The unprovoked massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by U.S. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales drew shock and horror from people all over the world when it happened last year.
And it should have. An American soldier, armed to the teeth, committed one of the most heinous atrocities of the war, even going so far as to stick a gun in the mouth of an infant baby and warning its mother to be quiet before ultimately pulling the trigger.
In discussing the long-term effects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as Antiwar.com has done since the day each of them began, one common theme that the American public has been incredibly resistant to grasping is that we have created more enemies than we ever eliminated, we’ve fueled the extremism our violence was supposedly intended to snuff out.
We’ve seen such an uninterrupted stream of evidence in support of this that it is almost difficult to pick which ones to illustrate the point. But interviews with family relatives of those Bales murdered have given us another example:
“For this one thing, we would kill 100 American soldiers,” vowed Mohammed Wazir, who had 11 family members killed that night, including his mother and 2-year-old daughter.
“A prison sentence doesn’t mean anything,” said Said Jan, whose wife and three other relatives died. “I know we have no power now. But I will become stronger, and if he does not hang, I will have my revenge.”
The slaughter Bales allegedly committed is categorized by Americans as very unique. After all, it’s not every day that a drunk, maniacal U.S. soldier puts a bullet in the head of an entire family of helpless civilians.
But it’s been far more commonplace than most people think. The war crime committed during a house raid in Iraq in 2006, wherein U.S. soldiers summarily executed one man, four women, two children, and three infants might have been kept secret forever if Bradley Manning had not leaked hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.
This particular State Department cable excerpts a letter written by Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, addressed to then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. American troops approached the home of Faiz Harrat Al-Majma’ee, a farmer living in central Iraq, to conduct a house raid in search of insurgents in March of 2006.
“It would appear that when the MNF [Multinational Forces] approached the house,” Alston wrote, “shots were fired from it and a confrontation ensued” and then U.S. “troops entered the house, handcuffed all residents and executed all of them.”
This slaughter and the one committed by Robert Bales are intimate, so they are memorable – and, yes, rare as compared with how most Afghans and Iraqis have been killed in the midst of U.S. violence. But the effect is the same.
Far less intimate, as we all know, are drones. It’s hard to get less intimate than that. But what is their effect?
After a September 2012 drone strike in Yemen that killed 13 civilians, a local Yemeni activist told CNN, “I would not be surprised if a hundred tribesmen joined the lines of al-Qaeda as a result of the latest drone mistake. This part of Yemen takes revenge very seriously.”
Similarly, as the Yemeni youth activist Ibrahim Mothana recently wrote in The New York Times, “Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair.”
And amid relentless rhetoric from the Bush administration and browbeating propaganda in the news media about how we were fighting the terrorists over there, so we don’t have to fight them over here, the war in Iraq was promoting jihadism and feelings of vengeance throughout the Muslim world. The 2006 National Intelligence Estimate on Trends in Global Terrorism said that the Iraq war was “breeding deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.”
But the vast majority of Americans have been unable to understand this simple concept – that unleashing constant brutality, violence, and domination on millions of people throughout the Middle East for decades upon decades tends to generate hatred and plots of vengeance. They’re unable to perform the simple task of putting themselves in the position of someone else: If a foreign soldier, as part of a foreign occupation, walked into the home of John Smith on Main Street in Springfield, USA and slaughtered his entire family in cold blood, is it so hard to believe that John would join the insurgency or even plot his revenge on the soil of his occupier?
Yet ongoing U.S. violence in the Middle East continues to be framed as the antidote to terrorism, as opposed to the seed. And virtually all the perpetrators get off scott free.