulk would be cut out altogether. We live in a time where fatuousness is mistaken for elegance and clarity. Sometimes it is perfectly elegant to put details as parenthetical asides, which the reader may choose to ignore, but our anti-intellectual culture indulges those who find such a thing intimidating (ensuring that they do not overcome this pointless debility). I could also mention a thing or two about the abuses which many authors (who sell a lot more books than I ever will) only get away with because they can hide their notes and citations (or non-citations) at the back where they know that most readers will never check. I just let it all hang out. I’m evidentially well-endowed and have nothing to hide.

As to what the book is, here’s the blurb:

In the historiography of the 2nd Indochina War (commonly referred to as the Vietnam War) areas where one would expect some sort of common-knowledge consensus are, contrary to expectation, diverging rather than moving towards agreement. For example, the issue of who won the war is by no means settled. Also up for debate are questions such as when the war occurred; why the war occurred; how the war was fought; what sort of war it was; and who, if anyone, started the war? Thus it can be said that the ‘controversies’ of this conflict are qualitatively different from normal historical controversies. This arises because of the immense reluctance in the Western discourse to deal directly with the fact that the intentional and systematic mass killing of civilians (primarily through aerial bombardment) was a major component of the US effort. When this central fact, along with other neglected but salient matters, is fully incorporated into an analysis of US tactics, it becomes clear that they were never engaged in an attempt to win victory in war, but rather in an attempt to inflict the maximum level of destruction of the countries and peoples of Indochina – an act of genocide.

Anyway, if there are any out there who fit the wealthy but deranged characteristics I outlined above, below is a link to an outlet to buy the book. More to the point, however, if you know of an institution such as a university library where the benefit of having this would outweigh the silly pricetag (which is, in fact, not sillier than the cost of many acquisitions in such places) please let them know. ISBN is 978-3-659-33964-6.

https://www.morebooks.de/store/gb/book/beyond-stalemate:-the-second-indochina-war-as-a-genocidal-war-system/isbn/978-3-659-33964-6Image

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MP from Aotearoa so Islamophobic that even the Israeli Ambassador calls his remarks “vicious”

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An MP from the “New Zealand First” party wrote an opinion piece in which he wrote:

“If you are a young male, aged between, say, about 19 and about 35, and you’re a Muslim, or you look like a Muslim, or you come from a Muslim country, then you are not welcome to travel on any of the West’s airlines . . .” He then referred to New Zealanders lossing their rights because of “a sorry pack of misogynist troglodytes from Wogistan”.

He also claimed that El Al did not allow Muslims to travel in their aircraft, which made them one of the safest airlines in the world. Israeli Ambassador Shemi Tzur said: “Claims by MP Prosser that Israeli airline El Al bans passengers on the basis of their ethnicity or religion are not only false but also vicious in character. All travellers are equally important on El Al and in Israel”.

Prosser’s party leader is standing by him in the face of calls for resignation, but he may be liable to legal action under the Human Rights Act and the race relations laws. Nevertheless, it is essential that Prosser be forced to resign. It cannot be acceptable to have a representative of the people of Aotearoa who uses a word like “Wogistan”.

As such, I would humbly like to implore those of you who are not residents of Aotearoa (AKA New Zealand) to contact a New Zealand embassy or consulate in order to register your disgust and call for Prosser’s resignation. Please help. How would you feel if a democratic representative of your country lost the moral high ground to the Israeli ambassador?

Genocide, Fuck Yeah! How The Hurt Locker Put the Fun Back into Mass Murder

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CC. Attribution and sharealike david_shankbone at http://flickr.com/photos/27865228@N06/4596336419

There is a question used to illustrate the way in which presuppositions can constrain discourse: “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” The discourse of US international relations is somewhat like the inverse of that question – perhaps equivalent to “have you been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize yet?” It appears that people find it very difficult not to become apologists for the US when they set out to critique the US. For example a recent paper on possible violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) in US drone “signature strikes” takes as written that there is a sustainable claim that these strikes are legitimate self-defence. This is in order to make the point that even acts of self-defence must conform to IHL and IHRL. You might think that is a reasonable stance, but how can anyone possibly think that signature strikes are legitimate self-defence? These are attacks carried out against unknown individuals based on patterns of behaviour such as visiting suspect buildings. This simply cannot be reconciled with the right of self-defence given under Article 51 of the UN Charter, so why on Earth would anyone simply concede this utter lie? Even the Obama administration prefers (citing US officials’ opinions as sufficient legal precedent) to claim that it is killing as part of an ongoing war, and that its violations of sovereignty are legitimate because the US has done the same thing in the past (and gotten away with it).

Sometimes, however, you don’t need to concede anything to have a critique subverted by the power of the hegemonic discourse. You stick your black spike of dissent in the path of the giant snowball of empire, and with barely a jolt or change in direction the ball gobbles up your spike which is soon obscured and does no more than add its weight to the thundering behemoth. For example, I greatly like the films Full Metal Jacket and Waltz with Bashir. They are both unflattering depictions of war from a conscript’s viewpoint. The problem is that they exist in a distorted context. It is good to humanise the forces of an aggressor, especially the actual grunts who have to face the dangers and do the most intimate dirty work. But to have a context wherein only the aggressors are humanised is sick and depraved, and I don’t mean that these films are sick and depraved. I mean the society we live in, that has never accorded such a deep three-dimensional humanity to Palestinians, Lebanese or Vietnamese, is sick and depraved – utterly sick and depraved.

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Waltz with Bashir deserves an acknowledgement in that, in its final moments, it very movingly humanises the victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacres through still photographs (similar to the approach of DePalma’s Redacted). However, through no fault of the film-maker (who had his own story to tell), the victims were not protagonists; they were not actors; they were not agents. Both of these films unintentionally act to support Israeli or US aggression. Whenever Israel or the US invades a new country, our imaginations are embedded with their personnel. We think about their fears and their suffering, not the greater fears and suffering of their victims. The emotions of their victims can’t be shown in any significant way, because then the US and Israel would look like the “Bad Guys” and people might find it difficult to believe that their violence is founded in the fight against the “Bad Guys”.

It is not just perceptions of real life that are altered by this one-sidedness. The boundaries of what is allowable within the cinematic discourse may, because of this context, allow utterly toxic pieces of propaganda to pass unnoticed. They fit comfortably within the normal practice of privileging Western lives and Western stories. They blame the victims and revere the sacrifice of the perpetrators. They may even be ostensibly antiwar, but they are pro-war crime. Such a work is The Hurt Locker.

