September 9, 2002
Allied troops entering concentration camps at the end of World War II were
sickened and appalled at what they found there -- mass graves, uncovered
bodies stacked like cord wood, sick and starving living skeletons, most of
whom died within hours or days of the camps' liberation.
The allies listened in contemptuous disbelief to the claims of nearby German civilians that they hadn't known what was going on. They rounded up hundreds of them and marched them through the camps to view the horrors, forcing them to confront what was done in their name by their leaders.
It's a pity that some power can't force American civilians to witness first hand the horrors that have been done and are being done in our name all over the world.
Before our appointed king sends out our military to slaughter more Iraqis in a new war, for example, it would be instructive to march American civilians through Iraqi hospitals to watch the children and infants, an estimated 5,000 per month, dying because of the effects of the decade-long economic embargo put in place after the first Iraq war -- dying because of the lack of medicine, dying of diarrhea and dysentery for lack of clean water, dying of malnutrition. I rather doubt that such witnesses could stomach former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's obscene remark during a 60 Minute's interview with Leslie Stahl:
Stahl: We have heard that over half a million children have died. I mean, that's more than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?
Albright: I think this is a very hard choice. But the price - we think the price is worth it.
But since American civilians have never been forced to see the atrocities first hand, they can blithely ignore the results of the continuing embargo and don't raise even a mild fuss about the nearly daily U.S. and British air attacks on Iraq.
It would be equally instructive to march American civilians through the rubble of Afghanistan, take them to the graves of the victims who were bombed by U.S. planes while attending a wedding, and bring them to the camps where thousands of people displaced by the American "war on terrorism" are dying of disease and malnutrition in the wake of our glorious victory.
Another batch of Americans could be taken to the country formerly known as Yugoslavia to see the results of the already forgotten U.S./NATO "humanitarian war," the graves of thousands of innocent men, women and children bombed to death in homes, factories, market squares -- or while crossing bridges hundreds of miles from the fighting in Kosovo. Force them to hear the stories of the Serbs ethnically cleansed from Kosovo after NATO set in place and protected an Albanian government. And show them hundreds of Christian Orthodox churches and monasteries burned while NATO forces watched benignly.
Send another group of American civilians to march through the Occupied Territories to see the results of decades of unchecked Israeli brutality against Palestinians, a vicious occupation financed by billions of dollars of U.S. aid. The marching Americans should be forced to visit the graves of children shot down by Israeli soldiers at roadblocks, killed by rocket attacks, dead because ambulances were not allowed to transport them to hospitals. They could be shown the uprooted olive groves, the demolished homes, and watch as whole Palestinian families are exiled because a single relative was accused of terrorism.
But there are no American witnesses, only official lies. In the past, the media provided our witnesses. Courageous news people accompanied American troops into action and reported what they saw to the American people. Investigative reporters uncovered and reported ugly secrets the government tried to hide. Never completely or perfectly, of course. News people couldn't totally separate themselves from their country and report things with perfect honesty. But they tried, and largely succeeded.
They succeeded too well for White House and military leaders. Reporters today rarely get free access to war zones. Instead, they sit in Pentagon briefing rooms, reporting sanitized versions of events. Today's corporate mainstream media is nothing more than an amplifier for government pronouncements and reporters and columnists who talk about things not sanctioned by the government are quickly brought into line -- or fired.
If the media can no longer be counted on to witness, who will?
I have a modest proposal. Let the UN General Assembly order the U.S. to create a Witness Army. Young men and women would be forced to sign up for the WA when they turned 17. At the start of every U.S. war, American-backed coup, police action, 'air strike', embargo, 'peace action', 'preventive war', or attacks on aspirin factories, a Witness Army brigade would be sent in to confront what was done by their nation's leaders.
Perhaps if enough Americans had been forced to see the bodies of the millions of innocents slaughtered in Vietnam and Korea, they might have questioned the official lies that they were wars in defense of freedom. Perhaps if Americans had seen the dead civilians in the streets of Panama, the dead patients in the Granada hospital, the tortured victims of CIA-backed Pinochet, and the children blown apart in Lebanon by U.S. naval guns, they might be less inclined to rally behind the latest 'humanitarian war' demanded by the White House and a gutless Congress.
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Deck Deckert has spent nearly two decades as copy editor, wire editor and news editor at several metropolitan newspapers, including the Miami Herald and Miami News, before becoming a freelance writer. His articles and stories on everything from alligator farming to UFOs have appeared in numerous U.S. publications. He has written two young adult novels under a pen name, and co-authored a novel about the NATO war on Yugoslavia, Letters from the Fire, with Alma Hromic.
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Essays published in 2002 | 2001