Close to 500,000 classified U.S. military reports have been released on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The CIA is on a public campaign to expand the drone war in Pakistan and get clearance to assassinate U.S. citizens in countries we have not declared war with (any other assassinations don’t warrant an ethical dilemma). All of this, and yet moving away from war still does not factor into the political debate. We, the American people, are giving up on war; more specifically we have given into it. Despite overwhelming evidence that we are not getting out of Iraq or Afghanistan, and are indeed expanding war, people just shake their heads and carry on. We have been normalized to myths and learned to disregard any facts presented outside of those parameters.
At a time of huge economic crisis, with families and states facing drastic budget cuts and bankruptcy, Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates was appalled at a recommendation for $100 Billion in cuts to be made to his $720 billion budget for next year. To put that into perspective, the Department of Education has requested a total of $77.8 billion for fiscal year 2011.
Historian Howard Zinn used to open his classes with “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” Yet that is what we appear to be aspiring to, relinquishing our own responsibility, including responsibility for documented crimes committed by our government in our name with our lack of overwhelming action to stop it.
On October 22nd, WikiLeaks released over 390,000 significant action reports from Iraq spanning from January 2004 to December 2009. They include information on 109,032 deaths in Iraq, including a previously undisclosed 15,000 civilian deaths. The New York Times, one of only a handful of organizations to receive the documents in advance of their release, quickly changed their focus to the personal life of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange rather than breaking down and highlighting the information in the reports. The UK’s major national news paper, The Guardian, had extensive analysis and discussion of content, including a story on how media around the world were reporting on it. Eleven days before an election, exposure of gigantic amounts of information of the realities and consequences of our war and occupation of Iraq did not have an impact on the narrative of the election cycle; furthermore there were seemingly no connections made by the public or media between the economy, federal deficit and the cost of war.
Expecting that the WikiLeaks Logs would or should cause a total breakdown in society, or an immediate end to the war is unrealistic, as is the assumption that the release of the Pentagon Papers were alone responsible for the end of the Vietnam War. What the WikiLeaks Logs do prove and confirm is that many of the arguments made against these wars are true and these reports show the grisly and real consequences of military occupation.
How is it that there is such lack of scrutiny and accountability for these wars? While we wait for them to end of their own accord, magically, the damage and violence they create continues. No matter the timelines or transition plans laid out, people are still dying and facing tremendous horror each day, and our responsibility to end it as quickly as possible remains. The official plans aim to put a face of order and inevitability on a situation that is chaotic and disastrous for all involved, but they are no guarantees for peace or security, nor a full withdrawal of U.S. troops and personnel in the Middle East. The damage done cannot be reversed by a commitment to training or a continued presence for years to come; healing will only start to occur when accountability and sovereignty are restored.
By accountability I do not mean that the Afghans or Iraqis ‘need to stand up’ as Vice President Biden keeps saying, since they do so in a variety of admirable ways each day in places we have crushed with violence; the accountability I reference is rather U.S. accountability to international law, our troops, our communities, and the transparency and engagement required of democracy. Everything done in our name with our tax dollars must be made known. Covert operations–expanding the wars to Yemen with assassinations and Pakistan with drone attacks that kill large numbers of civilians–are not good faith actions, and make recruitment for groups like Al-Queda easier, fueling this violence endlessly.
What the WikiLeaks Logs do prove and confirm is that many of the arguments made against these wars are true, even though these reports show only a glimpse into the devastating consequences of military occupation. The question is– what impact the leaks will have on both policy changes and re-mobilizing antiwar activists?
We tried to stop these wars before they began and it wasn’t enough. We banked on elections to end them but failed to keep pressure and focus after the votes were counted to get results. We have to do more and better. We all have ‘skin in the game,’ whether we realize it or not, and we all have responsibility for the violence that occurs everyday because of our inaction. Find your local peace and justice group (or start one), get off your computer and engage in your local community, have conversations about the concrete ways funding the war costs your community, hold an event and get the word out to other concerned folks, contact your legislators and demand they take a stand. Rethink Afghanistan has petitions and content to share, along with links to meetups around the country for discussing Afghanistan and organizing opposition. If you’ve got other ideas, info on existing campaigns or ways for people to plug-in and take action, please share them! There is no single act that will end these wars, it will be a million different ones that will erode away support and protection until there is no choice but to stop. Don’t give in to war, end it.
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