The film Zero Dark Thirty has rightly attracted criticism for being a repugnant pro-torture piece of propaganda. For example the Political Film Blog has quite a collection of posts from various writers on many different aspects of why it is a repulsive work. But writer, Mark Boal, and director, Kathryn Bigelow, received almost universal praise for their previous work, The Hurt Locker, and what criticism there was of this movie made it seem almost as if it was a vapid and empty thriller that, by default, promoted a nihilistic love of US muscularity and capacity for destruction. As one writer puts it: “When the film ends with James marching defiantly toward yet another bomb in slow motion, one can practically hear the parody song, ‘America, Fuck Yeah!’ playing in the background.”

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But The Hurt Locker is far worse than just that, and I think that the fact that it passed with so little criticism shows that it was more insidious than Zero Dark Thirty. You see, when people perceive the Hurt Locker as somehow devoid of some level of commentary, what they are failing to see is that it is absolutely full of the sort of things that pass unremarked. It is deliberately constructed that way, and this construction is then used to promote the genocidal mass murder of civilians in a deliberately deceptive but direct manner. The only parallels I can think of are the Nazi propaganda film “that juxtaposed staged scenes of Jews living a life of luxury in the Warsaw Ghetto with chilling images that required no staging at all”; or Philip K. Dick’s rather misunderstood Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?(itself inspired by reading an S.S. soldier’s journal from Warsaw as research for The Man in the High Castle) which draws the reader into siding with the murderers of children. Perhaps a better understanding, though, can be gained from reading After Dachau. This book is another sci-fi allegory in which the world’s historical discourse has reconstructed Dachau as having been a major battle – a military conflict and not a one-sided slaughter. If it had not been written years beforehand, After Dachau might have been modelled on The Hurt Locker.

To explain why I take this view of the Hurt Locker I first have to explain what I mean by the “genocidal mass murder of civilians” in Iraq. Genocide, by its original conception or by its legal definition, may involve a combination of many different actions such as restricting a population’s food intake or destroying cultural items. It does not necessarily require that there is systematic killing. However, if the civilians of another country are systematically killed in large numbers, it is clearly an instance of genocide. What made the Iraq genocide unique when it entered the Occupation Period was that hundreds of thousands of civilians were systematically killed, but not in large scale massacres using air or ground based weapons. Civilians were not rounded up and shot en masse and there was no carpet bombing. The truly unique aspect of this period of the Iraq genocide was that the majority of civilian casualties were from coalition small arms in incidents wherein the number of victims was small. We know this because a group published the results of mortality studies in the Lancet in 2004 and 2006 (known as L1 and L2). Using a baseline mortality from January 2002 the 2006 study had the following findings:

[D]ata from 1849 households that contained 12801 individuals in 47 clusters was gathered. 1474 births and 629 deaths were reported during the observation period. Pre-invasion mortality rates were 5.5 per 1000 people per year (95% CI 4.3–7.1), compared with 13.3 per 1000 people per year (10.9–16.1) in the 40 months post-invasion. We estimate that as of July, 2006, there have been 654,965 (392,979–942,636) excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2.5% of the population in the study area. Of post-invasion deaths, 601,027 (426,369–793,663) were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire.

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This is the only study that gives us this clarity on causes of death. The majority of those violent deaths attributable to a given party were caused by coalition forces. The data reveals that many tens of thousands of Iraqis were shot to death by coalition forces. The Lancet studies were attacked, of course, but on grounds which were either completely innumerate or deliberately deceptive. In January 2008, UK polling company Opinion Research Business completed a survey and released the following:

Following responses to ORB’s earlier work, which was based on survey work undertaken in primarily urban locations, we have conducted almost 600 additional interviews in rural communities. By and large the results are in line with the ‘urban results’ and we now estimate that the death toll between March 2003 and August 2007 is likely to have been of the order of 1,033,000. If one takes into account the margin of error associated with survey data of this nature then the estimated range is between 946,000 and 1,120,000.

The circumstances in which Iraqi civilians are killed are complicated and subject to debate. This is itself symptomatic for the current need of deniability and dissimulation when committing mass murder. One can no longer build massive gas chambers and crematoria, but equally urban firebombing or carpetbombing may be altogether too obvious a means to be deployed in this era. Mass murder in this sense follows a grotesque fashionability. Those actions which are too closely associated with prior genocide or mass murder must be avoided. In Iraq this has led full circle to a return to very personal violence in which in excess of 100,000, civilians have been killed in a very atomised and geographically dispersed pattern with small arms by coalition forces. The closest parallel to this would be something like the Herero genocide, an early 20th Century colonial genocide.

In a work based on veteran testimony, Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian explain that US personnel have gonefrom killing – the shooting of someone who [can] harm you – to murder. The war in Iraq is primarily about murder. There is very little killing.1 They are talking about the systematic murder of civilians in small increments multiplied many times over. This is the result of a disproportionate fear and lack of security induced within US personnel as well as such policies and tactics as: force protection; reactive firing; suppressive fire; reconnaissance by fire. These are of relevance during convoy operations, house raids and at checkpoints and I am quite confident that each of these situations has been shaped by US policy in such a way as to maximise civilian deaths, often putting US personnel in the situation of being unwilling murderers. Joshua Key describes, from early in the occupation, having to build a “corpse shack” where Iraqis could go to collect the bodies of relatives killed by his company. It was “near our front gate, so relatives could retrieve their loved ones without entering our compound.”2 Those who doubt the systematic manner in which the US killed civilians need only view the gun camera footage from an Apache helicopter released by Wikileaks under the title of Collateral Murder. It reveals the psychological state of US personnel desperate to kill when, despite the evinced outrage at spotting what they claim to be an ‘RPG’ (which was actually a camera), those personnel were never endangered. As a Syrian blogger explained: ‘I also have to add that RPGs used by the insurgents are anti-tank weapons and not a ground-to-air weapon. Trying to hit an Apache with these is similar to trying to kill a flying wasp with a slingshot. Suspecting the journalist’s camera to be an RPG which is quite an outrageous mistake to make and still does not hold as an excuse for the trigger-happy soldier operating that 30mm machine gun.’

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Permission to fire is sought properly through the chain of command and all that occurs is according to the official Rules of Engagement (ROE), including the murder of those who innocently stopped to help the injured. This contravenes International Humanitarian Law on a number of grounds including protection for civilians but also Article 49 of the additional protocol to the 1949 Geneva Convention which protects combatants rendered hors de combat. The fact that it is legitimate according to ROE means that it is systematically applied murder which in turn means that the US is in clear breach of the UN Genocide Convention.

