Afghanistan: The War Turns Pathological—Withdraw!

14 Mar

            The latest occupation crime in Afghanistan is a shooting spree on March 11 by a lone American soldier in the village of Balandi in the Panjwai District of Kandahar Province of Afghanistan. 16 Afghan civilians, including women and children, were shot in their homes in the middle of the night without any pretense of combat activity in the area. Such an atrocity is one more expression of a pathological reaction by one soldier to an incomprehensible military reality that seems to be driving crazy American military personnel on the ground in Afghanistan. The main criminal here is not the shooter, but the political leader who insists on continuing a mission in face of the evidence that it is turning its own citizens into pathological killers.


            American soldiers urinating on dead Taliban fighters, Koran burning, and countryside patrols whose members were convicted by an American military tribunal of killing Afghan civilians for sport or routinely invading the privacy of Afghan homes in the middle of the night: whatever the U.S. military commanders in Kabul might sincerely say in regret and Washington might repeat by way of formal apology has become essentially irrelevant.


            These so-called ‘incidents’ or ‘aberrations’ are nothing of the sort. These happenings are pathological reactions of men and women caught up in a death trap not of their making, an alien environment that collides lethally with their sense of normalcy and decency. Besides the desecration of foreign lands and their cultural identities, American political leaders have unforgivably for more than a decade placed young American’s in intolerable situations of risk, uncertainty, and enmity to wage essentially meaningless wars. Also signaling a kind of cultural implosion are recent studies documenting historically high suicide rates among the lower ranks of the American military.


            Senseless and morbid wars produce senseless and morbid behavior. Afghanistan, as Vietnam 40 years earlier, has become an atrocity-generating killing field where the ‘enemy’ is frequently indistinguishable from the ‘friend,’ and the battlefield is everywhere and nowhere. In Vietnam the White House finally speeded up the American exit when it became evident that soldiers were murdering their own officers, a pattern exhibiting ultimate alienation that became so widespread it give birth to a new word ‘fragging.’


            Whatever the defensive pretext in the immediacy of the post-9/11 attacks, the Afghanistan War was misconceived from its inception, although deceptively so. (to my lasting regret I supported the war initially as an instance of self-defense validated by the credible fear of future attacks emanating from Afghanistan) Air warfare was relied upon in 2002 to decimate the leadership ranks of Al Qaeda, but instead its top political and military commanders slipped across the border. Regime change in Kabul, with a leader flown in from Washington to help coordinate the foreign occupation of his country, reverted to an old counterinsurgency formula that had failed over and over again, but with the militarist mindset prevailing in the U.S. Government, failure was once again reinterpreted as an opportunity to do it right the next time! Despite the efficiency of the radical innovative tactic of target killing by drones, the latest form of state terror in Afghanistan yields an outcome that is no different from earlier defeats.


            What more needs to be said? It is long past time for the United States and its NATO allies to withdraw with all deliberate speed from Afghanistan rather than proceed on its present course: negotiating a long-term ‘memorandum of understanding’ that transfers the formalities of the occupation to the Afghans while leaving private American military contractors—mercenaries of the 21st century—as the outlaw governance structure of this war torn country after most combat forces withdraw by the end of 2014, although incredibly Washington and Kabul, despite the devastation and futility, are presently negotiating a ten-year arrangement to maintain an American military presence in the country, a dynamic that might be labeled ‘re-colonization by consent,’ a geopolitical malady of the early 21st century.


            As in Iraq, what has been ‘achieved’ in Afghanistan is the very opposite of the goals set by Pentagon planners and State Department diplomacy: the country is decimated rather than reconstructed, the regional balance shifts in favor of Iran, of Islamic extremism, and the United States is ever more widely feared and resented, solidifying its geopolitical role as the great malefactor of our era.


            America seems incapable of grasping the pathologies it has inflicted on its own citizenry, let alone the physical and psychological wreckage it leaves behind in the countries it attacks and occupies. The disgusting 2004 pictures of American soldiers getting their kicks from torturing and humiliating naked Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib should have made clear once and for all to the leaders and the public that it was time to bring American troops home, and keep them there if we cared for their welfare.  Instead punishments were inflicted on these hapless young citizens who were both perpetrators and victims, and their commanders resumed their militarist misadventures as if nothing had happened except an unwelcome ‘leak’ (Donald Rumsfeld said as much) What this pattern of descretation exhibits is not only a criminal indifference to the wellbeing of ‘others’ but a shameful disregard of the welfare of our collective selves. The current bellicose Republican presidential candidates calling for attacks on Iran amounts to taking another giant step along the road that is taking American over the cliff. And the Obama presidency is only a half step behind, counseling patience, but itself indulging war-mongering, whether for its own sake or on behalf of Israel is unclear.


