Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Murder, motive and militarism.

Stefan Molyneux's comments on the video of two journalists and several others being killed is correct, but misses something. Sure nobody with even a basic understanding of how the State works is surprised that they murdered people, or that they murdered people that weren't the people they were “supposed” to be murdering. What the video showed to me was that the purposes of the murders was not what even the more cynical observers assumed. The theory that US and allied forces are there to make the world safe for oil corporations is shown to be fundamentally wrong as is the theory that they are there to maintain control of the Iraqi government for whatever purpose. There is only one credible motivation for the actions of US forces as depicted in this video and it's far scarier than anything Molyneux attributed to the politicians.

First of all let's think about the sequence of actions.
1)Helicopter crews observe things that don't look a lot like armed men and report that they are armed.
2)Crew requests permission to fire on these men.
3)Their commander at base gives permission to fire. This third action is the critical point, logically what should have been the third action, if the goal of these actions was as what is commonly claimed either by their supporters or detractors? What should have come between 2. and 3.?
4)Murder, bloody murder.

Ok so to put this in context, the US military has been in Iraq at this point for ~4 years and had examined the reasons for violent action against it using both information from guerrilla conflict and others with similar ethnic groups. From this a basic rule was deduced that killing civilians or even active guerrillas resulted in recruitment of additional opponents for revenge. This was not a secret, it was very well known by this stage of the war. Indeed this principle was well known to military theorists for decades, although of course it is possible that they weren't listened to by those actually in command. By this time however these facts were well known to all commanders in theatre. Additional fighters obviously caused additional casualties and prevented the accomplishment of tactical and through them strategic goals of the coalition. This is true even if the coalition has no clear idea what it's goals are, except if they are a certain set of goals which I will mention later.

So we have personnel acting against the supposed interests of the people they work for. They do so despite their employers being able to easily access audio-visual records that clearly show this behavior and show no concern that they might be fired for being amazingly bad at their jobs. This confidence is well-placed since there is no mention in this controversy of anyone being fired, demoted, redeployed or inconvenienced in the slightest by said bad actions. Numerous other incidents similar to this have been uncovered and yet nobody is getting fired. Nobody is even being warned that they will be fired if this continues. I'm not talking here about morality, only about efficiency in accomplishing things that are claimed to be goals of those involved. This is an own goal, yet the players are still out there next week as center forward and the coach isn't even telling people not to do that, what gives? Is it possible that there are other goals more important than achieving “victory”? Indeed is it possible that “victory” is not a goal at all for the people actually firing the weapons?

One clue to a particular goal is the calls to request firing clearance (or whatever they call it, I don't know the technical term). They consist of unsupported assertions that cannot be checked up on at the time followed by somebody giving permission if the facts reported fit a protocol that the asserter knows. Obviously if permission is wanted all the asserter has to do is concoct a story that fits the protocol for firing. How then is this useful? All it does is delay firing if permission is asked, which could be lethal if it is actually required. If the situation doesn't in fact fit the protocol it does not prevent firing since the assertion can't be checked. The punishment for lying about the situation is presumably no worse than for inappropriate firing if you didn't have to seek permission but simply obey the protocol. Indeed given that any real danger would result in firing without permission (hey would you ask if an RPG went past your head?) asking permission would tend to be positively correlated with bad shootings. So why do it? The answer is simple, CYA. The military needs to prove that it had procedures to avoid bad results and followed them, thus avoiding the criticism that it did nothing to prevent tragedy. The fact that what it did to prevent tragedy is ineffective or counterproductive is irrelevant since the goal is not to avoid tragedy but to look like one is trying to avoid it. Since few people are familiar enough with military procedures (particularly if these can be classified, as they are) to know how bad they are the military gets to say “We're trying our best, it's just really hard not to kill innocent people.”.

Now lets look at why the military isn't taking simple steps to avoid death or injury to it's members or damage to the strategic goals that are assumed important to the US government, from “liberating the Iraqi people” to “boosting oil company profits”. Remember two things, your boss is who can fire or promote you, your job is what you get fired for not doing or promoted for doing. If you can't be fired or not promoted for being a bad teacher but you can be fired for saying “nigger” you are not a teacher, you are a professional non-sayer of the word “nigger”, a pretty stupid job but hey there's a paycheck, someone will do it. If you can't be fired for not achieving victory but you can be fired for making it clear that military success is not in the long term interest of the voters you are not a soldier you're a professional obscurer of that particular truth.

Consider that for about 65 years the net effect of US military activities on the welfare of US citizens has been negative. If US entry into WWI is considered a cause of WWII then the period stretches back to 93 years at least. Yet the generals are still employed, the bases thrum with activity, people are refueling planes, repairing tanks, shooting journalists and otherwise “earning” a paycheck. If the perception of US military activities were to change to a realistic one they'd all get fired. Not immediately of course because the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) wants to protect their pork, but sooner or later other complexes (e.g. the Medical Industrial Complex) will promote a politician that proposes to take MICs pork and slough it in another trough. Said politician will get the votes of the disenchanted and the money of the competing thieves, an unbeatable combination. If you doubt that popularity plus loot can overcome powerful lobbyists I've got three words for you “State Tobacco Lawsuits”.

If a serious review of how the US military operates in Iraq and elsewhere and how this effects the strategic and political aims of the US government were to be undertaken and publicized most of the US military and almost all of it's high command would be fired. This need not occur because of any harm to the interests of the general US public, the harm to special interests is more than sufficient to have the generals canned if the government doesn't give a damn about it's constituents. Needless to say before any of the high command were fired they would certainly make sure anyone who caused the review to happen were taken down with them. Preferably in a manner that made it difficult or impossible for them to get another government job and severely limited their private employment opportunities too. So your job as a lieutenant, captain or other junior officer is to avoid serious examination of the performance of the US military in general and your unit in particular. Failing that allowing the performance revealed to become widely known and believed must be avoided. Whether this performance leads to attaining any goals of the government is irrelevant. While it is possible that non-performance in stated goals might lead to serious examination of the military and it's procedures this is extremely unlikely. This came close to happening after the Vietnam war, but nothing came of it, and nothing will come of it if both Iraq and Afghanistan are “lost”.

So what's the best way to avoid rational discussion of the US military's effects either happening or penetrating public consciousness? Well ironically being in a war helps. So does increasing the size of that war so as to turn as many voters and campaign contributors as possible into members of the MIC. Failure is not only an option for the military, it's the best option. When the military is actually in a war any complaints about it's performance or the cost are deemed “unpatriotic”. It's only in peace, where the activities of the military hardly matter, that it can be questioned. Once they stop performing brave self-sacrificing activities they lose the strange moral shield that self-sacrifice endows. So in the end what the military wants is to lose for a long time but not so badly that their paymasters lose patience with them and give up. Then they want to salvage something that their paymasters ( not their bosses) call victory. This avoiding a backlash for the paymasters that could cause them to come down on the military's masters. As long as those who control the government can be fooled into thinking that the military will serve the government's purposes and that the government's purposes are basically theirs the military will be allowed to do what it wants. That the corporations fall for this over and over again is partly due to the profits for being part of the MIC but mostly because they are run by people already invested in the strategy who would be fired if it's general failure became apparent. Ending the war in Iraq won't happen because people realise that it's unjust but because it's in their interests to oppose it. Telling the corporate elite that you believe they benefit from it won't help that.