This brings us back to The Hurt Locker. It is somewhat surprising that the film garnered so much critical praise when its flaws, as a film, are really very large. The main character (Sgt James) has no sensible underlying psychology and of his two sidekicks one (Sgt Shelborn) has no character to speak of (except for being extremely callous, but that is presented as pure pragmatism) and the other (Spc Eldridge) is – like James – a nonsensical pastiche. Eldridge’s character is a very ugly marriage of the “nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nineteen” year-old conscript who fought in Vietnam (as seen in every Vietnam war film) and Yossarian from Catch-22. Though I couldn’t possibly deal with every sick aspect to this movie, it is worth noting here that a key turning point in Eldridge’s narrative journey comes when he is sucking a dead man’s blood from a large round of sniper ammunition while James says the following: “Just spit and rub. Spit and rub, man. Here, take it out. Take it out…. Just breathe, buddy. Come on. Just breathe in. You got it. You’re doing good. Here, just squeeze. Got it? Rub that ogive baby. Come on, you got it. Here.”

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Eldridge is central for two reasons. He is needed because while the proper manly men (James and Shelborn) do not show fear, we need to be told that death waits at every crossroads: “I mean, anyone comes alongside a Humvee, we’re dead. Anybody even looks at you funny, we’re dead. Pretty much the bottom line is, if you’re in Iraq, you’re dead.” You might be getting to notice that the dialogue of The Hurt Locker is pretty weird: “Anybody even looks at you funny, we’re dead.” Odd words, but they serve a purpose – as will be seen.

The very first scene is a characteristically stupid scenario. The team leader (Thompson) of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team goes to disarm an IED. As he walks away from the bomb to retrieve something his team mate spots an Iraqi with a cellphone. The Iraqi is standing in the open, fidgeting. Why he didn’t depart the area when the IED was first discovered we are not shown. Why, if he was determined to blow up an EOD team leader, he waited until after said target was moving away from the bomb is not explained. Why he would expose himself completely unnecessarily to armed US soldiers when wishing to explode the device is not readily apparent, although it must be said that the bulk of the rest of the film does try very hard to suggest that Iraqi’s act completely irrationally and have no instinct for self-preservation whatsoever.

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The real point to the fidgeting cellphone bomber is finally made clear when Eldridge is doing his Yossarian Jr. act with an Army psychiatrist: “What if all I can be is dead on the side of an Iraqi road? I mean, I think it’s logical. This is a war. People die all the time. Why not me? … You want to know what I’m thinking about, Doc?…This is what I’m thinking about, Doc. Here’s Thompson, okay. He’s dead. [gun clicks as Eldridge dry-fires his rifle] He’s alive. Here’s Thompson. He’s dead. [gun clicks] He’s alive. He’s dead. [gun clicks] He’s alive.” You get it? If you stop to think rather than immediately killing any Iraqi you see with a cellphone, your friend will die.

It is no joke that all sorts of conditions such as carrying shovels, using cellphones, binoculars or cameras were considered sufficient to warrant lethal violence under ROE’s in Iraq. US personnel were made to feel constantly insecure and constantly put in situations where their own security might be at risk if they did not use violence. They were given to understand that they would be protected from repercussions if fear should cause them to take actions which might constitute crimes. As one Sergeant said“All you got to say is, ‘I feel threatened,…’ and you shoot. They have no remorse.”3

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Following an already established cinematic trope, one of the almost mystically powerful forces faced by the GI in The Hurt Locker is the dreaded AK-47. Yes, 60 years after first being made, in movieland the AK-47 is still more terrifying than all of the firepower that a US infantry unit can muster. In this instance, reports unheard, bullets zzzwap into hapless English idiots from snipers unseen causing instant and very accurately placed death. It later is revealed that the Iraqis are firing from 850 metres away. Now, the Iraqi army did in fact use a Kalashnikov variant as a sniper rifle, but it had an effective range of 600 metres and could not penetrate body armour. We are then treated to a long sniper duel with the Shelborn using some sort of tripod mounted, super long-barrelled, high-powered sniper rifle as if the film-makers were at this point actually mocking their know-nothing audience. So Kalashnikovs are another overblown threat. I’m not saying that assault rifles are not threatening, merely pointing out the inversion which suggests that, as in Indochina, GIs were seriously outgunned. Those who followed events in Iraq will know that among the patchwork quilt of military occupation authorities imposed on Iraq, many allowed private possession of assault rifles to continue for a very long time, but policies were confused and changeable. Being spotted bearing such a weapon would certainly have been considered reasonable grounds to use lethal force given that carrying a shovel was considered sufficient (in Vietnam, GIs would carry “drop weapons” to place on the corpses of unarmed victims, in Iraq they used “drop shovels” in the same manner).

But, for all the reasons the The Hurt Locker gives for why Iraqis might pose a threat, it is the “look at you funny” one that is the most menacing in the film. All of the male Iraqis (females are not much in evidence) tend to move in and to surround. They exude sullen hostility and seem to be deliberately maintaining a concealing blankness of expression. Often they move unpredictably, for unknown purposes. Friendly expressions are seemingly forced or possibly aggressive, certainly impossible to trust. The overall image given is that they all want to kill you, but only some of them are actually trying to kill you at any given moment.

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So, the GI mentality, which the film would have us share, is that danger is constant and the enemy is every Iraqi. Worse than that, though, and far more chilling is the deadly combination creating an extravagant desire to kill through indoctrination, and the replacement of morality with considerations of formal “Rules of Engagement” criteria. At “boot camp” they are told that their whole reason for being is to kill, and to make the point sink in they get them to scream “Kill! Kill!” while bayoneting dummies and get them to chant desensitising cadences, like “Napalm sticks to kids” (which sound like ironic or even antiwar sentiments but take on a different character in the context of a military culture where “Er, kill babies” is a common greeting intended to be motivational).4 Moreover, I could devote a great deal of time to the racism and its role in dehumanising, desensitising and in creating hatred and an active desire to kill, but I will leave that to the reader’s imagination or their own research.

Along with the induced desire to kill, murder is legitimised through the formal criteria of the ROE and the chain of command. Again, one can hear this in operation as the gunner in Collateral Murder seeks permission to kill people. These are acts of murder – war crimes – but the murderers are absolutely convinced of their legality. Further, these acts are morally legitimised by formal criteria. After the fact it makes obvious sense that those who have killed harmless civilians would take comfort in having adhered to procedure and protocol. I have read many accounts, for example, of innocent civilians being killed at traffic control points by those who, in the final analysis, were equally innocent – forced into having to kill because of a situation deliberately created by the Bush administration itself. In such instances we know exactly who the criminals are. But the fear induced in US personnel, and the formalism, also combine in a truly frightening manner with a severely reductive Manichaeanism. Their purpose as soldiers or marines is to kill “Bad Guys”. Kill “Bad Guys”. Kill “Bad Guys”. Kill “Bad Guys”.