            President Obama recently was quoted as saying of Afghanistan “now is the time for us to transition.”  No, it isn’t. “Now is the time to leave.”  And not only for the sake of the Afghan people, and surely for that, but also for the benefit of the American people Obama was elected to serve. 

15 Responses to “Afghanistan: The War Turns Pathological—Withdraw!”

  1. monalisa March 14, 2012 at 2:20 am #

    Dear Richard,

    there isn’t much to add you have covered already by your very complete essay.

    Anyhow, I would like to draw to the fact, that – again – money must play an important role in this tragedy of a war which should never had taken place because it was initiated by deceit:

    First, there is the “hold on” on oil (and maybe other rare minerals) and with it the US drive of political actions (how sad, that US politicans are far too much “indebted” towards their “election supporting” companies/organisations !).

    Second, the harvests of poppies (drugs) have been more than sevenfold since the invasion of Afghanistan by USA (Russia and Europe are therefore “flooded” by drugs. This reminds me of the insidius actions by the British in the 19th century! And this all under the “eyes” of USA and NATO !! How ? and without any involvements ? Reminds me on Colombia ! Consulting the NATO website and their districts in Afghanistan shows also their “eyes” and Kosovo as a drug exchanging place too!! ).

    Again, no history has been consulted.
    Afghanistan had been invaded by British in former times.

    Again, how much do Afghans love their country to still defend, or at least try to defend ? For so many, many years and with much much more simple war machineries that their invaders ?

    Sorry, dear Richard, but my feelings for soldiers committing crimes towards innocent people, especially children or in front of children murdering their parents – ordered or not, or because “they cannot stand the given circumstances” – don’t have my respect/understanding feelings. This because a crime is a crime. The only exception to commit a crime I would say is when someone is enterming my house and trying to kill my children, or my family, or me. Such, I would defend. And as such soldiers behaviours can be understandable and respected.

    Maybe I can feel some sort of “sorry” for the mental state of such soldiers, but most of these soldiers are on their own free will there.

    I question the same as you: Why on earth doesn’t the US government learn from their past actions ?

    PS: I don’t think that Israel could always be blamed. In case of Afghanistan there were other causes – to my knowlegde.

    PPS: Afghanistan’s soil and waters have been very much polluted by this war – this is a crime towards the coming generations there. A crime which can never be forgiven this, because the pollution will rest there for a long, long time !! (The done pollution in Vietnam is still very much present, whether people still suffering or within the countryside itself!)
    But maybe, because there isn’t any respect shown by the US government towards our earth and its inhabitants and no responsibility assumed for done actions the whole earth doesn’t matter to the US government, whether polluted or not by wars as long as it will fill the pockets of a very few!!

    Take care of yourself,

  2. david HICKS March 14, 2012 at 2:32 am #

    The question therefore is : what STOPS the USA leaving ??

    • rehmat1 March 14, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

      Occuption of Afghanistan was planned ten month before 9/11 – for exploiting Caspian Sea, drugs and destablize Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Caspian oil pipeline is still on paper. Although, both Pakistan and Afghanistan have been destablized – but both countries are becoming more friendly to Iran. Considering the US has already lost Iraq to Iran – the Zionist-controlled administration in Washington hate to loose Afghanistan and Pakistan to Iran too. That’s why Washington is wooing Taliban to return to power as long as they agree to let American companies to build Caspian-Gwader pipeline to supply crude oil to Haifa refinery in Israel.

