After the first jetliner crashed into the Twin Towers on that September 11 morning, a friend of mine and his 11-year old daughter climbed up to the roof of their Manhattan home to look around. Just then the second plane struck, the young girl fell backward, and went blind from shock.
It took more than a year of examinations and therapies before this girl came out of her blindness to look around.
That’s what happened to America itself ten years ago this Sunday on 9/11, though it might be claimed many of us were blinded by privilege and hubris long before. But 9/11 produced a spasm of blind rage, arising from a pre-existing blindness as to the way much of the world sees us. That in turn led to the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Afghanistan again, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and, in all, a dozen “shadow wars” according to The New York Times.
Bob Woodward’s crucial book, Obama’s Wars, points out that there were already secret and lethal counterterrorism operations active in more than 60 countries as of 2009. From Pentagon think tanks came a new military doctrine of the “Long War,” a counter-insurgency vision arising from the failed Phoenix program of the Vietnam era, projecting U.S. open combat and secret wars over a span of 50 to 80 years, or 20 future presidential terms. The taxpayer costs of this Long War, also shadowy, would be in the many trillions of dollars — and paid for not from current budgets, but by generations born after the 2000 election of George W. Bush. The deficit spending on the Long War would invisibly force the budgetary crisis now squeezing our states, cities and most Americans.
Besides the future being mortgaged, civil liberties were thought to require a shrinking proper to a state of permanent and secretive war, so the Patriot Act was promulgated. All this happened after 9/11 through Democratic default and denial. Who knows what future might have followed if Al Gore, with a half-million popular vote margin over George Bush, had prevailed in the U.S. Supreme Court instead of losing by the vote of a single justice? In any event, only a single member of Congress, Barbara Lee of Berkeley-Oakland, voted against the war authorization, and only a single senator, Russ Feingold, voted against the Patriot Act.
Were we not blinded by what happened on 9/11? Are we still? Let’s look at the numbers we almost never see.
CASUALTIES OF WAR
As to American casualties, the figure now is beyond twice those who died in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. on 9/11. The casualties are rarely totaled, but are broken down into three categories by the Pentagon and Congressional Research Service. There is Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes Afghanistan and Pakistan but, in keeping with the Long War definition, also covers Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Second, there is Operation Iraqi Freedom and its successor Operation New Dawn, the name adopted after September 2010 for the 47,000 US advisers, trainers and counterterrorism units still in Iraq. The scope of these latter operations includes Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. These territories include not only Muslim majorities but, according to former Centcom commander Tommy Franks, 68 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and the passageway for 43 percent of petroleum exports, another American geo-interest which was heavily denied in official explanations.
A combined 6,197 Americans were killed in these wars as of August 16, 2011, in the name of avenging 9/11, a day when 2, 996 Americans died. The total number of American wounded has been 45,338, and rising at a rapid rate. The total number rushed by military Medivac out of these violent zones was 56, 432. That’s a total of 107,996 Americans. And the active-duty military suicide rate for the decade is at a record high of 2, 276, not counting veterans or those who have tried unsuccessfully to take their own lives. In fact, the suicide rate for last year was greater than the American death toll in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Pentagon has long played a numbers game with these body counts. In addition to being painfully difficult and extremely complicated to access, there was a time when the Pentagon refused to count as Iraq war casualties any soldier who died from their wounds outside of Iraq’s airspace. Similar controversies have surrounded examples such as soldiers killed in non-combat accidents.
The fog around Iraq or Afghanistan civilian casualties will be seen in the future as one of the great scandals of the era. Briefly, the United States and its allies in Baghdad and Kabul have relied on eyewitness, media or hospital numbers instead of the more common cluster-sampling interview techniques used in conflict zones like the first Gulf War, Kosovo or the Congo. The United Nations has a conflict of interest as a party to the military conflict, and acknowledged in a July 2009 U.N. human rights report footnote that “there is a significant possibility that UNAMA is underreporting civilian casualties.”
In August, even the mainstream media derided a claim by the White House counter-terrorism adviser that there hasn’t been a single “collateral,” or innocent, death during an entire year of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, a period in which 600 people were killed, all of them alleged “militants.” As an a specific explanation for the blindness, the Los Angeles Times reported April 9 that “Special Forces account for a disproportionate share of civilian casualties caused by western troops, military officials and human rights groups say, though there are no precise figures because many of their missions are deemed secret.”
STICKER SHOCK OF WAR
Among the most bizarre symptoms of the blindness is the tendency of most deficit hawks to become big spenders on Iraq and Afghanistan, at least until lately. The direct costs of the war, which is to say those unfunded costs in each year’s budget, now come to $1.23 trillion, or $444.6 billion for Afghanistan and $791.4 billion for Iraq, according to the National Priorities Project.
But that’s another sleight-of-hand, when one considers the so-called indirect costs like long-term veteran care. Leading economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes recently testified to Congress that their previous estimate of $4 to $6 trillion in ultimate costs was conservative. Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers in D.C. — in my opinion, the best war reporter of the decade — wrote recently that “it’s almost impossible to pin down just what the United States spends on war.” The president himself expressed “sticker shock,” according to Woodward’s book, when presented cost projections during his internal review of 2009.