You kill “Bad Guys” and that is what makes you good. Kill Bad Guys and you are a Good Guy. You kill to save lives. But who is a Bad Guy? Someone with a shovel, or a camera, or a cellphone? They might not be posing any direct threat. They might have no way of fighting back. You might actually be cold-bloodedly gunning down a helpless person who has no means of resistance or flight, but they are Bad Guys and the use of lethal force is authorised – you are a Good Guy. If you don’t kill them it is an immoral act of cowardice, because they might kill your buddy. There is an implicit message here about the value of Iraqi lives and US lives. This is formalised under the doctrine of “Force Protection” which is in itself a blatant contravention of the 4th Geneva Convention. The message is quite simple – there is no upper limit to the number of Iraqis you should kill in order to save a US life. No limit – the difference in value between Iraqi and US lives is qualitative.

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This brings us back to Eldridge of The Hurt Locker. He is set up as the one who failed to kill – the cowardly transgressor. He is further denigrated by his patronage of a therapist. The therapist himself is interesting – a liberal Yale type called “’Doc’ Cambridge” (subtle, huh?) he tries to reason with Iraqis only to be confronted with their sullen irrationality and immense obtuseness. He finally learns the lesson that force is the only language Iraqis understand and having served his purpose he is promptly blown up in a deliberately cartoon style. Eldridge wanders around with the dead man’s helmet crying out “Doc! Doc!”, but, befitting the style of this film, the scene changes before we begin to wonder why it has turned into a live-action version of South Park.

Looking at where Eldridge starts, it is pretty easy to see where he might go, but there are several tricks here. Not only is Eldridge lower status than James and Shelborn, we are led to expect, if only unconsciously, that he is the minor character of the three and that his arc will be simplest. Whilst our expectations are that the clash of personalities and philosophies between James and Shelborn will be used to make statements about the world, in fact it is nothing but a vapid pissing contest, while Eldridge is the vehicle for most of the messaging. From his introduction, we expect Eldridge to be “the kid” who gains his manhood, perhaps in the form of an old pearl-handled .45 or a trophy from a defeated adversary – you know, a penis (apparently you are not a man until you get one from somewhere). The fate of “Doc” Cambridge, though, should be considered fair warning. In this film nobody is allowed to change or “grow”. You see, throughout the film Eldridge is presented as being at least half female. He is, without a doubt, a pussy. After the scene with the “rub that ogive” line (which in visual terms is also presented like a form of violation – sickening in the light of the epidemic of sexual assaults and rapes in the US military) Eldridge kills an Iraqi, and we think right, well now he is on his way to the lofty goal of masculinity, but the very next scene has him as the girly bystander to the manly men who are hitting each other for fun. In his final scene he condemns James for reckless adventurism – asking, why chase the Bad Guys into a dark alley? Meaning, symbolically, why invade Iraq in the first place? There he is on a stretcher getting a medevac from a helicopter, the iconic image of the young Vietnam draftee whining like a bitch because he’s too much of a pussy to see that you don’t invade Iraq because you have too, you invade Iraq because you can. Fuck yeah!

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Compared to Eldridge, James and Shelborn are pretty straightforward. James is a bit mad, and even a touch Iraqi in a funny way. Like the Iraqis he doesn’t have very good instincts for self-preservation. He keeps trying to cross over into the world of Iraqis, but every time there are obstacles that make human communication impossible. He can’t befriend a kid, talk to an urbane professor, nor save a middle-class family man. Though more puissant, he’s not a killer like Shelborn. He’s an adrenaline junky – good for blowing shit up, symbolically raping Eldridge, and demonstrating that there is never any point in communicating or negotiating with Arabs.

Shelborn is the everyman of the film. He embodies the baseline of the movie. We might sympathise with James for deciding to invade Iraq out of both noble Bad Guy killing desires and an urge to have fun and blow shit up, but we are meant to identify more closely with Shelborn. Stay safe. Keep your buddies safe. Do your job and come home at the end of your tour. You don’t try to talk to Iraqis – hating them is a natural state of being that Shelborn evinces in the film but which is not explored one bit. Hating Iraq is normal too – you, the audience, should be in no doubt that if you were in Iraq you would hate Iraq and its people, how could it be any other way (except for wierdos like James)? Above all, the rule that Shelborn lives by: when in doubt kill Iraqis. It’s not a big thing. Even Eldridge kills one. You gotta do these things to come home safe.

There is one last thing to note, something not unique to The Hurt Locker but which is taken to levels which verge on the ridiculous in this film. None of the Iraqis ever shows the least bit of fear of the US personnel. They passively watch or sometimes actively approach to pester with broken English. Even the professor is inhumanly sanguine – when a gun-toting foreigner breaks into his house and points his weapon directly at his head, he says, “You are CIA. No? I am very pleased to see CIA in my home. Please, sit.” A taxi driver barely flinches when James shoots right past his face, and doesn’t react at all to having a gun barrel placed to his forehead. This isn’t just a cinematic reiteration of Sir Hugh Trenchard’s claim that Iraqis “have no objection to being killed.”5 No, this is some serious hardcore propaganda here, and it is even little children who very pointedly show no iota of concern about heavily armed US personnel even as they run about discharging weapons and suchlike. The fact is that if you show Iraqis as being scared of US personnel, you threaten the narrative of this movie and much more. The people the US kills must be the Bad Guys. Why would children have any fear of the Good Guys? There was an Iraq War, not an Iraq Genocide, right?

1 Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, Collateral Damage: America’s War against Iraqi Civilians, New York: Nation Books, 2008, p xiii.

2 Joshua Key and Lawrence Hill, The Deserter’s Tale: Why I Walked Away from the War in Iraq, Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2007.

3 Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, London: Penguin, 2007, p 258.

4 Aaron Glantz, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2008, p 79.

5 Barry M. Lando, Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush, New York: Other Press, 2007, p 17.

The Cambodia Precedent: Justifying New Crimes on the Basis of Past Crimes

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For John Kerry the incoming Secretary of State, the bombing of Cambodia by the US was illegal. But, even as Kerry reaffirms his condemnation of US actions in Cambodia, it comes to light that in June his colleagues in the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees were issued a white paper from the Department of Justice which claimed US intervention in Cambodia as being a legal precedent for the administrations use of targeted killings using drone strikes. In fact, “legal precedent” might be too strong a term, because what is actually cited is an address given by legal counsel to the State Department to a legal forum. Yes, they are using a speech rather than an adjudication as a claim of precedence, much as one might in some future time quote John Yoo as the legal precedent for a systematic programme of child torture by testicular crushing. On the other hand, the carpet bombing of Cambodia was one of the most brutal and notorious war crimes of the post-WWII era and not only has no one been prosecuted for the crime, but the principle perpetrator was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a few years later – perhaps this is exactly the sort of precedent that the Obama administration looks towards.