  3. Judy Deutsch March 14, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

    It’s hard to identify any war that is not “senseless.” Violence is entirely avoidable — this is clear in the prison literature (see James Gilligan’s work on eliminating all violence in the Massachusetts prison system), or in the current prison strikes in Georgia and Pelican Bay where “violent” prisoners organize and cooperate with each other to strike against deprivation of their most basic human needs.
    Secondly — it is essential too to recognize the “American way of death” — wars of attrition, of “scorched earth”, characterize American wars from the beginning. Concepts of “sensible wars” must derive from some misperception that soldiers fight soldiers for a just cause. In reality, the U.S. characteristically destroys entire infrastructure and ecosystems; those in position of power seem to be incapable of seeing other people as real human beings. American wars are fought in places that the majority of people (including elected officials) would likely not even be able to identify on a map.
    Add to this the fact that the military is the planet’s single largest GHG emitter and is exempt under Kyoto, that its WMD and justification of a first strike clearly threaten us with mass extinction. How could there be any remote justification of war, or of any kind of military intervention?

  4. Jan Nederveen Pieterse March 14, 2012 at 11:27 pm #

    In trying to kneecap China and Russia in Central Asia (21st century redo of the Great Game) the US is shooting itself in the foot. Pathology for sure; the ancient pathology of empire.

  5. karl March 14, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    Dear Richard,

    Very well said.

    I’m living with the student occupiers in the Student Center at McMaster University since January 2 and today they organized a rally to encourage the Americans to stop the war on terror 🙂 A young Afghani woman gave a short but powerful speech, which was followed by other students’ testimonies. I said a few words about the parallels to the Vietnam War. The local newspaper and TV channel were there to report about a crowd of maybe 50 people. You can check it out in Hamilton Spectator.

    Best regards, Karl

  6. Ray Joseph Cormier March 16, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    Professor Folk, once again you have expressed in a most eloquent way, similar thoughts that have crossed my mind since this tragic news.

    I hope you have a comment on my 40th article posted to my Blog Wednesday.

    March 14, 2012

    • Ray Joseph Cormier March 16, 2012 at 9:23 am #

      To err is Human. To forgive Divine.

      Sorry for the typo Professor Falk.

      • Richard Falk March 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

        Ray: I will save the ethos of forgiveness for bigger issues than a trivial mistake!

        I am going to Brazil today for two weeks, and will try to read your blog while away.

  7. Butterbean March 17, 2012 at 7:31 am #

    Dear Richard Falk,

    I am very much disturbed by your description of targeted killings by drones as efficient. It is a very ignorant statement. And I say this as someone who has deep respect for your sustained activism against U.S. state terror.

    The Bureau of Investigative Journalism — winner of an Amnesty Award and a Thomson Reuters Award — has done extensive research on this matter. Here’s what the bureau has discovered:

    1. Out of a total of 319 drone strikes in Pakistan, up to 3,100 people were killed.
    2. Of those, up to 815 of them were civilians.
    3. Of those, up to 180 of them were children.
    4. Outside of those killed, over a thousand have been injured by drone attacks.

    None of this reflects any form of “efficiency.”

    Drone tactics are indeed “radical,” as you put it. But efficient they are not.


    • Ray Joseph Cormier March 17, 2012 at 8:21 am #

      I see the point of your objection describing drones as efficient. I think Richard was thinking from the perspective that from the users point of view, America, there are no American boots on the ground that could get killed that would upset Americans, being remote controlled.

      In my mind, the grossest aspect of drone warfare is the image of the richest, most powerful nation on earth, using the most efficient, remote controlled means of warfare on one of the poorest people on the planet without indoor plumbing or electricity.

      If anyone really thinks about it, since WWII, the US has waged wars only on impoverished people. It’s not something to be proud of or to boast about. It’s easy to boast about having the most powerful military on earth when the people you wage war against have nothing even remotely comparable to defend with. They will use those cheaply built land mines, now called IEDs, to fight such a powerful enemy.

      What’s the difference between bombs dropped from the air and suicide bombers. The end result is the same. The real difference is for every $100 the enemy spends in the war, it costs the richest, most powerful country $1,000,000.

      It reminds me of the Star Trek episode when the Enterprise came upon two planets that had been in a state of war for centuries. Because of the great property damage being a consequence of destructive war, those two societies believed they evolved and became more civilized by conducting war by computer.

      They were still fighting the war by computer simulation, but without property damage.. Where ever the computer bombs struck on either planet, the living people in those areas were killed by their own side in an unquestioned ritual.

      People have long forgot the essential message in the 4000 year old story of Abraham meeting the Angels on the way to Sodom. Abraham did not believe in, and could not justify collateral damage.




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