AL JAZEERA COLUMN: Censorship of Civilian Casualties in the US

US mainstream media and the public’s willful ignorance is to blame for lack of knowledge about true cost of wars.

Why is it so easy for American political leaders to convince ordinary citizens to support war? How is that, after that initial enthusiasm has given away to fatigue and disgust, the reaction is mere disinterest rather than righteous rage? Even when the reasons given for taking the U.S. to war prove to have been not only wrong, but brazenly fraudulent—as in Iraq, which hadn’t possessed chemical weapons since 1991—no one is called to account.

The United States claims to be a shining beacon of democracy to the world. And many of the citizens of the world believes it. But democracy is about responsiveness and accountability—the responsiveness of political leaders to an engaged and informed electorate, which holds that leadership class accountable for its mistakes and misdeeds. How to explain Americans’ acquiescence in the face of political leaders who repeatedly lead it into illegal, geopolitically disastrous and economically devastating wars of choice?

The dynamics of U.S. public opinion have changed dramatically since the 1960s, when popular opposition to the Vietnam War coalesced into an antiestablishmentarian political and culture movement that nearly toppled the government and led to a series of sweeping social reforms whose contemporary ripples include the recent move to legalize marriage between members of the same sex.

Why the difference?

Numerous explanations have been offered for the vanishing of protesters from the streets of American cities. First and foremost, fewer people know someone who has gotten killed. The death rate for U.S. troops has fallen dramatically, from 58,000 in Vietnam to a total of 6,000 for Iraq and Afghanistan. Many point to the replacement of conscripts by volunteer soldiers, many of whom originate from the working class, which is by definition less influential. Congressman Charles Rangel, who represents the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Harlem in New York, is the chief political proponent of this theory. He has proposed legislation to restore the military draft, which ended in the 1970s, four times since 9/11. “The test for Congress, particularly for those members who support the war, is to require all who enjoy the benefits of our democracy to contribute to the defense of the country. All of America’s children should share the risk of being placed in harm’s way. The reason is that so few families have a stake in the war which is being fought by other people’s children,” Rangel said in March 2011.

War is extraordinarily costly in cash as well as in lives. By 2009 the cost of invading and occupying Iraq had exceeded $1 trillion. During the 1960s and early 1970s conservatives unmoved by the human toll in Vietnam were appalled by the cost to taxpayers. “The myth that capitalism thrives on war has never been more fallacious,” argued Time magazine on July 13, 1970. Bear in mind, Time leaned to the far right editorially. “While the Nixon Administration battles war-induced inflation, corporate profits are tumbling and unemployment runs high. Urgent civilian needs are being shunted aside to satisfy the demands of military budgets. Businessmen are virtually unanimous in their conviction that peace would be bullish, and they were generally cheered by last week’s withdrawal from Cambodia.”

Read the full article at Al Jazeera English.


  • I find several reasons likely for why protests no longer occur, and ant-war movements have become ineffective.

    1. American’s view life through the prism of the internet, as opposed to through the actual human side. Less human contact in general, less humanity, it adds up, War doesn’t mean much to people who hear about people dying in their own borders every day by the gun/knife/whatever. You see it on the news, and hell most of us know a victim of violence.

    2. Vietnam protesters actually did trust their government not to be evil. Say what you will about the policies, and protests of the 60’s and 70’s, at the very least, there was a thought that the government would respond in a rational manner if enough people protested- They were proven wrong, people who protested during those years are still watched by the FBI today. If an individual chooses to protest anything, they face the very real risk of having the lives of themselves and their families ruined by a government that no longer believes it needs a warrant to wiretap.

    3. The Vietnam protests happened for one very specific reason, spoiled upper middle class kids were going to have to fight in the war. The war, the draft, none of that enraged them, as long as the poor suffered, however, as soon as college kids started getting drafted, shit got real, suddenly war was evil, and draft cards should be torn up. A few of those deferments got used up and rich white boys on college campuses everywhere decided the war was unjust when uncle sam came knocking at their door. In the middle east today its mostly poor kids, so the upper class are not at risk, and thus they remain silent, yeah it makes them uncomfortable, but more like a tag in the back of your shirt, than feeling morally responsible for innocent deaths.

    4. I guess this one is really just number three, but it really comes down to, until the wealthy are effected nothing changes.

  • “American citizens are morally responsible for the wars and the war crimes committed in their name. The sad truth is, however, that they don’t know what’s going on—and they don’t lift a finger to find out.”

    I’m not sure I agree here. That’s somewhat like saying the peasants of Medieval Europe were morally responsible for atrocities committed in the Holy Land during the Crusades.

    The sad truth is less optimistic. Most of us Americans are just as victimized by our government’s actions as the people subject to our military overseas. They get our heroic uni[n]formed assholes at road checkpoints, we get the same dumbasses post discharge a few years later at TSA checkpoints. Likewise, we’re left to wonder: how many of our finest heroes in uniform comitting this sick behavior overseas (abusing detainees, killing for sport) get away with it scott-free and return home to enjoy a new career in private security, law enforcement, or some other position of public trust? What can we hope will stop them from treating us in the same manner as those helpless and at their mercy overseas?

    You think many Americans don’t care or are ignorant. I think that’s only part of the problem. Equally tragic, is the great number of Americans who DO care, and who try to stay informed, and wish they could do something to stop it all, but also fear the consequences of overstepping the boundaries of tolerance of our masters here at home. Your friend Bill Maher sure learned his lesson quickly, didn’t he?

    To say all Americans are morally responsible for the atrocities and injustices committed by agents of their government is ridiculous. Are you, Ted, morally responsible for the bank bailouts and that you rail against in your cartoons? They happened, and it was beyond your control. It’s the same with these wars. The morally responsible are those who perform these acts, along with the disgusting cowards and con men who profit from them.

    …or do you suggest that all Americans profit from these wars by having and enjoying the comforts of our “way of life”, made possible ONLY through the hard and courageous effort of our Wehrmacht overseas? Adopt that laughable talking point and you may as well hang up this website and apply for a job doing animated cartoons for FOX news!

    These wars have only diminished America, and it’s unfair to blame the Pentagon for keeping an inaccurate count of the casualties caused by these overseas misadventures when our Labor, Treasury, Energy, Health, and State Departments can’t (or won’t) do any better.

    The comparison would be interesting, though.

  • Americans have a very selective and self-serving concept of the value of human life.

  • Youngturk39,

    Were the residents of Desden or Nagasaki responsible for the actions of their governments during World War II? Morally speaking, some probably were but the vast majority were not. However many of the innocent ones were responsible in the sense that their governments’ actions left them on the hook to pay with their lives.

    We are fortunate to be the biggest, meanest dog on the street. That level of retaliation against Americans is a virtual impossibility. Still the average American will have to pay for our government’s misdeeds in other, smaller ways. We will have to deal with at least two generations of crushing debt, taxes, and/or inflation to pay for our misadventures. Blowback in the form of terrorist attacks, or at least Draconian security theater intended to prevent it, will become an accepted part of life. Our international reputation has and will continue to suffer. The last one may not sound serious, but many Americans work abroad as effective economic refugees. Being a refugee is tough. Being a refugee from a rogue state is worse. We will continue to become a third world nation with a talent for bullying.

    Granted, few Americans deserve this fate, but they are all liable to suffer it. We’re all responsible for our country’s actions in the sense that we all experience the negative consequences. Therefore unless we want to be passive victims, we should take responsibility for changing those actions.

  • All people have a very selective and self-serving concept of the value of human life.