With all of that in mind, it is worth revisiting exactly what the US did to the people of Cambodia. Then we can understand exactly what sort of moral precedent applies here – the sort that would make almost any organised crime boss, or terrorist, or psychopathic serial killer blanch with horrified disgust. If you think I’m exaggerating, read on.

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In 2007 Barack Obama said: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” In questioning John Kerry about Obama’s departure from that principle in Libya, Rand Paul elicited from Kerry, a reaffirmation that he, Kerry, still believed that the bombing of Cambodia was illegal. One might wonder, then, whether Obama’s new Secretary of State is going to oppose his famous “drone” assassination programme. I broach the subject because the Department of Justice rationalised the use of deadly force in other sovereign territories citing Cambodia as a precedent. This is an excerpt from their recently released White paper:

The Department has not found any authority for the proposition that when one of the parties to an armed conflict plans and executes operations from a base in a new nation, an operation to engage the enemy in that location cannot be part of the original armed conflict, and thus subject to the laws of war governing that conflict, unless the hostilities become sufficiently intense and protracted in the new location. That does not appear to be the rule of the historical practice, for instance, even in a traditional international conflict. See John R. Stevenson, Legal Adviser, Department of State, United States Military Action in Cambodia: Questions of International Law, Address before the Hammarskjold Forum of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (May 28,1970)…, (arguing that in an international armed conflict, if a neutral state has been unable for any reason to prevent violations of its neutrality by the troops of one belligerent using its territory as a base of operations, the other belligerent has historically been justified in attacking those enemy forces in that state).

Now, let me start off by saying something absolutely clearly. The idea that the US can legally engage in a programme of assassinations using hellfire missiles fired from unmanned aerial vehicles is a patent falsehood – a complete joke – a non-starter – a parody – a stupid idea that no one should take seriously. A single ad hoc emergency strike might be justified as self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter, but a programme cannot be as self-defence because, under the charter, it can only be applied to imminent threats. This aspect of law isn’t rocket science, nor hidden within some mystical realm of legalese. The standard legal textbook dealing with this subject is Yoram Dinstein’s, War, Aggression and Self-Defense, now in its 4th edition. It is a pretty straightforward book (and I’m no lawyer) and on this particular subject it is so unequivocal that it is impossible that any superior authority might find some crucial flaw which would invalidate Dinstein. The reason it is so unequivocal is that the US arguments have already been ruled against by no lesser body than the International Court of Justice. The reason for this is that the US has already deployed almost the exact same reasoning to justify its actions against Nicaragua.

On Nicaragua v. United States of America, the ICJ ruled “By twelve votes to three, Rejects the justification of collective self-defence maintained by the United States of America in connection with the military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua the subject of this case; …. By twelve votes to three, Decides that the United States of America, by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State….” And goes on to add other grounds of violation, including a similar finding against the US mining of Nicaragua’s main port. Dinstein explores the US self-defence claims and notes that although self-defence was ruled out on other grounds this did not prevent judges from further noting that the three requisite conditions of immediacy, necessity, and proportionality were also unsustainable.1

In the Nicaragua case, as now, the US argued that conditions of immediacy, necessity and proportionality were met, but then, as now, these are just empty words disproved by the simplest of geographical facts. Such claims are even further disproved by publicly available details of the US assassination programme, such as the use of “signature strikes” and the use of “double tap” follow up strikes. These practices demolish self-defence arguments even as they raise further questions about breaches of International Humanitarian Law (such as the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949)) and International Human Rights Law (such as Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which affirms “the right to life, liberty and security of person”).

So, how much does citing US actions in Cambodia strengthen the feeble claims of legal rationale for drone strikes? I would say somewhat less than not at all, partly because US military actions in Cambodia were clearly not legal and partly because they too failed the test of self-defence (hence arguably being crimes against the peace) but they were also gross breaches of International Humanitarian Law, and should be classified as genocide – which is considered an “aggravated crime against humanity

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When people think of genocide and Cambodia, they tend to think of the Khmer Rouge, and the “Killing Fields”; of their evidently insane Democratic Kampuchea regime which began its “Year Zero” in 1975. But a Finnish Inquiry Commission designated the years 1969 to 1975 in Cambodia (a time of massive aerial bombardment by the US and of bitter civil war wholly sustained by the US) as Phase 1 of the ‘Decade of Genocide’.2Estimates of Cambodian deaths resulting from the 1969-75 war range from Vickery’s 500,000 killed3 to a credible 1 million excess deaths estimated by Sorpong Peou.4 Given that the Cambodian population was an estimated 6 or 7 million in the period of the Second Indochina War, this gives us a figure of between 1 in 6 and 1 in 14 of all Cambodians killed.

US actions inside Cambodian borders began years before the devastating carpet bombing. The US ‘Studies and Operations Group’ conducted attacks with US Special Forces personnel in Cambodia throughout the 1960s. In 1967 these were institutionalised as “Salem House” (later known as “Daniel Boone”). This programme was kept secret from the US congress and conducted a total of 1,835 missions. Their primary activity appears to have been the laying of “sanitized self-destruct antipersonnel” mines anywhere up to 30 kilometres beyond the border. Their supposed mission was intelligence gathering, but throughout the whole programme they only captured 24 prisoners.5 The Special Forces troops usually disguised themselves as Vietnamese PLAF fighters and sometimes murdered civilians in false-flag operations.6

In 1970 Sihanouk was overthrown by General Lon Nol7 and Prince Sirik Matak with tacit support from Washington and probable assistance by the CIA. Washington recognised the new regime within hours.8 So fast was recognition of Lon Nol’s government that it must have precluded any possibility that the changes on the ground were being assessed, which strongly suggests that the US must have had detailed foreknowledge in order to have any confidence in its judgement. Sihanouk’s overthrow made civil war unavoidable.