The Long War casts a shadow not only over our economy and future budgets but our innocent and unborn children’s future as well. This is no accident, but the result of deliberate lies, obfuscations and scandalous accounting techniques. We are victims of an information warfare strategy waged deliberately by the Pentagon. As Gen. Stanley McChrystal said much too candidly in a February 2010, “This is not a physical war of how many people you kill or how much ground you capture, how many bridges you blow up. This is all in the minds of the participants.” David Kilcullen, once the top counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, defines “international information operations as part of counterinsurgency.” Quoted in Counterinsurgency in 2010, Kilcullen said this military officer’s goal is to achieve a “unity of perception management measures targeting the increasingly influential spectators’ gallery of the international community.”
This new war of perceptions, relying on naked media manipulation such as the treatment of media commentators as “message amplifiers” but also high-technology information warfare, only highlights the vast importance of the ongoing WikiLeaks whistle-blowing campaign against the global secrecy establishment. Consider just what we have learned about Iraq and Afghanistan because of WikiLeaks: Tens of thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq, never before disclosed; instructions to U.S. troops to not investigate torture when conducted by U.S. allies; the existence of Task Force 373, carrying out night raids in Afghanistan; the CIA’s secret army of 3,000 mercenaries; private parties by DynCorp featuring trafficked boys as entertainment, and an Afghan vice president carrying $52 million in a suitcase.
The efforts of the White House to prosecute Julian Assange and persecute Pfc. Bradley Manning in military prison should be of deep concern to anyone believing in the public’s right to know.
The news that this is not a physical war but mainly one of perceptions will not be received well among American military families or Afghan children, which is why a responsible citizen must rebel first and foremost against The Official Story. That simple act of resistance necessarily leads to study as part of critical practice, which is as essential to the recovery of a democratic self and democratic society. Read, for example, this early martial line of Rudyard Kipling, the poet of the white man’s burden: “When you’re left wounded on Afghanistan’s plains/ And the women come out to cut up what remains/ Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains/And go to your God like a soldier.” Years later, after Kipling’s beloved son was killed in World War I and his remains never recovered, the poet wrote: “If any question why we died / Tell them because our fathers lied.”
A HOPE FOR PEACE
An important part of the story of the peace movement, and the hope for peace itself, is the process by which hawks come to see their own mistakes. A brilliant history/autobiography in this regard is Dan Ellsberg’s Secrets, about his evolution from defense hawk to historic whistleblower during the Vietnam War. Ellsberg writes movingly about how he was influenced on his journey by meeting contact with young men on their way to prison for draft resistance.
The military occupation of our minds will continue until many more Americans become familiar with the strategies and doctrines in play during the Long War. Not enough Americans in the peace movement are literate about counterinsurgency, counterterrorism and the debates about the “clash of civilizations”, the West versus the Muslim world.
The more we know about the Long War doctrine, the more we understand the need for a long peace movement. The pillars of the peace movement, in my experience and reading, are the networks of local progressives in hundreds of communities across the United States. Most of them are voluntary, citizen volunteers, always and immersed in the crises of the moment, nowadays the economic recession and unemployment.
This peace bloc deserves more. It won’t happen overnight, but gradually we are wearing down the pillars of the war. It’s painfully slow, because the president is threatened by Pentagon officials, private military contractors and an entire Republican Party (except the Ron Paul contingent) who benefit from the politics and economics of the Long War.
But consider the progress, however slow. In February of this year, Rep. Barbara Lee passed a unanimous resolution at the Democratic National Committee calling for a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan and transfer of funds to job creation. The White House approved of the resolution. Then 205 House members, including a majority of Democrats, voted for a resolution that almost passed, calling for the same rapid withdrawal. Even the AFL-CIO executive board, despite a long history of militarism, adopted a policy opposing Afghanistan. The president himself is quoted in Obama’s Wars as opposing his military advisors, demanding an exit strategy and musing that he “can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.” At every step of the way, it must be emphasized, public opinion in Congressional districts was a key factor in changing establishment behavior.
As for Al Qaeda, there is always the threat of another attack, like those attempted by militants aiming at Detroit during Christmas 2009 or Times Square in May 2010. In the event of another such terrorist assault originating from Pakistan, all bets are off: According to Woodward, the U.S. has a “retribution” plan to bomb 150 separate sites in that country alone there, and no apparent plan for The Day After. Assuming that nightmare doesn’t happen, today’s al Qaeda is not the al Qaeda of a decade ago. Osama bin Laden is dead, its organization is damaged, and its strategy of conspiratorial terrorism has been displaced significantly by the people-power democratic uprisings across the Arab world.
It is clear that shadow wars lie ahead, but not expanding ground wars involving greater numbers of American troops. The emerging argument will be over the question of whether special operations and drone attacks are effective, moral and consistent with the standards of a constitutional democracy. And it is clear that the economic crisis finally is enabling more politicians to question the trillion dollar war spending.
Meanwhile, the 2012 national elections present an historic opportunity to awaken from the blindness inflicted by 9/11.
After more than 50 years of activism, politics and writing, Tom Hayden is a leading voice for ending the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan and reforming politics through a more participatory democracy.