In 1969, before the above events, the US began bombing Cambodia in what was known as “Operation Menu”. From Saigon, US General Creighton Abrams insisted that he had “hard evidence” that the Central Office for South Vietnam headquarters (COSVN HQ) had been located in the “Fish Hook” salient of Cambodia.9 The problem was that no such place ever existed, though for years the US had mounted operations to crush it when they claimed it was located in South Vietnam.10 Once under way, Operation Menu spread to other areas. Despite the carpet bombing of area supposed to contain COVSN HQ, in April 1970 Abrams claimed that the headquarters still existed as a fortified underground bunker with 5000 personnel.11 In May US and RVN forces invaded Cambodia, the action justified in part as an attempt, yet again, to wipe out the COVSN HQ “which had become the Holy Grail of the American war”.12 The US/RVN invasion simply, and predictably, drove communist forces deeper into Cambodia.13

It is a known and predictable effect that the killing of civilians drives people to take up arms, it is a “counterproductive” counter-insurgency tactic which actually strengthens the enemy.14 It is worth remembering that the famous maverick US Army officer John Paul Vann made the same observation in 1962.15One of the most striking examples of generating an enemy by killing civilians, is what occurred in Cambodia from 1969 onwards. Ben Kiernan repeatedly cites evidence in numerous consecutive instances that US/RVN aerial bombardment strengthened the Khmer Rouge insurgency, and, more specifically the anti-Vietnamese faction of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot.16 In 1969, the Khmer Rouge consisted of perhaps 4000 – an ultimately unthreatening insurgency. By the end of 1972, they were able, with DRV logistical support, to “hold their own” against Lon Nol’s armed forces, which, at US instigation, had been enlarged to between 132,000 and 176,000 (not counting “ghost” soldiers, who existed only on the books of the corrupt officers who collected their pay) and had massive US/RVN air support.17 In William Shawcross’s words, “the new war was creating enemies where none previously existed”18 and by this stage, Lon Nol’s regime was already reduced to the control of shrinking and fragmenting enclaves.19

When the the US generated a war in Cambodia they had already had a great deal of experience in Vietnam and Laos, and what occurred in Cambodia is, in many ways, a naked exposure of the logic behind the genocidal war system, less obfuscated because, ironically, Cambodia was a “sideshow” where it was not the details but the whole war which was kept obscure from the public.

Within a year of Lon Nol’s coup, as mentioned, the economy of Cambodia was virtually destroyed, not only by bombing, but also by US aid. Aid was channelled to the import of commodities and surplus US agricultural goods. It also underwrote the Cambodian government and armed forces: “By the end of 1970, the government was spending five times its revenue and earning nothing abroad.”20 Most of the population became reliant on US aid to eat, and rice supplies were kept at the minimum level needed to prevent food riots. By 1975, malnutrition was widespread and many children starved to death.21

Going back in time to 1970, less than two months after the coup that brought Lon Nol to power, the US invaded Cambodia, along with ARVN forces. They did not bother to forewarn Lon Nol who found out after Richard Nixon had announced the invasion publicly.22 This invasion along US and RVN bombing and the civil war made refugees of around half of the Cambodian population.23Lon Nol was outraged by the invasion and when later briefed by Alexander Haig (then military assistant to Kissinger) about US intentions he wept with frustration. According to Shawcross, “He wished that the Americans had blocked the communists’ escape route before attacking, instead of spreading them across Cambodia. … The Cambodian leader told Haig that there was no way his small force could stop them. … [Haig] informed Lon Nol that President Nixon intended to limit the involvement of American forces…. They would be withdrawn at the end of June. The the President hoped to introduce a program of restricted military and economic aid. As the implications of Haig’s words for the future of Cambodia became clear to Lon Nol, he began to weep. Cambodia, he said, could never defend itself.”24

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As has been detailed, US actions, particularly in bombing, were directly responsible for creating the communist enemy which overthrew Lon Nol. The bombing between 1969 and 1973 took up to 150,000 lives.25 If averaged out, over 33 tons of ordnance were used to kill each Khmer Rouge insurgent.26 Despite the fact that Vietnamese pilots bombed any Cambodian they could, which aided only the Khmer Rouge, Lon Nol acceded to a US demand that he request an increase in VNAF bombing in 1971.27 By May 1972, the Lon Nol regime had control of perhaps 10 per cent of the country and continued to lose territory which was thereafter fragmented into ever smaller enclaves.28 The result was by that stage foregone, and yet the war dragged on for three years with the greater part of the 1 million deaths occurring after that point.

In 1970, when Henry Kissinger briefed Jonathan “Fred” Ladd, who was slated to conduct the war in Cambodia, he told him, “Don’t even think of victory; just keep it alive.”29 The point of the US bombing was not to win a military victory – it was to destroy Cambodia as part of an Indochina “exit strategy” – and that is a clear instance of genocide under the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. When the US Congress finally blocked aid to Cambodia and South Vietnam, it was with the belated realisation that such aid would not give any hope of victory or improve a bargaining position. Senator Mike Mansfield spoke out, “Ultimately Cambodia cannot survive…. Additional aid means more killing, more fighting. This has got to stop sometime.”30

So that was the end of the US involvement in Cambodia, and their legal culpability. The Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh, and the refugees were shocked to see that the black-clad cadres were mostly young teens, fanatical and brutalised by half a young lifetime of fighting and death. The US was not responsible for the fantasies of the Pol Pot clique, who believed that supernatural amounts of food could be produced without recourse to machine power, nor for their refusal to accept aid. But the US had deliberately brought the Cambodian population to the brink of starvation – destroying farmland and driving peasants off the land. Perhaps 500,000 or more died of starvation. Hundreds of thousands were executed for political or ideological reasons, murdered by the Khmer Rouge who the US had largely brought into existence. And when the Vietnamese put the regime to an end (and despite what you may read about this being justifiable as “humanitarian intervention” it was in fact legitimate self-defence – if you don’t believe me you can read about Khmer Rouge foreign policy, border attacks, and espoused official desire to exterminate all Vietnamese) when the Khmer Rouge were supplanted, the US insisted that they retain a seat at the UN and started giving aid to their guerilla forces.

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So, do I think that the Cambodia precedent is a good one to justify an assassination programme? No, I do not. But then again I am not from the US, and perhaps I am failing to grasp the subtle point that next to no “Americans” died in Cambodia (none that were officially acknowledged) therefore it did not happen. I don’t want to be offensive, but if they do not wish to be complicit with the crimes of the US regime, US anti-drone campaigners must avoid all trace of exceptionalism. I am sure they mean no harm, but why allow yourselves to be drawn into this ridiculous framework of seeing the drone programme as being primarily a question of “the targeting of Americans without due process.” There have been 5 US citizens killed with US drones whereas at least 4000 non-US citizens have been killed. Why would anyone, in those circumstances, give primacy to concern over “US citizens” and “due process”? This fetishisation of the idolised US Constitution is getting old. Besides which, the US Constitution’s “Supremacy Clause” (Article 6, Clause 2) actually gives treaties the same status as federal law – which would include the Nuremberg Charter and the UN Charter, among other things. Furthermore, by allowing the issue to be framed in such a manner, psychologically you set yourself and others up for being mollified by cosmetic measures offered to guarantee the rights of US citizens while retaining the right to kill foreigners at will. Do you really believe that being a US citizen or being born in Denver makes someone more human?

1 Yoram Dinstein, War, Aggression and Self-Defence (3rd ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp 184-5.

2 Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. London: Vintage, 1994 (1988), p 260.

3 Ibid, p 263.

4 Sorpong Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia: Towards Democracy? Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2000, p 54.

5 Ibid, pp 64-5.

6 Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996, p 18.

7 The US had developed ties with Lon Nol in the 1950s and by 1970, according to CIA officer Frank Snepp, he was one of two candidates being groomed by the CIA to take Sihanouk’s place (William Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia. London: Fontana, 1980 (1979), pp 114-5).

8 Ibid, pp 114-23; William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II (2nd ed.), Monroe: Common Courage Press, 2004, pp 137-8; Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia, pp 125-6.

9 Shawcross, Sideshow, p 19.

10 Marilyn Young, The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990, New York: Harper Perennial, 1991, pp 72, 186; Tucker, Vietnam, p 129; Turley, The Second Indochina War, pp 79-80.

11 Shawcross, Sideshow, p 140.

12 Young, The Vietnam Wars, p 245.

13 Shawcross, 1979, p 151.

14 David Keen, Endless War? Hidden functions of the ‘War on Terror’. London, Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2006, pp 58-61.

15 Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (New York: Vintage 1989 (1988), p pp 106-111.

16 Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, pp 19-23. Also see Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia, p 128.

17 Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 73, 180, 194-5, 261.

18 Ibid, p 249.

19 Ibid, p 254.

20 Ibid, p 220.

21 Ibid, p 317-9.

22 Ibid, p 149.

23 Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia , p 127.

24 Shawcross, Sideshow, p 163.

25 Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, p 24.

26 Ibid, p 19.

27 Shawcross, Sideshow, p 186.

28 Ibid, pp 254-5.

29 Ibid, p 169.

30 Nigel Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won. London: Arcturus Publishing, 2003, p 213.

Is Obama Really Batman?

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You can be excused just about anything if you’re a hero, because no one asks inconvenient questions. – Terry Pratchett.

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There are many ways in which various incarnations of Batman have appealed to people over the years, but central is the trope of counterterror – the revenge fantasy of the impotent. You see, Batman has superhuman powers. Yes, I am aware that the authors make it very clear that he does not have superhuman powers, but then they depict him doing things which are beyond human capabilities – hence he actually has superhuman powers. Using his super powers he brings fear to those who inflict fear. He is the victim who has become the righteous assailant. But there is a little bit of a problem here – if the “hero” is a violent nutcase with an odd costume fetish, why would we trust his moral compass? Why would we rely on his literally self-righteous narrative? In the same vein, why should we take Obama’s word that he has to kill people to prevent terrorism when the alleged terrorists cause much less terror and death than Obama? It turns out that people tolerate Obama because he seems to face an evil more unspeakable, more terrible, and yet more outrageous and comical than any evil known to history. It is not al-Qaeda, nor is it Kim Jong Un. It is the same evil that Batman faces.

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Nerd Rage Revenge Fantasy

There is reassurance in the idea of a powerful paternal figure that protects. But when you have been bullied; when you have been made to feel helpless, weak and scared; when your delusions of potency are shattered, maybe you want more than reassurance – maybe you want VENGEANCE. The tables must be turned. The tormentor must become the tormented. You don’t need a father figure anymore, you need a you figure. But an empowered you, a superhuman you, a terrifying you. You need the superhuman powers because you face a superhuman threat – the villains.

The villains are given superhuman power by the scary demon mask which is given to them by magic storytellers known as the corporate media. They terrorise. The mask they wear is the horror mask of primal and basic fear. Criminals and terrorists are not represented as human beings but as crime and terror made flesh. You cannot reason with them. You cannot even buy their forbearance. They will take your money and kill you anyway – because they are driven to kill. There are no ways of mediating or ameliorating the risk of becoming a victim. You hide behind locks, gates and guards, and you cheer for the preventive violence of vigilantes in or out of uniform.

If you are thinking that they take the horror villain mask from the fictional murderer of Hollywood and place it on the real murderers of the evening news, you would only be partly right. The horror mask is used, of course, but there are no “real” murderers on the evening news. Instead of a human being the news media version of a murderer is a cypher, a vehicle for the urge to kill, murder itself embodied and made flesh. They are even less real than their fictional Hollywood counterparts and it is the same when the murderers are “terrorists”. Proof of the unreality is in the irrelevance of actual guilt. The Central Park Five wore the horror mask, as did Damien Echols, and many other innocents such as those imprisoned and tortured in Guantánamo. These are all fictional unreal murderers and terrorists (despite the fact that they correspond to actual real people) who epitomise murder and terror. Their alien nature, their irrationality, their opacity all make them much greater sources of fear. But then there is the intriguing thought that one can also fight terror with terror.

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Enter the Batman!

The nature of Batman is such that he takes the terror felt by the public and projects it back at the supposed source of their terror. No, he doesn’t go around scaring the crap out of studio owners and heads of news departments, that would be too sensible. He terrorises the “baddies”, and a central part of the canonical backstory is that he too is a victim, having seen his parents senselessly gunned down as a child. The fear makes everyone a victim, and he is the victim granted the power to fight back.

Out of the dark, just as the tattoed thug is in the act of terrorising (his victim usually a woman), a dark figure drops from above. The tables are turned – the terroriser is now the terrorised – a highly gendered process in which the “bad guy” suddenly develops a very high pitched squeaky voice which is decidedly girly. Usually there is also some sort of phallic kerfuffle occuring – the bad guy’s pistol droops impotently, or Batman’s weapon is bigger, or disarmament is shown as symbolic castration. All good family fun.

This all occurs in exactly the same way in the world of Obama. The discourse of terrorism is one of the horror mask beneath which is the simplistic fiction of cardboard-cutout evil. Terrorists, like violent urban criminals, are animated by innate animus – a pure and unadulterated hatred. They hate our freedoms, we were told, and Obama has done almost nothing but reinforce that notion. Terrorists are killing machines. It is in their nature. You cannot negotiate with terrorists because they are all irrational fanatics. And so, like the urban criminals, the only choice is to incapacitate or eliminate them. As Prince Harry put it: “If there’s people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we’ll take them out of the game.” (He didn’t preface the comment with “Holy Playstation Batman!”, but he might well have, because the UK really does good line in being sidekick to a deranged vigilante).

The fear of the terrorist or criminal actually relies on the deliberate omission of any hint of rational motive or circumstantial cause. There is “no negotiating with terrorists”. The only admissable response is the response of the strongman, the Obataman who fights terror with terror. Otherwise people might think that all of this counterterror stuff (which actually creates more terrorists than it kills) is really about deliberately sowing instability and strife in order maintain a US strategic predominance which is, in fact, counter to the interests of the US people (but pretty good if you happen to be ExxonMobil).

Is the analogy with Batman a fair one? To be strictly honest, while Dick Cheney rather overtly embraced what he himself described as “the dark side”, Obama is in a sense more discreet than Cheney or Batman. Part of the appeal of the use of drones is that it seems clinical and detached. Obama specifically claimed “very few” civilian casualties from “very precise, precision strikes against Al Qaeda and their affiliates” in a programme that is “kept on a very tight leash.” So it seems like a programme that just gets “the worst of the worst”. Just like Guantánamo. The frequency of the drone strikes just goes to show how serious the threats to the US are. It also reveals the vigilance of the intelligence forces who strike at every credible threat as soon as it is detected. It is a bit like a whack-a-mole game. The public can be very reassured by the frequency of lethal action without having to ask themselves irrelevant questions such as: who?; where?; how old?; or, how can some impoverished person from one of the most undeveloped regions of the planet pose a credible threat against a country that spends such obscene amounts on “defense” and “homeland security”?

On the other hand, to give Batman his due, despite his broody wierdness and silly voice, he usually resists the temptation to actually murder people, and he doesn’t kill children at all. Obama, by contrast, murders children on a very regular basis, which is not a normal part of the “hero” job description.

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The Credibility Problem

Batman and Obama do share a certain fundamental problem, and their propagandists resolve this problem in the same manner. In the final analysis, Batman is an extremely emotionally disturbed vigilante who dresses up as a bat. Yes, this is obvious, and he is a superhero (sort of) but he dresses up as a bat to fight crime. That’s pretty loopy. Likewise, Obama is a serial murderer and war criminal. It might be difficult for people to grasp this at first, but many political leaders in the world are not murderers or war criminals. I know that seems completely mad, but it is true. Heaps and heaps of world leaders don’t even have assasination programmes!

Obama and Batman each have a kind of lame excuse. In the case of Batman it is that while he is actually a bit mad, he almost always has certain internal constraints on his behaviour. It isn’t that comforting really. It is a little like claiming that a sexually motivated burglar who likes to sniff underwear and watch people sleeping is actually alright because, out of hundreds of break-ins, the perpetrator has only sexually assaulted a sleeping victim on a couple of occasions. Similarly, Obama assures us that the people he murders aren’t really murdered, because he has some lawyers who have written down some very important legal words which explain exactly why it is not actually murder but perfectly legal killing and we would be able to see these very important words but they have to be secret because of security. This is nothing more than a sophisticated Third Millenium version of the Nixon defence (if the President does it, it must be legal). These first-line excuses would not protect Obama and Batman from the derision, condemnation and legal proceedings they so richly deserve, but they are supplemented by something far more powerful – flattering contrasts.

How do you make a violent mentally disturbed vigilante in an outrageous costume seem morally acceptable? By pitting him against villains who are even more violent, more mentally disturbed, and more outrageously costumed. Yes, I’m talking about people like Michelle Bachmann and Glenn Beck. You might ask, what about Osama Bin Laden, Muammar Gaddafi and the new kid on the block, Mokhtar Belmokhtar? They are all very well, but for all of their rather suspiciously excessive and picturesque fiendishness, eventually people start to notice that they kill a lot less people than the “good guys”. That is one of the reasons why Bush kept sliding in the polls, eventually even the most brainwashed had to notice that he had lost the moral high ground (and the only excuse that he ever had for pursuing a very criminal foreign policy was to cite moral righteousness). So they had to change from a John Wayne president to a Bruce Wayne president. And you have to admit that Obama seems inherently sane and reasonable when juxtaposed with supervillains like The Newt, Bibi Yahoo, The Enarray, Doctor Romnesia and “Whitey” O’Reilly.

I could probably just start listing completely freakish and weird individuals and groups who position themselves to the right of Obama and it would be a very long list indeed. But you can probably think of a few without my assistance. Obama has managed to seem extremely rational, humane, caring and progressive merely by rejecting some extremely deranged stances taken by his domestic political opponents. Take the Republican primary circus, for example. That was one hell of a freak show and the national convention was a suitably bizzarre coda. And the Republican candidate? A completely unelectable billionaire who refuses to release his tax returns, probably because it would show people how he managed to score millions in taxpayer bailout money by holding the government to ransom in 2008 (the deal was legal, just very very immoral, and concealing it may yet land Romney in prison). And yet they managed to make the election into a credible two-horse race, though only with the mainstream media bending over backwards to keep pretending that Romney’s assertions were worthy of report despite 533 documented lies over the space of 30 weeks of campaigning.

The fact is that Obama only has to say the sort of things that a ten-year old kid would say about the day’s issues, and it seems as if he were the only help of salvation in the face of the sort of reactions his opponents evince. Take the issue of mentally ill people massacring children with weapons which are purpose-built for killing people. Obama said: “We’re going to need on making access to mental health at least as easy as access to a gun. We’re going to need to look more closely at a culture that, all too often, glorifies guns and violence.” Those words almost made him sound like a radical, because very powerful voices were saying that the answer to mass shootings was more guns.

Other issues where Obama’s opponents manage to make him look reasonable even when he is being inhumane or criminal include foreign policy and immigration. Obama has deported record numbers of people (400,000 last year) at enormous expense (ICE and Customs and Border enforcement cost at least $19 billion in 2012). Yet, because he says much less callous things than Republicans, he gets a free ride on the issue. Obama presided over 20,000 air strikes in his first term, nearly equal to the number in both Bush Jr. terms. But Romney’s neocon studded team and the Iran War enthusiasts make Obama seem restrained if not dovish. Obama has been steadfast and seemingly obsequious in support of Israel, but the inevitable opposition to illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Netanyahu’s silly charade of insulted objection, make Obama seem like an “honest broker” (the US has to oppose the illegal settlements, otherwise they could not pretend to support the “peace process” to find a “two-state” solution).

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How Many Jokers?

So there we have it. Batman needs The Joker, otherwise he looks too much like a dangerous lunatic himself. For Obama, one joker is not enough. It takes a whole slew of maniac clowns to make Obama seem alright, and for good reason. Here is a test. Read the list of children killed by drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Think about the dead children. (It is an incomplete list. Many victims will never be known.) Then some day when you are in a crowd, picture Obama and think “This guy kills kids. He actually kills children.” Then look at all of the people around you. Do any of them kill children? Not very likely, is it? Normal people don’t kill children. If you found out that one of the people around you had murdered numerous children, how would you react? Now ask yourself, why don’t you react that way to Obama? Isn’t it time to forget about the freakish clowns and see him for what he really is?